management to compensate water shortage
By Zafar Samdani
Water shortage has placed a question mark over the rabi crops,
particularly wheat but water is a commodity that can only be
managed, not increased, certainly not within a few weeks time.
Other components of the agriculture can however be harnessed
to contribute towards better productivity. Fertilizers are top
of that list
They are in short supply exactly when the crops require them
most. Such a situation can be a coincidence if this happens
once in a while but yearly occurrence of this phenomenon
suggests premeditated and systematic operations for
profiteering from fertilizers. DAP is particularly sold at a
high price all the time and is supplied to farmers at
exorbitant rates at crucial stages of crops.
It has been claimed that prices of both DAP and urea are lower
than the prevailing rates in the international market, with
urea at times cheaper by 40 per cent than world-wide rates.
The claim is firstly less than authentic and secondly, prices
have to be seen in the local context, that is, the purchasing
power of consumers and not in comparison with other countries
where agriculture has major role in the economy.
A comparison is not in order in this case because other
factors cannot be equal. Subsidies granted to the farming
sector and prices of farm products in many developed countries
enable their farmers to make higher investment for inputs. The
sale of the produce is also guaranteed. The agriscape of
Pakistan is, to say the least, different.
The Fauji Foundation recently struck an agreement with a
Moroccan firm for joint production of DAP. The Moroccan
company is the world's largest exporter of phosphate
fertilizer and is familiar with Pakistan, having previously
helped the production of DAP in the country.
The joint venture, to be located in Morocco, is billed to
underwrite total DAP needs of Pakistanis once it gets in to
production. No time frame of the project's completion has
however been indicated. However, considering that only
preliminary moves have been made so far, it can be safely said
that it would be some years till the project becomes a factor
in Pakistan's agriculture.
But exactly what are agriculture sector's phosphate
fertilizer's requirements? The sale of DAP is stated to have
declined by 15 per cent in the country last year.
This happened at a time when growers, even those who practice
agriculture in a traditional manner, are becoming increasingly
convinced of the link between the impact of application of
fertilizers with enhanced productivity.
Logically, the sale of fertilizers should go up due to
increased awareness in the farming community statistics show a
sliding down graph. The obvious reason is the high cost of
It is just not affordable for small landowners who constitute
the bulk of the sector in Pakistan; financial means and crop
marketing conditions are hurdles this segment cannot cross.
The demand for urea has however been increasing, underlining
the awareness of its effect on crops. It was placed at eight
percent above for the first six months of the current year as
against the same period last year. The price of urea has
spiraled in the international market while it is claimed to be
available to local farmers at lower rates.
This is to be taken with a pinch of salt. Apparently, the
comparison is between the cost of imported and domestically
produced urea that covers about 80 percent of domestic
consumption of the commodity the claim of self-sufficiency in
urea production notwithstanding; urea is consequently sold
which is sold to consumers at two different rates. What logic
and justification can be there for this kind of pricing?
There is no reason to doubt the intentions of the government.
It has reduced GST and withholding tax on urea and has
successfully negotiated a reduction in its price with the
However, domestic production suffered a four percent decline
in the first half of the current year (in comparison with the
same period last year) due mainly to shortage of raw material
and increase in production costs.
The government has been contemplating and implementing
measures to reduce the production cost of urea such as maximum
supply of gas to producers, among other efforts.
But these aren't sufficient steps for devising an integrated
policy for serving the agriculture sector on long term basis.
And unless that is done, the sector's need for fertilizers
would continue to be exploited.
Reliable basic data for such a policy does not appear to be
available with policy makers. The starting point is working
out the total requirement of sector. But the extent of
cultivation of other farm produce, not all of it necessarily
to be put under minor crops, has never been accurately mapped.
And even in the case of main crops like wheat, cotton, rice
and sugar cane, the area a crop covers becomes correctly known
only after sowing is completed.
Considering everything, the collection of data on an empirical
basis has to be ruled out because the agriculture sector
itself is in an essentially disorganized state; many farmers
take their decisions in consultation with nature and market
conditions before embarking on cultivation. But a majority of
growers can always be counted on for being clear about plans
and working out their requirements should not be an impossible
This is not to say that no data is available with the
government agencies. According to available official figures,
urea production in the country almost meets the sector's
demand as annual production is 4.8 million tons while off-take
is placed at 4.26 m tons over the period of one year.
This would be a rosy picture if shortages marking the market
are ignored. Statistics suggest production in excess of
requirements but farmers tell a different story. They often
have to run from pillar to post to obtain their urea supplies.
As for DAP, its entire requirement, officially put at 1.2
million tons, is imported.
The government recently announced that special cells would be
set up for supervising and monitoring, the 'production,
import, quality, demand and supply' of fertilizers with a view
to ensuring their on time and required quantity's availability
This would be a good move but creating another agency or
agencies would complicate issues and may end up adding to
existing bottlenecks. More organizations and offices are
hardly the solution of the problem.
The provinces of Sindh and Punjab, particularly the later have
huge extension wings whose contribution to productivity has
become questionable because their staffing was carried out
when the sector was working along traditional lines.
Agriculture in Pakistan is now in the process of being
modernized; it needs a level of expertise that is beyond the
majority of the present workers of these wings.
But their services can still be utilized by assigning them the
task of working out fertilizer requirements of the sector.
They can render useful work because they know the lay of the
land, if not its present day problems.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL),
would do a better job by involving provinces in this process
instead of establishing more offices and employing people who
are not qualified for managing issues confronting the sector.
This is not to question the intentions of MINFAL but only to
point out that new agencies are not the answer to any problem,
as has been seen in many other areas of the government. The
MINFAL itself has a host of subsidized organizations that have
done next to little to promote causes for which they were
brought in to existence.
What the government should be doing is harness existing
resources and facilities instead of spreading itself thin,
ignoring available resources and ministries trying to extend
their empires to more unmanageable levels and further messing
up an already ungainly state of affairs.