PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan says his government is enforcing an agriculture emergency in the country to extend maximum benefit to growers and eradicate cartelisation (by sugar mill owners). “We are going for an agriculture emergency to boost agro-yield that will help stabilise the economy. I firmly believe that the country will rise through the agriculture sector,” he reportedly told a group of farmers who had called on him the other day. It remains unclear as to what he meant by ‘agriculture emergency’. Probably, he was referring to the proposed interventions of Rs100bn spanning a period of three years under the Agriculture Transformation Plan recently announced to reduce farm input cost to encourage crop value-addition, enhance milk production, provide fertiliser subsidy, the construction of grain storage, and so on. These interventions are important to support agriculture in the short term. But they are not enough to make agriculture competitive and profitable for growers. For a sustainable and competitive farm sector, heavy investments are needed in research and development to develop new, high-yield, drought- and disease-resistant seed varieties, help farmers adopt modern technologies, improve soil fertility and water efficiency, etc.

Although the share of agriculture in the economy has dropped to below 20pc of GDP, it is still a very important source of livelihood for the rural populace that accounts for over two-thirds of the population and provides employment to 39pc of the entire national labour force. Additionally, Pakistan’s food security and almost 75pc of its exports are dependent on this sector’s performance. However, no effort or intervention will succeed in revitalising it if the hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers and smallholders are left to continue working individually. If farm productivity is to be improved and growers’ income increased, the government would have to design a new model to support these small farmers by increasing their access to credit, encouraging them to partner with one another through the formation of cooperatives to improve their terms of trade and capacity to bargain and to enhance their market linkages. These actions will help motivate them to diversify, become competitive and move towards more profitable, value-added crops for better profits. At present, subsistence growers, and most smallholders, are not directly linked with the market and are reliant on middlemen and speculators for credit to buy inputs by mortgaging a bigger part of their crops. Government support and partnerships would not only increase farmers’ incomes, they would also revive agriculture.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021

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