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Changing agriculture profile   
By Mohiuddin Aazim

June 20, 2011: THE annual development plans of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa envisage enhanced spending on farming, livestock and fisheries in the new fiscal year starting July 1.

While devolving the ministry of agriculture to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, the federal government has also set aside some funds for farming projects.

The federal government has set aside Rs2 billion for the Benazir Tractor Support Programme and Rs500 million for Crop Loan Insurance. These allocations are in addition to Rs33.2 billion allocated to water sector projects, several of which would directly or indirectly benefit agricultural activity.

The Punjab government has made a cumulative allocation of Rs18.5 billion for agriculture, livestock, forests, food and irrigation. Sindh has earmarked Rs6 billion for these sectors excluding forests but including fisheries. And Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has allocated Rs335 million for agriculture and another Rs6.7 million for forests.

All these allocations are aimed at boosting growth in agriculture and allied sectors at a time when climatic change threatens global food security—and governments across the world look for sustained ways of feeding their populations. Several countries including China and Saudi Arabia are even leasing in large chunks of foreign lands to grow food crops.

 


“Currently, Pakistan is facing a two-pronged challenge in agriculture. First is to rebuild the infrastructure (damaged by the last year’s floods). And the second is to produce more to achieve self-sufficiency in food and improve food trade balance,” said a senior official of Sindh Agriculture Department.

He said that spending on agriculture and allied sector projects of annual development plans of the provinces are generally aimed at increasing the crop yields and improving farm-to-market transportation. But some are also directed at efficient distribution of irrigation water, soil management, availability of quality seeds, prudent use of fertiliser and more scientific ways of farming. “The bottom line is to increase the per acre yields.”

According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, major crops showed some growth in the per acre yield in FY11. The per hectare yield of wheat, for example, rose7.7 per cent followed by sugarcane (6.9 per cent) and cotton (2.5 per cent). This happened due to soil enrichment after the floods but also because of better farming techniques and scattered and more frequent use of modern technology. “The challenge now is to sustain whatever growth has been achieved in whichever crops,” according to a ministry of food and agriculture official, “and to obtain higher per unit yields in other crops like rice, maize, gram and pulses.”

Whereas officials believe that financial allocations in provincial ADPs and federal government initiatives can do that, agriculturists attach some ifs and buts. Out of the Rs18 billion plus allocation shown under the head of agriculture and related sectors only Rs3.4 billion is exclusively meant for agriculture. “This is too little money and I fear much of it will be finally consumed by a 30,000-plus army of agriculture department personnel,” remarked Mr Ibrahim Mughal who heads Pakistan Agri Forum—a farmers’ lobby group.

 

“During the next fiscal year, Punjab would generate Rs43 billion through sales’ tax on various agricultural inputs. Why not earmark a certain percentage of it to be spent on agricultural development,” he wondered.

He and some other agriculturists contacted by Dawn suggested that the fund so created should be spent by an advisory board comprising members from the government and representatives of farmers “to make spending transparent and meaningful.”

A Sindh-based rice grower Ghulam Sabir said that all efforts to enhance the per acre yield of crops would be frustrated if post-flood rebuilding task is not completed immediately. “In Jacobabad there are many fields still filled with flood water and several roads and link roads are yet to be repaired,” he told Dawn on telephone.

Financial allocations in Sindh and Punjab ADPs for development of livestock and fisheries sectors are such that can set the stage for tapping the growth potential of these sectors. For example, Sindh government is going to set up a dairy village and meat processing zone in Bhambhore, just 78 km from Karachi seaport.

Under the plan, milk-processing plants, chilling units, feed mills, a livestock and fodder market, slaughter houses and a meat-processing unit will be built over 1300 acres of land. Similarly, ADP allocation for fisheries sector in Sindh is designed to be integrated with a three-year fisheries and aquaculture strategy.

According to an official of Sindh fisheries department, plans are under way to build new chilling, storage and processing facilities in Karachi, Thatta, Badin and Dadu. In addition the provincial government has also set aside funds for fishing gears, modification of boats and manufacturing of ice boxes and plastic crates besides improving existing facilities at Karachi fish harbour. Privately, some fishermen have started fibre glass boats instead of wooden ones to increase the spell of hauling and to lengthen on-boat preservation of fish.

Punjab food department has purchased some steel silos from the US for hygienic storage of wheat and is trying to get such silos manufactured within the country. Pakistan Agricultural and Storage Services Corporation is working on a project with the financial help of Islamic Development Bank for manufacturing steel silos to boost its storage capacity.

Farmers across the country have been trying, with help from within the community as well as from foreign governments and NGOs, to upgrade agricultural practices to fetch better prices for their produce at home and abroad. In some villages of Sindh and Punjab, they have started using solar energy to run tube wells and more enterprising growers are even using solar-fired wheat threshers on experimental basis to reduce wastages. The potential for growth in food producing sector is enormous. The government and the private sector need to join hands to tap it under a strategy to integrate all developmental initiatives in this sector.

Courtesy: The DAWN

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