THE Sindh government plans to spend about Rs7bn on 28 agricultural development schemes in FY18. But most of them are long-term, ongoing, schemes slated for completion in FY20, budget documents reveal.

The Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, spelled out development steps that his government will take in FY18 to boost agriculture. But he didn’t give details. Nor did he give an account of actual utilisation of the funds allocated for farm development in FY17 to clarify reports of massive under-utilisation of these funds.

The CM, who also holds the portfolio of provincial finance minister, listed the following steps in this regard: Rs500m to help farmers purchase wheel type tractors; distribution of 555 agricultural implements to farmers; Rs100m for providing small agricultural tiller/paddy reaper and tillage equipment to farmers on subsidised cost; Rs100m for provision of power drilling rigs machines on renting basis; Rs200m for strengthening the capacity of staff of agricultural engineering.

Other measures included: a scheme to provide 141 solar pumps (presumably to small farmers); construction/rehabilitation of agriculture extension offices at a cost of Rs100m; allocation of Rs75m for provision of combined harvesters on 50pc subsidy; installation of two controlled atmosphere store and two hot water treatment plants on farmers’ fields under a subsidy scheme for preservation and storage facility for fruits and vegetables.

These things are good but no details have been given “So, it’s difficult for us to comment on who actually would benefit from them and how,” remarked an official of Sindh Abadgar Association. “Besides, the scales of these schemes are too small,” he regretted. “We were expecting, big-scale, well-defined projects.”

“The scales of these schemes are too small,” an official of the Sindh Abadgar Association regretted. “We were expecting, big-scale, well-defined projects”

Of the total 28 agricultural development schemes for the next year, five are related to research, 12 to agriculture extension, five to mechanisation and six6 to farm water management. “But most schemes are long-term in nature. They were announced in the recent past and would be completed by FY20,” concedes a Sindh government official.

For example, two out of the five schemes of agricultural research were approved in FY17, two were approved in FY16 and one was approved way back in FY12. “Two out of five schemes are to be executed by June 2018 and the remaining ones afterwards.”

But this does not mean there is not a single new agricultural research scheme for the next fiscal year.

“There are a few. But these are at various stages of approval. That’ why the CM didn’t mention them in his budget speech,” said an official of Sindh agriculture department adding that some or all of these schemes (that are to be completed by FY20) could be approved any time FY18. In that case those schemes would become part of the FY18 development plan. “Otherwise, their fate will be decided in FY19.”

Among such schemes is a project for remedial improvement of marginal land, another for development of technology for off-season vegetables production through tunnel farming and yet another for provision of advance post-harvest tools, equipment and technology to farmers.

A fourth scheme is related to the strengthening of tissue culture laboratory for disease-free and high-yielding banana varieties. The total cost of these four schemes (to be completed by FY20) is Rs580m, against which an allocation of Rs145m has been made in FY18 budget, officials say.

Similarly, there are some new schemes in agriculture extension for which an allocation of Rs195m has been made in FY18 budget though their total cost (to be incurred till FY20) is Rs780m. These include, inter alia, construction of red chilies market at Kunri and establishment of solar dehydration plant through public-private partnership in Khairpur.

In the area of farm water management, too, there are a couple of new schemes that mostly relate to lining or additional lining of water courses. Their total cost is Rs997m but in FY18, only Rs316m has been earmarked against them. Officials say that the remaining cost would be accommodated in the budget of FY19, the year in which these schemes must be on.

“So far agriculture-specific development schemes are concerned farmers may right feel disappointed due to perceived shortages of new schemes and undisclosed details of ongoing projects,” concedes a senior official of Sindh finance department.

But as far as indirect support to agriculture via big ticket development projects are concerned there’s no reason for pessimism.

“A big Rs40.4bn irrigation budget includes several key steps including a project for installation of solar tube wells at a cost of Rs125m that must minimise water woes of farmers.”

Similarly, in energy sector, the announcement for rolling out the World Bank-funded Rs13bn Sindh Renewable Energy Development Fund would greatly benefit the farming community by way of enhancing their access to solar power rooftop panels and off-grid power supplies in villages.

The Sindh government’s share in this long-term project is Rs2.6bn of which Rs500m has been earmarked for FY18.

Three important areas of agriculture have, however, been ignored in the budget. These are: construction of farm to market roads; establishment of steel silos for grain storage and creation of a fund to support small farmers hit by natural disasters and climatic change.

Farmers lobby groups had pressed CM Murad Ali Shah, during pre-budget meetings with him, to allocate sufficient funds under these heads.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 12th, 2017

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