ISLAMABAD: With the devolution of the ministry of food and agriculture to the provinces, Pakistan has become perhaps the only country in the world with no federal control over food policies.
The ministry's devolution has raised a number of questions.
What will be the criteria for fixing the minimum support price for farm produce? Who will distribute urea? How will a wheat-producing province be persuaded to sell its produce to other provinces instead of exporting it at better prices? These are just some of the questions being raised.
For instance, Gilgit-Baltistan owes Rs7 billion to Passco for supply of wheat over the past few years.
After the adoption of 18th Amendment by parliament, the region will be depending on Punjab for wheat. Theoretically, if Punjab does not want to supply wheat to Gilgit-Baltistan, there is no immediate means of making it to do so.
In the past, Punjab has tried to block the inter-provincial movement of wheat.
It is also unclear who will be responsible for seed certification and dealing with quarantine and pest attack issues.
Earlier, there were uniform quarantine rules at the state level to handle import of farm products in accordance with international standards and prevent import of substandard food and diseases. Most of the agriculture research institutes and laboratories are located in Punjab. The devolution will raise questions about creating new varieties of farm products in other provinces.
Such issues can create food insecurity in certain parts of the country.
In addition, a federal ministry is needed to handle coordination and collaboration at the international level.Pakistan has 54 joint ministerial commissions, 29 memorandums of understandings and nine bilateral, regional and international agreements with various countries in the sector.
According to official documents, each of the 192 member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has at least one federal division to deal with food issues. India has five ministries and divisions dealing with food issues.
Some experts say there was no constitutional need to devolve the ministry.
Of the 39 functions of the ministry 33 were derived from the federal legislative list and six from the concurrent list. However, the parliament has ended up devolving all 39 functions.
Some analysts allege that the move may have been instigated by the big farmers who are well represented in the National Assembly.
When asked to comment, ANP's Senator Afrasyab Khattak said the ministry at the federal level was not needed.
MQM's Dr Farooq Sattar went one step ahead and claimed that the federal food ministry was a 'white elephant'. However, he conceded that issues would crop up with the abolition of the ministry and said they could be handled by the inter-provincial coordination committee.
PML-N's Ahsan Iqbal said there was need for setting up an inter-provincial agriculture committee to resolve the issues.
He supported the devolution of the ministry and said it was not possible to reverse the decision.The experts said a food security and research division was required to replace the ministry to fulfil constitutional obligations of food security, reduction of inter-provincial disparities and ensuring the role of rural people in national activities.