Agriculture slips on the
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
both federal and provincial assemblies entering final year
of their term, agriculture as a sector seems to have slipped
further down their priority list.
The current session of Punjab Assembly, which is now in its
fourth week, reflects antipathy that the provincial
government has developed towards the sector.
The session was called in the middle of massive urea and
sugarcane payment crises. Both these crises have the
potential to take down the entire agricultural cycle in
2012. But it never figured on the provincial assembly
It took one of its members, Syed Hassan Murtaza of the PPP,
to lodge a two-day bare footed protest outside the assembly
building to force the assembly’s attention towards the
plight of cane growers. Ultimately, the house decided to
take up the issue and spared effectively one precious day
(Friday and Monday — both being half days) for it.
Even when it did spare time, it altered the topic to suite
its political agenda. Since the Punjab government knew it
would be criticised on the sugarcane payment issue, it
included the urea crisis, mainly a federal subject, in the
discussion as well so that its MPAs can reciprocate the
criticism on provincial government with grilling of the
It is not an attempt to
belittle the severe problem of urea availability and price
in the province, but only to underline the fact that the
provincial preferences were primarily political when it
attached the urea problems with cane payment issue. By doing
so, it reduced the entire discussion to political point
scoring exercise rather than any serious effort at finding a
The debate turned out to be even pathetic than general level
of discussion and attendance in the house. In a house of 371
members, hardly two dozens of MPAs were present when
provincial Minister for Agriculture Ahmad Ali Aulakh took
the floor to open the discussion. Understandably, he grilled
the federal failure to deal with the urea crisis, leaving
the cane crisis out.
His colleague, Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah, later told the
house that all cane dues of farmers had been paid – a claim
hotly contested by the opposition.
Being Friday, the house was adjourned till Monday afternoon
with barely three speeches made. On last Monday afternoon of
December, as soon as the debate started, someone pointed out
the quorum (93 members in a house of 371) and the speaker
adjourned the house for next day — killing the debate sine
die; the minister could not even formally conclude it,
which, otherwise is a procedural formality.
The mannerism of the debate shows how seriously the highest
legislative and policymaking body in the province,
comprising more than 70 per cent of farmers and their
representatives, take matters related to agriculture. The
run is now how to politically secure seat for next general
elections rather than spare time for more tedious matters.
If the august house failed to find solution to the farmers’
problems, the Punjab Agriculture Department fared even
better. In stead of planning, it started the year with
formal prayers for rain because otherwise wheat and gram
crops, especially in rain-fed areas, could fail. The entire
department offered nimaz-i-istiska recently to pray for
rains and asked the nation to do the same.
In diametrically opposed to this impervious attitude, are
current crop realities. Punjab is still to sow wheat on
almost 600,000 acres if its target is considered as a
benchmark. Meanwhile a continued drought is threatening
wheat in the barani belt.
The gram crop is also under huge threat. If it is also
reduced by 100,000 tons, as estimated by experts so far, the
farmers would huge loss. Sugarcane farmers are also up in
arms as millers are making up to 25 per cent deductions in
price in the name of quality as they are fully aware of the
large size of the crop. To add to farmers’ plight, 90 per
cent of cane is still in the field and farm temperatures
have gone much below the freezing point that can hugely
damage the crop.
These realities warrant sensitive policymaking and effective
administrative steps to stem the rot and put farms and
farmers back on track. The provincial assembly, government
and the department all need to put their acts together.
After the 18th Amendment, the province needs to take driving
seat and save farms and farmers.