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Changing the resource base in farming

April 28, 2008

PAKISTAN is in the throes of an agriculture debacle and the simplistic solutions that are being offered are far removed from reality. I have nothing but the highest sympathy for the farmers as well as the consumers.

Some of the obvious solutions are simple enough but one of the problems I give to my students (for I teach farm economics and not agriculture economics) is that Rawalpindi/Islamabad is a city-state and it is surrounded by hostile country and one has to provide food security to the population of the twin cities. They are unable to comprehend the question secured as they are, swayed by the West’s constant barrage of wheat as the basis for food security.

We have been so indoctrinated that we are not aware of the food structure that our grandparents and the one’s before had for themselves. Why wheat? Why not vegetables? And you will say both are equally bad and point to the price structure. As things stand, I would agree with you for the price structure is horrendous in wheat and vegetables. This will happen when you have your policies based on urban housing. The countries that go into recession are the ones that have housing sector as the central core of their policies. They lose jobs and they lose the art of consumer spending. There is much wailing.

My intuition tells me that the new food security in urban areas would be built around the policies that BB had in the mid-nineties. Then the range of kitchen items was between Rs2 (in harvest) and Rs20 during the lean season. Now the kitchen items start with Rs50 and end at Rs120 per kilo. The poor have had the darri (not carpet) pulled out from under their feet.

Why this difference? How was that managed? It was managed through a peri-urban project that encouraged HH production of vegetables. She would be very upset if the price of the kitchen items increased and the advantage of a PM that read and understood and then conceptualised is to have the bureaucracy on its toes. It is very difficult to make a monkey out of policy makers who can read and write and can argue a case logically.

The problem is at the moment with the policy-makers who thought agriculture could be managed by telling a pack of lies. Admittedly it is difficult to have a random sampling that gives you an indication of the actual productivity and production figures but economics and intuition are interlinked, as only Greenspan USA’s macro guru would tell you. He seldom took a briefing from the subordinates before he went before the Congress. But that is USA. We would like not to ape USA in anything and especially where the food security of our people is concerned.

You would want the DHA and the Bahria to have land around the urban areas for the housing of the rich and for them to make capital gains from the allotted lands. Well, what has the Bahria paid in taxes and what have the DHA allotters paid in taxes. Get back Riaz, he struck his neck out and was told to go home because as Chairman CBR he did not listen to the powerful interests. All those who have perverted the system in the last eight years have to be taken to task.

The land lost as a result of this urbanisation is approximately three million hectares. This was peri-urban land and the advantage of this peri-urban land was that there were a number of families growing vegetables for the urban areas. Transaction costs were less. At $117 per barrel what would be the transaction cost of the truck carrying tomatoes from Balochistan or from Sindh. These families have been forced out. Take that amount of vegetables from your orchard and vegetable farms that you have given to the sophisticated that have never smelled the essence and smells of this land. Their hands have never seen the dirt. The sights and sounds of this area have changed and they have started expensive land leveling schemes so that the contours of Islamabad look like Lahore. What do they know of the benefits of undulating low hills?

Now what can be done? Start with the premise that every land is productive and that all water is useable. The minute you say this, the mafias will get after you. Never mind the mafias they are looking for the children that are yet to be born and they want to make a lot of commissions from their errors and their omissions and commissions.

To counter the first step is an urban and a peri-urban production project with a slight modification of what BB had done. In fact the third and generic reform is dependent on what ever is mean and rapacious has to be removed economically---. that which during the last eight years has brought us to this brink. If not, be prepared for Haiti- like situation. What should be the first crops that come in-well; it has to be major kitchen items like tomatoes, onions, cucumber and salad leaves. Some one will have to tell the ignorant rich that own all this land and those that have unimaginative lawns that even flowers are edible. You want pakoras I can offer you from some of the edible flowers. Soups are possible.

The CDA has destroyed the biodiversity of this town and the result is that one can no longer gets the seventeen species of onion that in pungent terms had been the equal of the red onions that we used to eat and keep at our bedside to keep snakes away. Neither are chives available from the species nor the local tulips.

It is possible to have soil-less agriculture and it is possible to shift from hydroponics to aero-ponics and it is possible to have potatoes in the route structure and tomatoes on top, two in one. The world is limitless. For the last 20 years, I have polished my shoes with a flower that is growing locally. Come with me, the world of agriculture is limitless. The limits have been imposed by people in position of authority.

Take courage; take the bull by the horns. There is still much in this country. Yours in veritas (truth).