Punjab’s sinking farm
Ahmad Fraz Khan
June 27, 2011: Agriculture in Punjab has underperformed over
the last three years. Cotton production has fallen 10 per
cent, rice 6.7, gram 30 and pulses by 24 per cent.
But all these statistics have failed to shake the provincial
government out of slumber.
Cotton production, which stood at 8.8 million bales in 2008,
has dropped to 7.8 million bales. Gram production has come
down from 658,000 tons to 460,000 tons. Pulses has witnessed
a fall from 830,000 tons to 625,000 tons. Similarly, rice
output dipped from 3.7 million tons to 3.4 million tons and
maize is down from 2.67 million tons to 2.65 million tons in
the last three years.
The country’s population has increased 8.7 per cent, or by
12.60 million, during these years. In Punjab alone,
population increased by eight million. But major crops have
seen their production falling by varying degrees.
The ever widening gap between demand and supply is causing
price hike. The cumulative impact of inflation comes to
around a backbreaking 57 per cent.
According to some studies, the number of people living below
the poverty line has increased from 47 million in 2008 to 72
million – a jump of over 50 per cent— almost in direct
proportion to inflation. All economists agree that the
government cannot deal with the monster of inflation without
improving supply (production) side.
In Punjab, as in Pakistan, almost other production sectors
(like large-scale manufacturing) are sinking. Given energy
position hardly leaves any hope for their early revival. It
leaves the country and the Punjab with only one sector i.e.
agriculture. But it is still to appear on the official
policy radar, at least according to its potential.
The sector is in disarray both at planning and execution
level. Major part of budget is being spent on
non-development expenditures because the provincial
department has become an employment exchange for successive
governments. Its current strength is at an unbelievable
Punjab has a total 25,000 villages. Most of the extension
experts believe that one agriculture officer can easily
cover five villages.
This makes total requirement
of 5,000 officers. Even if another 1,000 is added for
supervisory role in different layers, the total requirement
comes around 6,000 officers.
The Extension Directorate performs the same functions that
the Crop Reporting and the Information Directorates do. The
Water Directorate is surviving on foreign funded projects
and has nothing to do locally. Once these projects complete
their lives, and some of them already have, the directorate
would be left with nothing.
To make the matter worse, farmers are now buying almost
everything – fertiliser, pesticides, seeds, machinery – from
the private sector, which has developed huge paraphernalia
of extension services. What the government employees are
Just overlapping the effort at best, and working as private
sector agents at worst.
Currently, these 35,000 employees are being used as a
workforce for the provincial chief executive and are
involved in almost everything non-agriculture – from packing
of subsidised sugar to administering polio campaign.
In the last few months, the Urea price had hit an unbearable
Rs1,600 per bag. Though the company price is still Rs1,250
per bag, the receding writ of government enables everyone to
make money at the cost of others. Despite this sheer black
marketing of Urea, not even one dealer has been proceeded
against by the Punjab government.
Another example illustrates how non-serious the department
and the government are dealing with the sector. A new wheat
variety was introduced in the province in 2007. This
particular variety now covers around 40 per cent of wheat
area in the province. But within three years of its
operation, the variety has become susceptible to all kinds
of bacterial attack.
Most of the discoloured wheat that the province produced
this year was result of rust attack on this wheat variety.
The farmers allege that the variety was not properly tested
before offering it for the sale; it was released
The Punjab government is tight lipped on the issue and has
still not moved to study the varietal character, find
loopholes, fix responsibility and punish the guilty. The
farmers blame that it is departmental employees who promoted
the seed. The government has not moved so far. It is also
because these 35,000 employees have created huge overlapping
in the system and devised a system where buck does not stop.
Given the acreage (around seven million acres) that this
variety has gained in the last three years, the farmers and
the government would be in real trouble to replace the seed
on these fields next year. Where would the government
arrange fresh seed for it? If it does not and farmers use
the same variety as seed, crop on this area would be in a
The Punjab government needs to get its act together.
Agriculture is now assumed added significance because that
even planning part is now being devolved to provinces after
the 18th Amendment. The Punjab has to replace federal
planning and truly play the role of national food basket. If
it continues flounder on basics, it would be increasingly
hard for it to help the country achieve food security.
Courtesy: The DAWN