RAHIM YAR KHAN, March 6: Growers heaped criticism on official policies and 'money-minting' pesticides companies at a meeting organized here on Saturday to get input for the cotton policy 2004-2005 likely to be announced at the end of the current month.

State Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Sikander Hayat Bosan chaired the meeting while high-ranking officials of federal and provincial agriculture departments were also present besides representatives of growers and ginners.

Growers were vociferous against the failure of cotton crop of the year 2003-2004 and most of them owed it to the shortage of pesticides at the crucial time of boll formation, especially when the fields were under attack of American and Army bollworms. "If some growers could manage to get the required pesticides, they proved substandard," they alleged.

They also complained against high-priced fertilizers and non-payment of premium on picking contamination-free cotton.

Rahim Yar Khan was the only district in the country where a pilot project of supervised ginning to produce cotton free from contamination had been run successfully a couple of years ago. But, both the growers and ginners lost interest when they were not paid premium against their produce by the buyers for putting extra effort to market quality cotton.

They further complained against high interest rates on bank loans for agriculture as compared to the industrial sector. Some of them claimed that the government received funds for agriculture sector from donor agencies at a nominal mark-up but it advanced the same to the farming community at exorbitant rates.

The minister said that being himself a farmer he knew the problems of the farming community and he often raised the issue of high mark-up at the floor of the house (National Assembly) but all the time he was told that the farmers were not good at paying back their loans. He, however, assured the farmers that all those who would retire their debts timely would be compensated with low interest.

He informed the meeting that the government would announce its cotton policy for the year well in time this year (by the end of March) so that all the stakeholders could decide their future course of action. He said the government had decided to lay hand on some 'big fish' of the pesticide business in order to curb the menace of adulterated and high-priced pesticides. "It will be the utmost effort of the government to ensure availability of quality pesticides at reasonable prices in the coming cotton season to the farming community," he asserted.

Mr Bosan said though the government had reduced the price of DAP fertilizer by Rs 45 per bag but the middlemen did not pass on the benefit to the growers. He said a policy to bring down prices of the agricultural inputs was in the pipeline for the coming fiscal year. He urged the cotton growers to sow only those varieties which were approved by the government and refrain from sowing BT cotton.

He told the meeting that the government had set a wheat procurement target of 5.5m tons for the year 2004 while the private sector would also be encouraged to play a role in the wheat procurement in order to ensure official procurement price of Rs350 per 40kg to the growers. He said to encourage cultivation of oilseed crops in the country the government had imposed a 20 per cent duty on the import of oilseed.

The minister said that the local tractor manufacturers had also been warned that if they did not improve standards the government would be compelled to allow import of reconditioned tractors.

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