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Farm mechanisation and food security 
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
 
GREEN Revolution has been a perennial dream with successive governments, and the current government is no exception. It starts off with all kinds of right noises for agriculture, but, unfortunately, a positive outcome remains a distant dream.

To begin with, the federal government has still to find a full-time minister to look after the sector closely. The recent federal and provincial budgets also revealed weak commitment to the agriculture sector.

Punjab, which produces over 80 per cent of agriculture, could spare only Rs17 billion for the entire sector, with three main sub-sectors – irrigations, livestock and horticulture. The irrigation sector alone got Rs11 billion, leaving the rest of the sub-sectors with only Rs6 billion. On the other hand, police have been granted Rs30 billion for the year 2008-09. It makes practical priorities of the government clear.

Sixty years on, that also including a decade of so-called “green revolution” and repeated attempts to replicate it by the successive governments, the statistical reality shows that it was a failure.

Agricultural experts, farmer bodies and economists agree that any attempt to bring “food security” must begin with farm mechanisation, which provides basis for any such move. However, if the current situation of farm implements is any clue, the official claims of bringing food security seems a distant dream, leave alone putting Pakistan on the list of food-exporting countries.

The Agriculture Census, an official document, reveals the true picture of agriculture. According to the survey conducted in 2004, Pakistan has 6.6 million farms; 5.7 million small (12.5 acres or less) ones and 9,00,000 bigger ones. The survey reveals that there are only 4,40,000 tractors, 2,13,000 thrashers, 11,000 combine harvesters, 1,51,000 sowing drills, 3,50,000 cultivators, only 40,000 mould board plough, 30,000 disc plough, 9,000 chisel plough, 47,000 rota winter and 3,000 laser levelers.

There are examples of Chile and Thailand, which started from virtually zero horticulture exports and hit an annual target of $9 billion and $6 billion respectively within a decade. There is no reason why Pakistan with its four seasons, right kind of infrastructure and policies cannot follow suit.
To achieve any substantial results, the government has to develop a package of rules, regulations and appropriate fiscal incentive, and pursue it for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, all these ingredients are currently missing. There is no policy that sets standards or specifications for the imported or local machinery. There is no check on what is being imported or manufactured locally or any watch on the price trend.

In the absence of such rules and regulations, the farmers are totally dependent on importers and manufacturers. There has been a host of complaints about performance of local implements but farmers have no where to go; they have to accept whatever is offered to them by manufacturers or importers at a price of their own choice. These three factors have kept the state of farm mechanisation pathetic. The government needs to move on all three of them simultaneously.

The government must create sound basis for fixing standards for machinery. It should also form a professional body to ensure quality of farm implements and equip it with required rules, regulations and administrative and fiscal powers. Price factor also discourages the use of farm implements. The ever-increasing prices of tractors is a major hurdle in farm mechanisation. A 50- horsepower tractor, which was available at Rs3,20,000 last year, now costs Rs4,20,000. The 60-horsepower tractor, which was available at Rs4,62,000 last year, is now being sold at Rs5,40,000. The 85 horsepower tractor being sold at Rs7,04,000 last year, now costs Rs7,70,000 and actually is being sold with a premium at Rs9,50,000.

Interestingly, there is no independent body to check the quality of the tractors. The farmers usually pay price in advance and keep shuttling to manufacturers for the next six to 12 months or trying to find any influential politician to ensure delivery of what they had paid for.
The current tractor manufacturers have effectively blocked entry of new makers in spite of the government’s repeated attempts to introduce new companies and ensure competition. Two years ago, it granted two licences to manufacturers but both have effectively been kept out. This cartelisation of manufacturers must be broken to ensure fair prices.

The farm machinery has assumed added significance with increasing cropping intensity. Farmers now try to get as many crops as possible from the same land in order to keep themselves economically floating. They find very little time for land preparation between the two crops and need machinery to do it quickly and efficiently. Harsh weather only adds to their woes and necessity of farm implements.
In the absence of such machines, they are either late in sowing or delayed in harvesting; losing on the final yield in both cases. All the horticulture products suffer 35 to 40 per cent post-harvest losses. In economic terms, it means that farmer lose up to 40 per cent of income at the time of harvest, just ensuring his poverty at the very stage.

In the final analysis, the government needs to realise that food security is not possible without mechanisation of agriculture, for which right policies need to be evolved.


Courtesy: The DAWN
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