Archive for July, 2010

President of Pakistan, Sindh speaker among 147 water thieves: ADP

Post Source: The News International Newspaper – July 28, 2010

Sindh rejects ADB report; bank withdraws funding

By Umar Cheema

ISLAMABAD: An Asian Development Bank (ADB) report has accused top Sindhi politicians including President Asif Ali Zardari, Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Khuhro and other Sindhi landlords of stealing canal water through Direct Outlets (DOs), a major source of water theft that is virtually turning the irrigated lands situated at the tail-end of water courses into barren tracts.

The report, a severe indictment of the political elite, said that in Nasir Division of Rohri canal where President Zardari’s lands are located, 354 per cent extra water is captured through Direct Outlets (DOs) by influential landowners and in this way they are getting 11.43 cusecs water per acre against the designated amount of 3.23 cusecs per acre. In case of President Zardari’s land, 138 per cent extra water is being granted for irrigation. Nisar Khuhro’s lands are being irrigated through 292 per cent extra water secured through DOs from main canals. Irrigation laws don’t permit DO to anybody. Anyone drawing water through DO is committing a theft, said an irrigation expert who recently retired from the Sindh Irrigation Development Authority (SIDA).

Although water scarcity and theft by the landed elite remains a burning issue in rural Sindh, it has hardly caught the attention of the mainstream media. Data furnished through media reports published in Sindhi language newspapers indicate that in the month of June only, anti-theft protests were organised at more than one thousand places.

The Sindh government, instead of looking into the matter, has disapproved the ADB report that was prepared to fund Sindh Water Resources Development and Management Investment Programme to be funded by the bank. Consequently, the ADB has withdrawn the funding offer, it has been learnt.

The report was prepared by a team of 17 national and international consultants who worked on it from March to August 2009. Murad Ali Shah, then Sindh’s irrigation minister who now holds the portfolio of finance, confirmed to The News that ADB had submitted a report but it was turned down by the provincial government. “There were numerous mistakes. Lots of things were wrong,” he said when contacted through telephone for his version. He refused going into the details about the individuals listed for capturing water through DO, including President Zardari.

President Zardari’s spokesman didn’t respond to telephone calls and messages dropped for his version. However, the report has mentioned his name, also of Nisar Khuhro.

MNA Marvi Memon, who heads a National Assembly’s sub-committee on climate change and had been working on water theft, said she had visited areas in Sindh and the Punjab and theft by landed elite was a common practice in both provinces. Marvi has directed authorities in both provinces to submit a report to her committee about how many landowners were receiving irrigation water through DOs. The sub-committee’s meeting will be held today (Wednesday).

The ADB report’s copy is available with The News. It said the capturing of water has been allowed through lack of enforcement and loss of management control. “It has changed the cropping patterns on large landholdings to higher water demand crops with lower economic returns to water (but higher financial returns on land),” said the report. It further states: “Despite the high flows, the level of elite (water) capture results in shortage of water for most farmers, creating opportunities for rent seeking that give an impression of power of irrigation officials when, in fact, they have lost effective control of the irrigation system and can only influence irrigation at the margin.”

Writing in reference to Rohri Canal/Nasir Division where President Zardari’s lands are located, the report states: “The large transfers of water from ordinary farms to influential landowners with DO and illegal outlets is not only inequitable but also economically damaging…Substantial economic costs have been incurred through misallocation of water.”

The ADB report has listed as many as 147 landlords benefiting through DO only in Nasir Division of Rohri Canal that include the names of President Zardari and Nisar Khoro. Although, the Sindh government has rejected the report, Professor Ejaz Qureshi who was then General Manager of Sindh Irrigation Development Authority (SIDA), now retired, endorsed the contents of the report. “They (government) have tried to hush it up but the report is based on facts.” Qureshi said DO is part of water theft and is hooliganism of grave nature. He said while a poor farmer receives water from water courses, the feudals get it directly through canals. “Due to this reason, sanctioned lands don’t get water.” He said that according to irrigation laws, there was no room for DO.

Marvi Memon, who is working on water theft, said: “This is downright criminal. In last 10 days, I have toured Sindh and Punjab to see why the poor people of both provinces are complaining of water shortages, how they are used in inter-provincial disputes, and how the elite with the connivance of irrigation bureaucracy steal their rights.”


