Based on the number of aspirants desirous of getting subsidised tractors and other agricultural machinery, it appears farmers are keen to adopt mechanised farming in Sindh.
The Sindh government, however, with its limited resources could cater to the needs of only a small number of growers under its Annual Development Programme (ADP).
In addition to government-sponsored schemes, international donors also provide various tools and irrigation systems to promote the adoption of machinery in farming practices. The World Bank has multi-billion rupee projects in place such as the Sindh Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project (SIAPEP) and Sindh Agriculture Growth Project (SAGP).
‘Barely five per cent of Sindh’s agriculture sector has been modernised and mechanised,’ claims Nabi Bux Sathio
Growers tend to rent tractors, laser-land-levellers, bulldozers and other equipment to prepare or level their land. While the agriculture engineering department does provide bulldozers and levellers on rent, there are a limited number of bulldozers to go around when compared to the number of applications.
“We have around 360 bulldozers and 30-40 laser-levellers to be provided on a rental basis to growers across Sindh,” says additional director general agriculture (engineering) Syed Shahjahan Shah. He believes that around 600-700 applications are normally received by the department which are then approved on a priority basis.
During the last decade, tractors have seen a greater acceptability among growers. The agriculture engineering department also receives thousands of applications for tractors so much so that the department finds it difficult to entertain all applications every year.
However, in FY2017-18 the department could not provide tractors owing to an unusually late transfer of funds. The funds which were to be provided between July-September 2017 were instead transferred in May 2018, forcing the department to surrender the amount to the finance department.
During FY2017-18, 6,200 tractors were to be provided to farmers for which the government allocated Rs2 billion in the budget. An allocation of Rs1.5bn was made against it .
Around 8,000-10,000 applications were received last year which an official claims is proof of farmers’ interest in the versatile machine.
Under last year’s balloting 5,242 successful farmers were to get tractors. The department has not yet provided these on account of an on-going money laundering probe being conducted under the directive of the apex court.
The tractor quota had been divided equally among four companies. Of them, two companies are facing this probe so that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has called for withholding transferring the tractor subsidy to both these companies.
In response, and fearing an outcry if only two companies are allowed to fulfill the complete tractor distribution quota while the probe is ongoing; the agriculture department has stalled the entire tractor distribution process.
“We are seeking guidelines from the Sindh government on whether to withhold tractors distribution for all four companies on account of the FIA probe or whether only two companies’ quota is affected,” concedes an engineering wing officer.
He adds that in FY2018-19 an allocation of Rs500 million has been made for the disbursement of 2,800 tractors but the department would rather complete the FY2017-18 distribution first as farmers have already deposited their share.
Alternatively, growers feel that the subsidy amount has remained unchanged since FY2009-10 when a tractor cost Rs0.6m. The price of a tractor has now increased to Rs1.8m. Currently a subsidy of Rs0.3m is provided for a tractor worth over Rs0.8m and Rs0.2m for a tractor valued at less than Rs0.8m.
The Sindh government has also suspended the distribution of agricultural implements in FY2018-19 in the wake of the federal government’ directives that no new scheme should be launched sans its approval.
Meanwhile agriculture engineering officers admit that the demand for tractors and implements remains unabated.
Implements have been distributed among growers since FY2005-06 with 600 applicants every year as per official figures.
Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) General Secretary Nabi Bux Sathio points out that tractor usage has become quite common so that even if tractors are unavailable under government schemes, growers can always rent them to level their land. Levelled land always ensures uniform distribution of water for crop cultivation.
He adds that a few growers are also using combined harvesters to harvest their paddy crop, although bottlenecks remain. “Barely five per cent of Sindh’s agriculture sector has been modernised and mechanised,” he claims.
Laser-land-levellers ensure precision land-levelling and farmers now seem to prefer them provided they are available through government or private schemes.
Under SIAPEP, 1,290 laser-levellers were to be provided to growers on a cost sharing basis till completion of the five year project. However, according to project director
Tharo Mal, all 1,290 were distributed in the first two years of the project. “We regularly receive applications from farmers for laser-levellers as growers are aware of its importance,” he says.
The project authorities have now obtained approval from the World Bank for the distribution of another 1,500 laser-levellers. Around 2,000 applications are likely to be received against these levellers with number expected to reach 5,000.
Syed Nadeem Shah says while haris avoided using laser-levellers in the past they are now inclined towards them since properly levelled land helps reduce unnecessary usage of irrigation water. In areas hit by serious water shortages such as Thatta laser-levelling has become a must.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 12th, 2018