Farm mechanisation and food
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
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
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
Courtesy: The DAWN