ISLAMABAD: With the next general elections in mind, the PTI government will introduce an agriculture reform package worth Rs110 billion in the upcoming budget, besides increasing lending by almost 80 per cent to Rs2.7 trillion to substantially enhance crops’ output and farmers’ income within three years.
Flanked by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Agriculture Jamshed Iqbal Cheema said at a press conference that the Rs110bn package would be implemented in three years and would be financed by the Centre and the provinces on a 50:50 pro rata basis.
The federal government alone would be allocating roughly Rs25-30bn in the coming budget for first year, Mr Cheema said, adding that the exact amount would be announced once relevant approvals are secured. He said he had presented the plan to the prime minister who first approved it and then appointed him as his special assistant (SAPM) on food security.
Lending to be increased by 80pc to substantially enhance crops’ output, farmers’ income in three years
Mr Cheema said the package would have about four key elements, including a Rs40bn programme to be implemented in three years for import of semen for administration to animals through its provision to farmers free of cost or at a notional cost for enhancing the productivity of livestock. The provinces will bear 50pc cost of the project.
The second element is a Rs40bn programme to provide Rs1,000 per bag of nitrogenous and phosphoric fertilisers to the extent of about 40 million bags. Half of the funding will be shared by the provinces, chiefly by Punjab and Sindh. This will cover three major crops — wheat, rice and maize.
The third aspect is about Rs30bn three-year package for increasing the number of crops from the current 1.5 per year to about 2.5 per year by increasing the share of three crops with three-month maturity period, including moong, potatoes and beans, and enhancing the share of fruits and vegetables.
In addition, agriculture credit would be increased from the current year’s Rs1.5tr to Rs2.7tr over the next two years. The credit stood at about Rs900bn two years ago.
The combination of these programmes is being considered as the key initiatives for reducing poverty and increasing the income of rural sector.
SAPM Cheema said the World Bank estimates suggested that investment in agriculture impacted poverty reduction four times greater than any other field.
Fawad Chaudhry said that about Rs1.1tr additional income had gone into the rural economy through the agriculture sector during the current year which many people were terming inflationary factors.
Mr Cheema said Pakistan always remained engaged in subsistence agriculture throughout its history and, therefore, could not venture into commercial agriculture because of old farming and eating habits and focus on a few food crops. As a result, he added, the country remained deficient not only in food but also in calorie intake, resulting in stunted human brains.
He said that under the package Pakistan would have to shift to food, feed and fibre through reforms in reverse calculation mode on Chinese model.
Mr Cheema, an agriculture practitioner, has businesses in fertilisers and pesticides and owns over 700 acres of agricultural land at home, besides related business in China. He said the plan was ready to increase food and feed production from 14 million tonnes to 70m tonnes per year.
This will also reduce poverty and provide overall support to the industry, besides stopping migration from rural areas to cities, he said, adding that companies would be encouraged through banking sector and insurance subsidies for creation of storages between farms and markets and moving perishable food and vegetable cultivation in northern areas instead of their transportation from southern parts.
With a shift in sowing schedules, wheat output could be doubled by increasing cropping season to 9-10 months. This will be mostly done through preaching, guidance and supply of hybrid seed.
Mr Cheema said the export market mostly required course rice but Pakistani farmers were intoxicated to Basmati rice and would be asked to shift most of the sowing to course rice which attracted better price and limit Basmati rice only for local consumption. Maize output through the same line of action would be tripled from 13m tonnes to 40m tonnes.
The SAPM said that cows in Australia and America produced 25 and 35 litres of milk per day, respectively, compared to 4-5 liters in Pakistan, which could be increased to 15 liters per day in three years through introduction of imported exotic semen, both for milk and meat production. As a result, milk production will increase from about three million tonnes at present to 30m tonnes in seven years and raise farmers’ income by more than Rs300bn per annum.
This programme would require an investment of Rs30bn over the next three years. The semen injection cost Rs5,000 per unit that would be provided free or at a nominal cost, but this would result in Rs50,000 worth of calf on first day on birth. This would increase overall farmers’ income from Rs10tr at present to Rs18tr in seven years.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021