Militants’ threat in Malakand – Growing maize crop along roads prohibited

Post Source: Dawn August 09, 2009

PESHAWAR, Aug 8: The government has decided to bar farmers from growing maize along roads in the Malakand region, on the ground that the crop could provide shelter to militants. The decision was taken at a special meeting of the provincial cabinet held here on July 20, an official told Dawn, adding “the decision has been taken to ensure safe movement of forces on the roads”. Earlier, a high-level committee comprising the NWFP governor, chief minister and senior officials, had approved the decision, attracting criticism from farmers because what they believe it will multiply their financial woes. Janisar Khan, president of the Alliance of Farmers and Growers, said maize was a cash crop that provided livelihood to a vast majority of the affected areas, and it could only be replaced if the government allowed growers to grow poppy for medicines, like India. He said the decision not to allow maize crops along roads would increase growers’ problems, adding they would hold a protest demonstration in Mingora against the decision. The official conceded that maize was one of the major cash crops grown in almost all the districts of the Malakand region. The quantity of maize produced by the area, he said, was more than one-fourth of the total produce of the province and was the second staple food after wheat in the area. However, he maintained, the roadside maize fields often provided shelter to outlaws targeting vehicles on the roads. Earlier, farmers in the Bajaur Agency had suffered huge financial losses when security forces destroyed standing maize crops on a vast land during military operation last year. Political authorities later stopped farmers from growing crops along main roads in the area. In consequence of the cabinet decision, the government has also constituted a committee to identify the areas in consultation with the military authorities where growing of maize crop could create security problem and to free the rest of the areas for maize sowing. The committee, headed by the additional chief secretary, will motivate farmers for switch to alternative cash crops. Similarly, saving the farmers from financial losses by evolving a compensation package was also part of the objectives of the committee, the official said. The committee will examine the issue and will submit its recommendations for approval of the competent authority as early as possible.

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