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AGRICULTURE: Views from the field

December 31, 2018

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Employing around half of the country’s workforce, producing food and industrial raw material as well as accounting for more than a third of the total export earnings, agriculture is vital for the national economy.

But the sector has been witnessing a gradual slowdown in growth, barring a few years, for the last couple of decades and its contribution in the total value of the GDP has been diminishing.

The outlook for 2019 is not bright as even the most optimistic farmers say even if the incumbent government is sincere in its intentions for the sector, it doesn’t have the funds required to give farming a boost.

Amanullah Chattha
President
Kisan Board Pakistan, Punjab branch

In view of its over four-month performance, we’re losing all hope that this government can work wonders for farmers. For the first time, sugarcane crushing season has begun after a delay of more than a month and a half.

And it’s not yet clear what rate the sugar millers will offer to the growers, who are suffering on two counts because of the delay: loss of sugar cane crop weight, and missing wheat-sowing time because the fields are occupied by sugar cane.

The government’s plan to lower the wheat procurement target from four million tonnes to 3MT this season is creating fear that the open market rate of the major staple food will collapse to Rs1,000 per 40kg and even below the Rs1,100 per 40kg last year.

Prices of farm inputs are increasing and set to go further up as authorities fail to check artificial shortages of fertilisers, seeds and pesticides. Diesel prices are being enhanced each month.

The only relief so far announced for the farming sector is abolishing Rs22 per horse power tariff on tubewells imposed by the caretaker setup, though a formal notification of the facility is yet awaited.

Whenever the government’s financial help will be sought on an issue, the ministers will put forth the excuse of empty coffers.


Khan Mazullah Khan
Member
Kisan Rabita Committee, KP

There are two positive aspects of the incumbent rulers. One, they have raised awareness amongst the masses about corruption through their claims, public meetings and sit-ins. Two, the ministers are available soon after a request for a meeting is made.

But, the positivity of their image is washed away when one sees that not a single step has so far been taken for the all-important agriculture sector as the incumbents seem visionless, lacking any solid programme to implement the claims they had been making.

Prices of farm inputs are increasing. So far each one of them has registered around 50 to 55 per cent increase. The phosphate fertiliser (DAP) which was available at Rs2,500 per bag before they came to power is being sold at Rs4,500 per bag, at least in KP.

Hoarders of urea fertiliser are minting money by increasing its rate from Rs1,600 per bag to Rs1,900 per bag as there seems no market control by the authorities.

There are still no official plans for improving the supply of certified seed and introducing quality farm inputs. They’re rather bent upon damaging the KP farm sector by imposing the so-called ‘sin’ tax on tobacco, one of the major crops of the province. The sector is, in fact, regressing instead of moving forward.


Syed Mahmood Nawaz Shah
Vice President
Sindh Abadgar Board

The agriculture sector in Sindh requires diligent planning. This will enhance production through improvement in yield, conservation of water and development of an export-oriented agricultural industry.

Growers currently suffer losses despite support prices and subsidies. If current planning is to continue, 2019 will again see a surplus wheat situation and affected yields in cotton. Unresolved production issues and inadequate supply chain infrastructure will lead to non-sustainable production.

Barring two donor-funded agriculture programmes in Sindh there is no policy-related intervention that helps growers. Even foreign-funded projects aren’t being properly implemented.

The Sindh government did take in hand the lining of major canals like Rohri but the fact whether major canals should be lined is still under debate. Watercourses’ lining should be a priority and a composite plan for irrigation system is critically required.

The provincial government’s Sindh Enterprise Development Fund had planned to upgrade rice mills but no one knows whether the task was completed as planned. Wheat production can be rationalised and its area used for crop diversification like sunflower that has a huge potential in Sindh and can reduce the edible oil import bill by billions of dollars.

We don’t see any programme like in Punjab where the government is incentivising farmers for promoting oilseed crops to lessen edible oil import.—MHK

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 31st, 2018