search for donors to foot the bill for the post-flood
agriculture package seems to be getting longer and longer.
It does not have money to finance its ambitious programme to
put farmers back on their feet.
Domestically, it has diverted all its resources to these
areas but is simply overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy.
It has stopped all kinds of subsidy packages, even the chief
minister’s most favourite – the low priced bread (sasti roti).
It has withdrawn facility of free medical treatment to even
patients on dialysis, putting their lives on risk. But
nothing seems to be working, for the time being at least.
The much-trumpeted donors’ conference, which Punjab hosted
on Thursday last in Islamabad, could only squeeze pledges
for construction of 2,000 houses. This is the kind of bind
that the Punjab government finds itself in its post-flood
The federal government either does not have money – at least
for Punjab’s spending – or it wants to spend whatever it can
spare or get to derive political mileage out of it. The
world donors are ignoring both the federal and provincial
governments and directing money to either local or
international non-governmental organisations, leaving
official setups at the centre and the province to mobilise
their own resources, which are simply not there.
On the other hand, Punjab has locked horns with donors like
the USAID, which had allocated $25 million, but wants the
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to spend the money,
and directly reach out to farmers in Punjab. The provincial
government wants the money but also wants it to be spent
according to its own preferences, which neither the FAO nor
the USAID is ready to do so far.
The provincial government also has identical issues with the
federal government. The federal government had recently
announced Rs31 billion package for agriculture, and pledged
Rs7.2 billion for Punjab. The Punjab government again wants
to spend money as per its own preferences.
Another realisation that the Punjab government must have is
the fact that agriculture is as much a matter of timing as
that of money. Any relief package for it cannot wait like
building infrastructure in the flood-hit areas. The
agriculture restoration package is currently wheat specific,
which is the next big crop and main worry of the provincial
government, given its financial importance in the current
The wheat sowing season is just around the corner. The
farmers have to sow it by mid-November to get optimum
output. Any delay in that dates decreases the final yield
and hit farmers.
At this point of time, no one is sure what the Punjab
government wants to do with its wheat farmers in the flood
hit areas. If the originally conceived restoration plan is
something to go by, it wants to provide money for land
preparation, seed and fertiliser. Of these offerings, seed
and money can be given quickly to farmers because wheat
stocks are available and the money can directly go to
Courtesy: The DAWN
Even in this scenario, wheat stocks have to be graded and
tested for germination as both these factors are crucial.
The wheat stocks are not separated according to parentage of
seeds, but are just dumped in stocks. Grading and testing is
also a time- taking job, and can be done relatively quickly.
The fertiliser supply would take much longer time, even
months because it has to be imported and only the federal
government can place such orders. The Punjab government thus
has to firm up its mind about the quantity, inform the
federal government, which, in turn, has to place the order.
Can all this be done in a month’s time? Given the
performance criterion, one can only be doubtful about
fertiliser reaching farmers on time.
The reports of fertiliser hoarding have started pouring in
because of the government’s plans to impose reformed general
sales tax that can increase the price, officially by two per
cent and unofficially God knows what. Both Urea and DAP off
take, which was 14 per cent in the first three quarters as
compared to last year, has, of late, picked like anything.
If the federal government does not import additional
quantity, the prices would spin out of farmers’ financial
reach, which the recent floods have reduced considerably.
The Punjab government should realise that only one month is
left before the start of wheat season. During the month of
October, it has to find a donor, ask the federal government
to import fertiliser and finalise arrangements to take that
money to the farmers. It is an uphill task, if not an
Alternatively, it can start bringing the farmers
expectations down by telling them about the exact financial
health of the provincial government. It must come clean on
what it can afford from its own resources and what it
cannot. But if it continues making farmers clinge to false
hopes, it would make life difficult for them. The
difficulties in the distribution of Watan Cards provide a
clear list of risks and allegations that such exercise can
entail. It is better to avoid them, and let the farmers
re-build their financial lives, as they have already started
doing in case of their homes.