Upgrading farmer service centres

By Tahir Ali (Dawn Economic & Business Review June 22 to 28, 2009)

Farmers Centres DAWN

TO increase productivity and income of farmers, the NWFP government launched farmer service centres (FSCs) a few years ago.

FSC is an organisation of the farmers for the farmers by the farmers. It creates linkages between farmers and public/private line departments and associations and aims at the capacity-building of farmers. The provincial government has spent Rs255 millions so far on the FSCs.

There are around 45,000 members of the FSCs. “Farmers can become FSC members after paying an enrolment fee of Rs100 and a share-money of Rs500 each. The government provides a matching grant equal to the farmers’ share.

Against the minimum number of 200, the current FSC membership ranges from 500 to 2,000. But the overall FSC membership is very small compared to 1.356 million farms in the province.

Growers complain that the executive body (EB) of the FSC is supposed to serve as a bridge between the general body (GB) and the management committee (MC), but interaction between them is not a regular feature. In some areas, the GB and EB members pursue their individual interests which may weaken the system.

The MC is supposed to take all important decisions but in effect, 75 per cent of all FSCs are predominantly managed by agriculture officers because of their final say in financial matters. This goes against the FSC by-laws that provide autonomy to these establishments.

In 2007, model farm services centres (MFSCs) were opened in each district of the NWFP. The government provided Rs1 million endowment funds to each entity. It also constructed a building complex containing offices of all relevant departments along with warehouse, equipment, machinery, training and conference hall. A president, invariably a farmer, heads the MFSC.

MFSCs have been built in 22 of 24 NWFP districts. Kohistan is yet to have one while that of Batagram is under construction. Unfortunately, those in Malakand division are non-functional these days The MFSC is registered under Cooperative Societies Act. An official says the government intends to enact a law to give sanctity and credence to the entity and its resolutions.

The NWFP Project Director of MFSCs Rasool Mohammad said the project was for a three-year period and after that the MFSCs would be able to run on their own.“This objective will be obtained through consultation and training of farmers,” he added.

He revealed that MFSCs provided 22,500 bags of fertiliser at half of the market price to its members last year when there was an acute shortage of the commodity. “Quality wheat seeds and other inputs were also supplied on official prices.These services are sources of income not only for MFSCs but also save time, energy and money of farmers besides expediting the pace of work and services,” he said.

He said seven departments agriculture extension, agricultural research, water management, soil conservation, cooperative inspector, water and soil testing, livestock/poultry and plant protection will have offices in MFSCs and provide services through MFSC under the same roof. Some departments, he said, were yet to shift to the MFSCs.

“Millions of rupees are available with the FSCs. If these funds are spent judiciously with the technical advice and expertise provided by the government, it will go a long way in development of agriculture in the province,” he believed.Asif Ali Jah, a farmer and president of MFSC Haripur, told this scribe that the MFSC was a revolutionary idea which, if expanded, would solve agriculture-related problems.

“We provided cheap inputs, modern machinery on rent and even interest free loans in form of inputs that had 100 per cent recovery ratio. We also provided fertiliser worth Rs1.8 millions last year. We have also booked a large quantity of DAP for the Kharif season,” said Jah.

Out of the seventy per cent of Haripur’s one million population were farmers, he said just 1,529 farmers had joined MFSC. Jah, however, claimed that his was the only MFSC in NWFP that had 70 female farmers as its registered members.

Jah demanded fertiliser dealership and setting up of a provincial organisation for MFSCs. “Small projects for value addition should be planned and specialists in various fields, like poultry in Mansehra, should be nominated for all MFSCs.” Hafiz Minhajuddin, the president of MFSC Laki Marwat said that farmers need quality inputs, exposure to modern farming techniques and machinery, and availability of credit support. “MFSC coordinates between growers and government. It provides cheap agriculture inputs and services. It provides farmers guidance and marketing services for their outputs, which in-turn, increases their incomes,” said Minhaj.

Malik Jamshed, president of MFSC Mardan, said MFSC provided wheat seeds last year at Rs1,600 per bag as against Rs2,200 market price. Member-farmers were sold a bag of urea at Rs670, much below its market price of around Rs1100.” He pleaded for processing and cold storage, seed certification, soil and water testing facilities for MFSCs. “The government should give endowment fund of Rs5 million to each MFSC for purchase of inputs and machinery. Maximum limit for farmers from MFSC fund should be enlarged and period of loan recovery extended. All departments should be asked to cooperate.”Jamshed demanded early construction of cattle-farm and cattle-colony in Mardan. “The government has built a large building for our MFSC. But it is agonising that all departments except agricultural extension are yet to join their offices in MFSC here,” he lamented.

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