Agriculture under provincial
Courtesy: The NATION
By Ahmad Fraz Khan
Punjab budget 2010-11, due today, is unique in a sense that
it will be first after the 18th Amendment, which has made
Ďagricultureí a purely provincial subject. The question now
haunting the farming community is whether it can replace the
federationís role in the sector. No one is sure, at least so
Their confusion stems from the fact that it seems impossible
for the provinces to undertake crop pricing, import of
fertiliser and formulate agri-trade policies.
It is the Ministry of Food and Agriculture that assesses the
need and imports are made by the Ministry of Industries
through the Trading Corporation of Pakistan. Trade policy
relating to agriculture and horticulture is formulated by
the Ministry of Commerce in which Trade Development Board of
Pakistan (TDAP), Pakistan Horticulture Development and
Export Company (PHDEC) are involved.
Fixing of indicative prices has also been a federal forte so
far. The federation has been setting the uniform prices of
major crops (wheat, sugarcane and rice) to avoid provincial
distortions. How would the province go about them or even
can they? It is a big question mark.
The federal and provincial governments should have gone into
a parallel exercise along with discussions of ending the
concurrent list to clarify such issues. The farmers are
confused about how things would work out.
But still, there are many areas where provinces can make a
difference and farmers expect their government to divert
funds to agri-research, building farm-to-market roads,
efficient marketing structures and promotion of value
addition. But the provincial governmentís performance leaves
much to be desired.
As far as research in new seeds is concerned, out of major
four crops, the province does not have seed for three crops.
Where it does have, it is too old to make any difference.
Take the example of rice seed, which brings $2 billion in
export money. It is almost 12-year old and is vulnerable to
all kinds of infections and has been long over due for
So is the case of wheat seed, which is even older and has
declining output and increasing vulnerability. The farmers
feel that budget is an opportunity for the Punjab government
to set the context for future preferences for the sector,
and spare substantial allocations for agriculture research.
Marketing of agriculture produce has been the weakest link
in the agriculture chain so far. Over 40 per cent
horticulture produces go waste in the field as these cannot
be transported to markets on time.
If the Punjab government somehow is able to create a cold
chain and save that 40 per cent produce, it can
correspondingly increase farmersí income and pull them out
of poverty trap. The special department (agriculture
marketing) set up to create efficient marketing system
throughout the province, but the initiative somehow lost
steam as soon as it was launched. For the last one decade,
the department has been an additional burden on the
provincial exchequer without any contribution to marketing
Marketing needs storages, which give farmersí capacity to
hold their produce in time of glut till the time they get
better price. The provincial preference in this regard has
been pathetic. Last year, it allocated Rs100 million for
creating wheat storage but pulled the money back some six
months down the line as provincial finances tumbled. With
this kind of attitude, how would the government make a
difference this time, no one knows for sure?
But the farmers still hope that the provincial government
does realise the importance of the storages and spare more
funds and force the department to improve its performance.
They also insist that provincial responsibility has
increased manifold with the federation reducing its role. It
must try to promote agri-industry (value-addition), which
presently stands at a paltry 16 per cent, through
public-private partnership. Its current model prepared by
the provincial government is too bureaucratic to make any
The current model charges the private investor to take the
project to Public and Development (P&D) Department, which is
referred to finance department and then to accountant
general for audit process and then to Treasury. The project
comes back through the same channel and gives total control
over the project to bureaucracy. Why should a private
investor invest even 30 per cent of the project and then
give control of his investment to bureaucracy. One hopes
that government will loosen up such restrictions and make
substantial allocations for the value-addition in the