THE Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will present its first budget this week after the devolution of the federal agricultural departments to the provinces. The question arises: what difference will it make?
Though officials of the provincial agriculture department are confident that their development strategy reflects out of the box thinking, farmers have very little hope that it would be any different from the past. Thy say the traditional approach will prevail.
Minister for Agriculture Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Arbab Ayub Jan declined to share any details about the allocations and targets for the next year’s ADP for agriculture but said the budget would be non-conventional in its priorities and plans.
“Several new interventions have been proposed. Allocations have been approved for all of the schemes we had suggested. This has been done for the first time and we hope it would help develop farming in the province,” he said.
Ahmad Said, Chief Planning Officer of the agriculture department, said “We have suggested various innovative schemes, the details of which, I cannot share as yet. I am hopeful this year’s comprehensive ADP with several innovative steps would ensure expansion and development of agriculture. The special focus is on revival of farming in the 12 flood-hit districts,” he said.
Farmers have their own concerns. “The problems are so huge that only a revolutionary ADP, with innovative steps and enormous investments can tackle them. But there is little likelihood that any such plan will be included in the annual agriculture roadmap,” opines Naimat Shah Roghani, a farmers’ leader from Mardan.
High prices of various farm inputs have increased cost of production manifold.
“The government should extend direct subsidies on the farm inputs like seeds, fertiliser, tractors, power, diesel and tube-wells,” he said.
The agriculture sector has received meagre funds in successive ADPs despite its huge significance as the primary source of livelihood for around 70 per cent provincial population.
While the allocation for agriculture sector was increased by about 45 per cent this fiscal year over the preceding year, it came down from 2.4 per cent of last year’s core ADP to 1.9 per cent of this year’s total core ADP of Rs58bn.
Irrigation budget was 4.3 per cent of the core provincial ADP last year. Though its allocation went up by about 70 per cent, it decreased to about 4.1 per cent of the ADP this fiscal year.
Roghani said at least five per cent of the ADP should be allocated for agricultural development, which should be gradually increased to 10 per cent in the coming years.
Only about 20 per cent farmers use quality seeds and modern agriculture technology, for which agricultural research, engineering and extension directorates should be strengthened.
“For better coordination between the farmers and government and to facilitate the directorates of agricultural research and agricultural extension and to bridge the gap between farmers and research, the government should revive the erstwhile outreach directorate in the department of agriculture,” said Muhammad Khalid, an agronomist from Mardan.
“The outreach directorate reached out to the farmers at their doorstep with new farming technologies and improved seed varieties, but became dormant in 1995. Its revival is necessary to address the critical problem of coordination between farmers and agriculture researchers,” he said.
“Soil testing laboratories should be opened in all the districts and tehsils. If modern farming technology and techniques are provided to farmers, it will change their farming from subsistence to commercial/modernised one,” he added.
KP needs to bring under cultivation about 1.6 million acres of cultivable wasteland. If possible, it should distribute the state-lands at nominal rates amongst landless farmers.
This requires water for irrigation which can be met by building small dams for conserving floods/rain water for future use. Wastage of water can be minimised by lining the water-courses and canals and its efficiency increased by adopting the sprinkle and drip irrigation.
And fruit orchards could be set up in areas not suitable for food or cash crops.
Backyard or household farming can also increase people’s incomes. The government, however, will have to provide seeds of vegetable, fruit plants and animal progeny to the poor households.
Tunnel farming technique needs to be extended. For this, the government should provide the technology along with guidance and financial support to the poor farmers.
As prices of chemical fertiliser are gradually becoming unaffordable, the government can support the use of green-manure or other organic fertiliser.
According to Roghani, access to market and improved marketing is vital for increasing the incomes of farmers. At present these markets function only in two districts. More markets should be set up across the province.
Livestock sector continues to be provided with meagre budget. There should be some special programme for the livestock farmers, especially women, who should be given free animal offsprings and poultry initially.
Around 60 per cent area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is suitable for olive cultivation. If an olive plantation project is launched and farmers get plants and technical support from the government, oil import bill could be reduced.
Modern laser technology could be used for land levelling. Mechanised farming is vital to increase per acre yield; for small landholdings, common facilities need to be provided.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs more farm credit facilities. It accounted for only 3.4 per cent of the country’s agriculture credit of Rs233bn in 2009. Only six per cent farmers here have access to farm credit against 21 per cent in rest of the country.
“Interest on agriculture loans needs to be decreased and its process simplified,” Roghani said.
The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and input centres at villages where farmers could get these things on subsidy and deferred payment, apart from guidance.