THE fact that the there was no mention of the proposed Balochistan Bank in the provincial budget for the next fiscal year might have disappointed agriculturists, particularly small farmers.

In his budget speech for the current fiscal year delivered on June 15, 2017, Aslam Bizenjo, the then adviser to the Balochistan chief minister, announced an allocation of Rs10 billion for the proposed provincial bank. But when the current adviser, Dr Ruqayya Saeed Hashmi, presented the next fiscal year’s budget on May 15, she made no announcement regarding this project.

Considering the fact that the current government in Balochistan has come to power in the wake of a bizarre political shake-up in the province replacing the old one established after the 2013 general elections, it’s no surprise if one didn’t get an update on Balochistan Bank, a prized project of the previous government.

Such omissions also make sense when one considers the fact that federal and provincial governments are going to complete their tenure by the end of this month, making room for caretakers who should ideally hold general elections sometime in July or August.

Considering the fact that the current provincial government has come to power in the wake of a bizarre political shake-up, it’s no surprise if one didn’t get an update on Balochistan Bank, a prized project of the previous government

During her post-budget media briefing on May 16, Dr Ruqayya left a clue about what could have stopped the government from reallocating Rs10bn for Balochistan Bank in the 2018-19 fiscal year. She said the government had made a straight cut of Rs10bn in initially proposed development plan to create room for clearing pension bills of provincial employees.

For the next fiscal year, the provincial agriculture sector has received a budgetary allocation of Rs8.7bn, up from about Rs8bn for the current fiscal year. What is good about a larger allocation for the current agriculture budget is that a part of it would be spent on proper manning of some offices of agriculture extension, agriculture engineering and agricultural research sections.

Barring that, almost the entire amount would be utilised for paying employees of agriculture department and meeting other current expenses.

Under the annual development plan, the Balochistan government has set aside Rs3.85bn for the agriculture sector for the next fiscal year, slightly higher than Rs3.681bn earmarked for the current year.

The development funds are meant for financing a total of 178 schemes, including 116 new and 62 ongoing.

Both ongoing and new development schemes in the agriculture sector include projects in the areas of land levelling, water resource management, installation of new farm tube wells, construction of farm markets at

district and sub-district levels, mechanisation of farming and upgrading of technologies in orchard management and fruit processing, etc.

Under a separate Rs1.5bn development scheme, 500 conventional water tube wells will be converted into solar-powered tube wells. This scheme, part of the Rs2.8bn worth of irrigation development plans, should also benefit farmers, Balochistan government officials say.

Under yet another scheme, part of the utilisation plans of Rs870 million subsidy earmarked for wheat purchases from farmers, wheat godowns and storage houses will be upgraded. This should also indirectly help small growers of the commodity in the province who previously had to sell their produce at throwaway prices when the provincial food department failed to lift wheat from fields because of insufficient storage facilities.

According to development plans, a number of model agriculture farms will also be set up, including the one on 400-acre land along Kachhi Canal, according to senior officials of the provincial agriculture department.

Besides, existing government-run agriculture farms in 18 districts of the province that lack enough facilities would be upgraded and made functional under a separate Rs828m project.

This would help small farmers learn new ways of farming and participate in government-sponsored research projects related to food and non-food crops alike. Planned completion of two town markets, one each in district headquarters of Uthal and Qila Saifullah at a cost of Rs50m, should help crops and fruit growers of those areas sell their produce at nominal or no transportation cost, officials of the provincial agriculture department say.

Dr Ruqayya also announced in her budget speech that for the livestock and fisheries sectors, the government has set aside Rs4bn and Rs920m for 2018-19, up 2pc and 4pc, respectively, from the current year’s allocation.

Out of the funds reserved for the livestock sector, Rs30m would be spent on animal care and veterinary services and Rs50m would be employed in construction of a big veterinary hospital. In the fisheries sector, a part of the development fund, ie Rs230m, would be used for setting up two fish hatcheries, one each in Sohbatpur and Jafarabad districts.

According to officials of the Balochistan government, under the livestock development budget a number of veterinary hospitals will be built across the province. Moreover, scores of model dairy farms would be set up in the headquarters of provincial districts and in some districts model dairy farms will also be established.

Agriculturists, particularly small farmers, in Balochistan would likely continue to suffer, at least for another year, in

the absence of a provincial bank that could have increased their access to formal finance.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 21st, 2018

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