LAHORE: The agriculture is again facing hard times as farming community is experiencing a double jeopardy; on the one hand, cost of production has doubled since 2023 and, on the other, commodity prices of major crops (wheat, cotton and maize) have slid by 25 per cent on an average basis.

Khalid Mahmood Khokhar, president of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), said this here on Saturday, issuing SOS (save our souls) calls for the sector. Cumulatively, both these factors have rendered farming business totally unviable.

During 2023, he says, farmers paid a huge amount of Rs300 billion (over and above to the MRPs, prescribed by the fertiliser industry) to the market exploiters on account of black marketing of urea. Despite continuous hue and cry by the farmers, the government failed to implement its writ and ensure availability of urea on prescribed rates. Despite these failures, farmers put in their best to ensure national food security by increasing area under wheat and per acre productivity, thus ensuring total national production of over 29 million tonnes – a record high production.

Keeping in view all these ‘adversaries’, farmers were expecting relief from the government through an increase in the support price of wheat – minimum of Rs4,000 per 40kg. However, instead of addressing the farmers’ agony, the government took a surprising step of importing huge quantities of wheat just ahead of the harvest, which caused a crash in wheat price in market from Rs3,900 to Rs3,000 per 40kg. Secondly, the government delivered another unprecedented blow to the farmers by increasing gas prices, causing an increase of urea price by around Rs1,000 per bag. This step shows policymakers have used the black-marketing tool as an opportunity by assuming that growers may absorb this hike in urea price, he says.

PKI demands cut in urea price, expeditious wheat procurement

The current situation does not reveal a viable preposition for the farming business. The grievances of the farmers are piling up with the passage of every cropping season. If not addressed timely, this may pose a serious challenge to the national food security and economic prosperity of the country. Cotton contributes more than 60pc to the total national exports and is under serious threat as farmers are not able to invest to cultivate cotton in the current cropping season.

Khokhar recommends that the federal and provincial governments immediately start buying two million tonnes of wheat at the declared rate to help stabilise the market. Punjab contributes more than 75pc to the national wheat production.

The federal government should intervene to ensure urea at maximum rate of Rs4,000 per bag across the country instead of current market price of around Rs5,000 per bag.

To avoid foreseeable protests by the farmers, Pakistan Kissan Ittehad urges provincial and federal governments to take immediate actions to address the genuine issues of current wheat support price and availability of urea at affordable price throughout the country.

Khokhar says the urea pricing issue has been pending since long with the federal government and now hurting farmers beyond redemption.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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