How to enhance small farmers’ income?

01 Sep 2008

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THE income of small farmers comprises earnings from land and livestock. Unfor-tunately this is not enough to meet the bare necessities of life. The main reason of their poverty is low yield and poor animal output. They are unable to save anything for the rainy day and are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty.

Remaining attached with land, these farmers are serving the community and the nation in terms of food production, employment generation and export earnings. Out of the 6.62 million farms in the country 5.6 million (85.69 per cent) belong to small farms’ group where as in Punjab 3.29 million (85.39 per cent) of farm is owned by small farmers. It can be said rightly that Pakistan’s agriculture is based on small farmers.

But what these farmers get in return of their services is unfortunately not enough to provide them with the bare necessities of life, what to speak of their social status in the society and respectability they deserve.

If steps are taken and policies framed to enhance food production and improve livestock earnings, it would help ameliorate not only the lot of the farmers but also improve the economy of the country.

A survey was conducted to analyse the earnings and savings of small farmers cultivating less than 12 acres in the Sargodha district. Out of the randomly selected 100 respondents, 46.7 per cent were having five to eight acres, 36.7 per cent 8.5 to 12 acres and the remaining 16.7 per cent only one to four acres.

During the survey most of the farmers (96 per cent) said that their off the farm income was zero, and they had to depend only on farm sources (cultivation and dairy farming).

Let us examine the two sources of farmers’ income one by one to understand their actual level of income and savings.

To a question 96.7 per cent of the farmers said that their family expenditure, to some extent, was met by farm income, while 56 per cent said that their saving from crop income was zero. This low income and zero saving is the result of many factors such as small land holdings, lack of market information, inadequate technical know-how, dependency burden, health and consumption expenditures, high birth rate. But the most important factor is the insignificant cop production for the following reasons: short supply of irrigation water throughout the year; unaffordable cost of tube-well installation; high costs of tube-well and diesel pumps.

In the current situation the rising cost of diesel and electricity has made the installation and operation of these machines very difficult. Most farmers said that if availability of water is made possible in time, farm production could be increased significantly.

Most of the farmers said that there was no guidance for cultivation of crops and selection of pesticides and fertilisers. Most farmers do not know what type of fertiliser their soil needed in the absence of soil analysts in their area. So by using irrelevant fertilisers, land output of the desired level could not be achieved.

Agriculture centers are established to support farmers by imparting technical information about cultivation and inputs requirement for different crops. Therefore, visit of these centers is beneficial for farmers. Over 65.6 per cent of farmers said they did not visit agriculture centres as they thought it useless and time wasting as nobody was available there to guide them. Agriculture centers in villages do not play any role either due to illiteracy and lack of interest of the farmers or absence of staff at these centres to guide them.

Mood of receiving payment for their produce is very important for farmers, as in agriculture, farmers work in a cycle. After one crop they had to prepare their land for another and for that they need finance at each stage. If they receive timely payments, they could proceed smoothly for the other and endeavour to boost its production.

When asked about the method of payment, most of the farmers (71.1 per cent) said that they received payments from buyers in installments. This compelled them to purchase inputs from suppliers at high rates on deferred payments which resulted in low income to farmers.

There is a need to focus on agricultural policy especially deliberating on increasing crop output by solving the problems of the farmers so that their income and saving level could be enhanced.

The second source of farmers’ income milk is also not contributing as it should, due to a variety of reasons. Milch animals are expensive and out of small farmers reach. The basic element that enhances milk production is fodder. Due to high cost most farmers give only Chara to their animals as a result the output is low and consequently their income.

The other factor that affects milk production is absence of special species of buffalos and cows that are specific for milk production. Same is the condition for meat production. Death of these precious animals due to outbreak of fatal diseases like foot and mouth etc. also results in financial loss to small farmers.

Some 68 per cent of the farmers said that their saving from milk was Rs1,800-4,000 per month depending on the number of cattle heads, and even if one of the animals dies all their saving is lost. The deaths of animals are mostly due to lack of veterinary facilities. The remaining 32 percent said that they were unable to keep animals due to shortage of funds and unavailability of good breed in the market. All these factors lead to low productivity of milk affecting their income and savings.

Major portion of a farmer’s income is utilised in irrigation by using diesel driven pumps. It increases input costs and affect income level. The farmers should be provided diesel and electricity at subsidised rates to overcome this problem.

Power connections for tube-wells at present are banned. It should be opened at the earliest. Tube-well installation charge is exorbitant and unaffordable for small farmers. Therefore connections should be provided on priority at low rate.

The quantity of water in canals is already scarce and a large portion of it is lost due to seepage. The wall of these canals and their tributaries should be brick lined to prevent seepage.

Drip irrigation system should be introduced and the government should provide this system to farmers at subsidised rates. The farmers should be made aware of the benefits of this system. This will help reduce use of irrigation water and subsequently save farmers spending.

Low quality inputs like fertilisers, seeds and pesticides are available in the market that too at high rates. As a result these inputs do not show resistance against diseases and result in low productivity leading to financial loss to farmers. The government should provide good quality basic inputs in required quantity to the farmers in time at affordable rates for better and healthy yield.

Some agro-based industries purchase inputs directly from farmers but do not pay them even after one year (sugar industry). This directly affects the purchasing power of farmer for the next crop which results in poor production of the successive crop and poor income to farmers. The government should evolve mechanism to ensure timely payment to these growers.

Schemes to boost milk and meat production should also me made by the government to help ameliorate the economic condition of farmers. Advanced veterinary hospitals should be opened and strength of staff should be increased to provide treatment and vaccination facility for animals to boost milk and meat production.

Setting up of research centers for improvement and raising production of animals is the need of the hour to boost production of this sector. High breed and disease resistant animals should be provided to farmers to enhance their income and saving.Moreover, both animals and crops should be provided with insurance coverage to minimise the farmers’ losses.