THE next year's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa budget will mount efforts to facilitate farmers hit by floods and militancy to revive and develop the agricultural economy.

An official in the provincial government said the development activities would focus on addressing issues like the low per acre yield, small landholdings, outdated farming, non-availability of inputs and poor coordination between stakeholders etc.

Reviving the farming sector that has been severely hit by years of militancy and last year's floods require short, medium and long-term strategies and funding, he added.

“We are suggesting a project worth Rs485m to compensate the farmers affected by the floods. While Rs1-billion Swat Development Package is also on the cards to compensate militancy-inflicted losses,” the official said.

Coping with falling acreage under cultivation, revitalisation of the Agriculture Engineering Directorate is being undertaken to prepare more land for tilling. A scheme for buying 40 bulldozers at a cost of Rs600 million has also been proposed.

“If the scheme is made part of the annual development programme and implemented, it will help level over 10,000 hectares. We are also intending to introduce laser technology for land-levelling in some areas,” he added.

“We want to implement a public-private partnership to develop high-yielding maize seeds at the Cereal Crops Research Institute (CCRI) in Nowshera.

Projects have also been proposed to rehabilitate the CCRI and Agriculture Research Institute, Tarnab, damaged by last year's floods. We also plan to increase production of pre-basic and basic seeds in the province.”

“The government plans to develop integrated pest/crop management and soil conservation programmes, but rarely any ADP is fully implemented. The sooner these maladies are addressed the better,” he added.

For example, farm services were developed in 2007-08 under the 2005 agriculture policy, but these are now neglected and dormant in most districts. And rather than following a proactive approach to interact with the growers and livestock owners, the agriculture and its attached departments are waiting for them to come to get their problems resolved.

One wonders why this can't be the other way round i.e. the department contacts farmers at their doorsteps.

While the public sector provides quite a few important services like soil and seeds testing laboratories, though on a limited scale, most farmers don't even know about them, what to talk of utilising them for their advantage.

About 80 per cent farmers have no access to quality seeds and modern agriculture technology. There are around 13 research stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which have developed several high-yielding seed varieties for various crops but their timely and easy availability has always been a problem. Farmers usually use substandard seeds that result in low yield.

“There is still a vast room for better coordination among farmers, seed companies and research centres,” the official said.

“There is a need to set up coordination forums to ensure better and speedy communication, feedback and cooperation between growers, private sector and the public sector. These centres should provide farm inputs and financial, technical and educational support to growers in their respective areas.

“The government can learn from local and foreign NGOs, especially the Sarhad Rural Support Programme, which have ensured liaison and participation of locals by developing participatory organisations at mohallah, village and union council and other levels.

These centres will comprise all stakeholders in agriculture and have store for farm inputs, repair workshop, veterinary hospital, soil testing labs, a branch of agriculture development bank, a multimedia workshop and an insurance company office for crop insurance.

Once these coordinating bodies are developed and subsequent regular interaction is maintained, most of the problems faced by farmers and the agriculture sector would be solved.

The directorate general of extension in the agriculture department needs to proactively disseminate agriculture technology and services to farmers.

The issue of public-private partnership has been focused in the provincial agriculture and horticulture policies but has remained unaddressed in practical terms.

“As chemical fertiliser is getting costlier, the government plans to create awareness about organic fertiliser. “We have launched a project for organic farming on trial basis at the Agriculture Research Institute at Tarnab and another project worth Rs12m has been proposed for the ADP this year,” the official added.

“Lack of coordination between the government and NGOs has also harmed the farmers. The government and NGOs are supporting farmers hit by floods and militancy but for faulty allotment/distribution, the aid is going to undeserving people keeping the needy deprived. The agriculture and revenue department and the MFSC should be taken on board in the apportionment and supply process.

Fake, adulterated and under weight seeds and fertiliser are making things difficult for farmers. Farmers' income could be substantially increased if quality seeds, fertilisers, machinery, pesticides and other services were given to farmers in time and on cheaper rates.