Budgeting for food security

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

Dawn Economic & Business Review (June 15 to 21, 2009)

BUDGETS should reflect longterm vision and strategy of governments, rather nations. Unfortunately, they have become an exercise in balancing income and expenditure.

Devoid of any vision, the budgetary allocations largely depend on individual politicians and bureaucrats; the most influential get better allocations and some professed priority areas are reduced to mere lip service. Unfortunately, the agriculture seems stuck in the latter category.

The food security is dependent on agriculture, so is half of its employment. Most of manufacturing is based on agriculture raw material and 70 per cent exports are derived from the same sector. But still, agriculture suffers from fiscal and planning neglect. It is in a regressive mode for the last many decades.

There has neither been any horizontal expansion (new lands coming under cultivation) nor any vertical (per acre yield) growth despite having massive potential on each of the two areas.

For the last few decades, its cropping area has been stuck at 550 million acres. It, however, can be expanded by 30 per cent easily if Pakistan can generate water for it by developing water reservoirs on all identified sites.

In case of vertical expansion, the situation is not any better. Per acre yields have either been stagnant or going down. For example, per acre cotton yield in 1992-93 stood at 27 maunds but dipped to 19 maunds last year. Wheat production is not any better either, except for the current year and 1999-2000.

On the other hand, mouths to feed are increasing; according to the latest survey, the total population stood at 172.8 million in 2008. During 1950-2008, population increased by over fourfold, and urban population expanded by over sevenfold. By the end of this decade, it is expected to be nearly 180 million.

The potential for horizontal growth can be gauged from the current culturable waste, which stands at massive 20 million acres. In the Punjab alone, such waste is around four million acres. Compare it with only 67,000 acres in the Indian Punjab, and Pakistan’s management follies become more evident, along with their cost for the nation.

The recent expansion in acreage of wheat crop also underlines the fact how the country is benefiting in one crop at the cost of others and how reducing culturable waste could benefit it. Wheat, normally sown on 20.06 million acres, saw expansion this year to 20.24 million acres and yielded a bumper crop. But, it gobbled up 150,000 acres of canola, 500,000 acres of sunflower, 200,000 acres of vegetables and 150,000 acres of miscellaneous crops, including fodder.

Though the country benefited on one front, gains could soon be stand neutralised as cost of missing other crops becomes evident.

Policy-makers have also not been able to promote multi-cropping, inter-cropping and intensity of the crops. India, next door neighbour, has attained 200 per cent cropping intensity, whereas Pakistan still around 150 per cent.

The key to horizontal agriculture expansion is water, which would simply not be there until and unless Pakistan builds more dams, and exploits all available water re sources. In 1975, after building Tarbella dam, the water planners had calculated seven per cent annual increase in storage to achieve self-sufficiency in water. By now it should have built six dams of Kalabagh size and should have been in the process of seventh one. It has not built even one so far, reflecting insensitivity or incompetence of the successive governments.

The present government has done even worst; instead of even talking about building dams as all previous ones have done, it is abandoning them. Some individuals have decided to abandon Kalabagh, bypassing the parliament.

The vertical growth has been more difficult and arduous part. Over the last six decades, the government and its relevant agencies have not been able to educate farmers on crop management issue. The farming practices are still archaic and around 30 per cent of horticulture crops are lost at post-harvest level. Yields of all major cash and food crops are either stagnant or falling.

The farmers neither get credit, nor inputs, nor certified seeds, nor water in sufficient quantities, which are essential to break free from current stagnation. If ever the farmers produce a good crop, the marketing system cannot absorb it and price, more often than not, crashes badly.

In absence of long-term vision, planning and strategy, production has been fluctuating from one extreme to another.

As first step in the coming budget, the government must find ways to turn agriculture into a profitable concern. Recently, addressing a gathering of farmers at Lahore Advisor on Finance and Revenue Shaukat Tarin conceded that agriculture sector cannot be taxed because it was not a profitable business.

The coming budget should help correct the terms of trade for farmers and arrest the transfer of resources from rural to urban areas. The government must undertake a spirited effort to develop vision and strategy for the sector by involving all stakeholders.

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