ISLAMABAD: The World Bank has approved $300 million loan to modernise agriculture in Punjab, create better prospects for farmers and ensure better quality and safer food at lower prices to consumers.
The World Bank-supported ‘Strengthening Markets for Agriculture and Rural Transformation’ (Smart) project will support the much-needed reforms for agriculture and livestock productivity, improve agriculture’s resilience to climate change, and foster agribusiness in Punjab over the next five years. It will also reduce inequality and expand opportunities for women and youth.
The project, approved on Friday, is expected to shift Rs55 billion a year towards ‘Smart’ input subsidies for small farmers, agricultural research, farmers’ training, support for high-value and climate-smart agriculture. Additionally, Smart will help improve the sustainability of agricultural production by strengthening the management of irrigation water, and help tackle ground water depletion.
The resources provided by the World Bank will be part of a larger programme by the Punjab government that aims to better harness the enormous potential for farming in the province, with its fertile soils and extensive irrigation system.
It addresses the paradox that while Punjab’s farmers earn too little, people pay high prices for low quality food.
This situation is largely the result of farm policies that have hardly changed in the last fifty years. These include extensive insufficient subsidies and government spending that does not provide widespread benefits and results in wasteful water use.
“Agriculture in Punjab has great potential but requires a paradigm shift to unlock growth opportunities,” said World Bank Country Director for Pakistan, Illango Patchamuthu.
“The Punjab government is determined to help farmers grow high-value crops and significantly increase their incomes. The project is estimated to create 350,000 jobs and lift 1.7m people from poverty. The bank stands ready to support the provincial government in this exciting endeavour.”
The project is expected to contribute to increased on-farm productivity and value of agriculture and livestock; increased value-addition and competitiveness in agriculture and livestock; and enhanced resilience of smallholder farmers to climate change and natural disasters.
Growth in the agriculture sector in Punjab has been poor for some years and this has had a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of agricultural communities.
Communities dependent on agriculture have traditionally included deprived members of society, including landless farmers, small tenant farmers, and groups who rely on seasonal agricultural labour.
The project will help increase productivity in the sector, and thereby support household incomes and livelihoods in rural communities.
The social benefits associated with the project include improved economic status of farming communities, including livestock producers, mostly women and cheaper wheat and wheat flour.
The project will also help enhance farmers’ resilience through provision of affordable agricultural insurance products and increased investments for climate smart agriculture; a more equitable distribution of water; development and implementation of a participatory citizens engagement strategy for farmers; and capacity building of key government departments, farmers, and agribusiness entrepreneurs to ensure that the objectives of the programme are met.
“Key reforms supported by the project include transition towards high value agriculture, which will substantially raise farm incomes and employment in Punjab,” said Senior Agriculture Economist at the World Bank, Hans Jansen.
“This will be done by shifting resources from inadequate subsidies towards supporting farmers to produce higher value products such as vegetables, fruits, pulses, oilseeds, milk and meat, whose demand is growing many times faster than lower value crops such as wheat,” he added.
Farm drones allowed
Meanwhile, aiming to enhance agricultural productivity in the province, Punjab government has allowed the use of drones for farming activities.
Drone or unmanned air vehicle consist of a small unmanned aircraft. After the success of this technology it is ready to astound the agriculture sector, a spokesperson of the provincial agricultural department said on Saturday.
Sharing details, the spokesperson said Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif allowed the use of drones since these can be used in the applications of pesticides on crops, monitoring of weeds, pests and nutritional deficiencies, area, water resources, as well as research and development.
The agricultural department has informed farmers and stakeholders to get no objection certificate from the agriculture (extension) department for the use of drones for agricultural purposes.
In arriving at a decision, the protocols about the security of sensitive installations and establishments would be given due consideration. Police personnel would be deputed to monitor the operation of drones at the time of flying activity.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has already encouraged countries to initiate the use of technology for disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector.
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017