LAHORE: The government should declare “agricultural emergency” in the country as its staple crop (wheat) is in deep crisis because of Punjab’s reluctance to announce its support price and black market of fertilisers taking it out of farmers’ fiscal reach.

Khalid Mahmood Khokhar, president Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), claims here on Tuesday addressing a press conference.

He says Pakistan has become a wheat-importing nation because of the government’s wrong policies. “If this course is not corrected immediately, the country will have to import even more wheat this year,” he warns.

By importing wheat at higher prices, he insists, Pakistan supports foreign farmers at the cost of local growers. Though Sindh announced Rs4,000 per maund wheat support price, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhaw did not do it so far, he regrets, adding that farmers of the two provinces did not maximise wheat area since they are not sure about the support price.

Farmers body for declaring ‘agricultural emergency’

He demands the Punjab government must immediately fix Rs4,000 per maund support price to check wheat smuggling.

He says the wheat crop sown in November is now looking weak due to lack of fertilisers input that means the yield per acre will be very low this year.

Mr Khokhar says the DAP price was Rs14,000 during November 2022 at the time of wheat sowing as compared to Rs6,000 for the previous Rabi, that reduced its application on the crop by farmers. He deplored that the government did not support farmers through providing subsidy on DAP fertiliser.

Now in January, which is the peak time for Urea application on wheat, the government has shut down two fertiliser units that will affect the wheat crop further, he says.

PKI head asked why does the government want to support farmers of other countries by importing wheat from them at higher prices rather than ensuring higher wheat production in Pakistan? Why is the government not interested in self-reliance and food security?

He regrets that Urea is being black marketed at Rs3,000 per bag against official price of Rs2,440, adding that despite this it is not available for farmers. He urged the government to immediately restart all Urea factories to ensure its ample supply for the wheat crop that is looking yellowish.

The government is now talking about GST on the DAP that will be a disaster for the wheat and other crops, he says. Instead, like other agricultural countries, including our neighbouring India, the fertilizer must be subsidised with direct subsidy paid to the farmers.

He also demands removal of GST on the electricity for tube-wells imposed since January.

The GST and other taxes imposed on the farming sector are hurting the farmers who don’t have enough cash to buy the high-priced agricultural inputs.

He also stressed the need for research and development aimed at producing new high-yield seed varieties for wheat, rice, cotton and other crops.

“Agricultural yield per acre is less than half in Pakistan for wheat and rice as compared to advanced countries. There is a huge yield gap which can be reduced if the government focuses on research and development of seed,” he says.

He says Pakistan must save foreign exchange by producing its own food.

He says Pakistan imports agricultural commodities like wheat, cotton, pulses, tea and spices worth $14 billion and this huge import bill can be cut by 50 per cent simply by introducing farmer-friendly policies. Ensuring inputs at affordable prices and allocating appropriate budget for seed variety research, especially for developing climate resistant cotton seed and high-yield wheat seed, the country can ensure food security, he adds.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2023

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