Despite the immense interest expressed by PM Imran Khan for the revival of agriculture, the budget has missed more areas than it mentions. For example, farmers demand revamping of research. The budget seems to have completely missed it.

The cotton crisis has taken space in the national debate in the last few years and its dip to an exceptionally low level had rekindled hopes, egged by official responses, that the government was determined to revive cotton glory. The budget document has completely ignored the subject. Rather, it allowed cotton fibre import, hurting revival prospects.

Conceptually, the exercise looks like an extension of the prime minister’s “Transformational Plan for Agriculture Revival” being executed since 2019. The government attributes last year’s performance of crops to this plan, discounting the role of weather that all experts think played a crucial role. They, however, do give credit to the plan for improving the political economy of wheat and sugarcane.

Can the paltry figure of Rs12bn, out of the total layout of Rs8.4tr, sustain the sector let alone revive it?

The finance minister’s speech carried Rs12 billion allocations for the sector from which locust attacks and food security would receive Rs1bn. About Rs2bn are allocated for productivity enhancement, another Rs1bn for oil (crop) cultivation — reads olive initiative — and Rs3bn have been set aside for watercourses improvement. Can this paltry figure, out of the total layout of Rs8.4 trillion, even sustain the sector, let alone revive it?

This is a question that would haunt the sector for the next entire year. On the development expenditure sheet, Rs77bn are shown under the agriculture sector head. Last year, this figure was Rs99bn and actual expenditures shown for last year were Rs82bn. So, the allocation for this year is Rs5bn less than what has actually spent on the sector — hardly a propitious sign for sectoral revival. Will a small amount be able to ensure 3.5 per cent for the sector during the next 12 months? Probably not.

Khalid Khokhar of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, however, is happy that the prime minister’s last-minute intervention has saved farmers from the general sales tax on all inputs, which could have added to the cost of production correspondingly and further destroyed the sector. It was being levied under pressure from the International monetary fund but the prime minister intervened at the last moment to save the day for farmers and farming. However, Mr Khokha is unhappy because nothing is done for research despite the consensus demand by the farming community. With determination and money both missing, not only is revival impossible, sustainability is questionable as well. Not a good sign for the sector.


Farmers are taxpayers too

Nadeem Shah

Vice President, Sindh Abadgar Board

“Agriculturists should be acknowledged as income taxpayers by the federal government. We are paying income tax and are part of the tax net but are not accordingly acknowledged which is why we don’t get concessions that are available to other taxpayers. Taxpaying farmers should also be issued national tax numbers like others.”

He emphasised the need for the announcement of support prices for major crops by the government. “Crops’ support prices are announced in many countries. We are failing in this,” he said. He added cotton crop has badly suffered as farmers don’t get adequate price for their produce.

He said support prices should be announced before the sowing period as it serves as a temptation for farmers. He maintained that cotton production dropped to 5.7 million bales last year. “It is a serious decline which government should take note of.”

He proposed that to reduce the import bill on edible oil, the government should allocate subside for oilseed crops especially sunflower which has been a success in Sindh in the backdrop of 2010 but then started recording a decline in acreage and production. — Mohammad Hussain Khan

Agri blueprint missing

Aamer Hayat Bhandara

Head of Agriculture Republic

“Though appreciating the performance of the agriculture sector during odd times last year, the federal budget 2021-22 fails to give a blueprint for ridding the farm sector of constraints marring its improvement. We’ve been expecting a serious plan for the cotton crop, which plays a vital role in the national economy yet its acreage and yield are rapidly on the decline for successive years for multiple reasons, but it couldn’t even get mentioning in the budget speech. A petty amount has been allocated for mechanised farming without knowing how many and what kind of machines are needed as the last agriculture census had been conducted in 2004. Climate-smart agriculture has also been ignored though it is the worst-hit sector because of climate change. Contrary to the finance minister’s claim, heavy rainfall had affected the crops more than locusts last year. The budget does talk of improving livestock breed and productivity but offers nothing for the feed and health of animals though, if taken care of, these two factors alone may double milk and meat production within a year. No plan has been given to develop fruit and vegetable value chains close to fields for curtailing post-harvest losses and checking migration of labour from rural to urban centres in search of livelihoods.” —Amjad Mahmood

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 14th, 2021

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