Farmers decry water tax on barani land

Post Source: By Dawn Correspondent

August 28, 2010

MIANWALI, July 28: The irrigation department is recovering abiana (water tax) along with fine from farmers, but the latter are not ready to pay the tax because they say most of their lands remained without canal water throughout the year. Farmers say most of the land in Mianwali district is barani, and it has never been irrigated with canal water. Wan-Bhachran Janubi, Shadia Janubi, Chak 1-MB, 2-MB, 3-MB, Wan-Bhachran Shumali, Harnoli, Vichvin Bala, Dab, Norullah, Muzzaffarpur Shumali and Chak 22-DB to 32-DB are among the areas most affected by water shortage.

The farmers say they are ready to pay water tax on the land which they irrigated with canal water, but not on the barani land.

As per the existing flat rate, water tax is Rs85 per acre for Kharif season and Rs55 per acre for Rabi season. Flat rate is suitable for the plain areas, where canal water can reach everywhere, but not for Thal areas like Bhakkar, Mianwali, Layyah, Khushab and Muzaffargarh.

“Why should I pay water tax on my 50 acres of land, which has never been irrigated with canal water?” asks Abdul Hamid Khan. He said farmers having lands along Bhonki minor were being charged water tax despite the fact that the minor remained completely dry throughout the year.

Muhammad Hussain, another farmer from Wan-Bhachran Shumali, said he owned 200 acres but only 10 acres were being irrigated with canal water. He said his remaining land was barani. He said irrigation officials were telling him to pay water tax on his entire land.

Irrigation Deputy Collector Abdul Majeed Khan said his department released equal share of water in all minors and it’s up to the farmers to irrigate their lands. He said farmers could get their barani land exempted from water tax under section 20-B of the Canal Act.

He said tail-end farmers were given 20 per cent discount in water tax. He said farmers knew that if they would get their barani land exempted from water tax, the irrigation department would curtail the amount of water released in minors and as a result their water share would be curtailed.

Rethinking the Sandwich: the Globalization of Wheat Rust

Post Source:

Ignored orphan crops from the developing world may be the White Knight that rescues the Green Revolution from the Red Queen.


Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug (second from left) believed Ug99 is the most serious threat to wheat and barley in 50 years. He is shown here consulting with Kenyan leaders near wheat plots in Kenya. (Agricultural Research Service)

For the millions of north Indian wheat farmers, fate really does ride in the winds. A southern wind brings sighs of relief; they know that warm monsoon rains soon will revive their parched fields. But a western wind brings shudders of fear; all are unsure if that breeze carries with it a spore of the potent Ug99 fungus — the fungus that could single-handedly undermine the global food supply.

Ten years ago, in the fields of Uganda and Kenya, a mutated strain of the Ug99 fungus, also known as wheat stem rust, successfully overcame the genetic defenses embedded in the local wheat plants, destroying entire harvests in the ground where they stand and releasing its spores into the air above them. Since then, the rust has followed the winds and the wheat north through Africa, Yemen, Iran and is now poised to strike the fields of North India and Pakistan — home to more than 20 percent of the planet’s wheat supply and millions of the world’s poorest, most vulnerable farmers. These farmers stand to swell the ranks of those farmers already devastated by rust in villages from Kenya to Iran. There, rust has successively destroyed up to 80 percent of the wheat crop.

In an attempt to avert catastrophe, the world’s brightest minds have focused their attention on an advanced biotech lab in Minnesota to develop new seeds resistant to the fungus. The long-term strategy to global crop pathogens like wheat rust, however, actually may be found closer to Ethiopia and with the long overlooked orphan crops of the developing world.

Ug99-infected wheat from a nursery in Njoro, Kenya.

Wheat rust is not a new phenomenon. A rust epidemic in 1916 destroyed 100 million bushels in the U.S. and Canada, and the last major North American episode in 1954 destroyed 40 percent of the U.S. wheat crop.

The fungus has plagued wheat crops and the human populations that depend on them for generations — the ancient Romans even worshiped Robigus, the god of rust. Each spring they held the Robigalia festival and offered sacrifices so that he might spare their wheat that year. For a time after the advent of the Green Revolution, all that was just becoming ancient history.

In the 1970s, Norman Borlaug and other scientists of the CGIAR — the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, an internationally funded network of crop breeding and development centers — succeeded in suppressing the disease by promoting specific genes resistant to infection. Like Gregor Mendel and his peas (but on a mission to save millions), Borlaug and his colleagues used selective breeding to create high-yielding strains of wheat, choosing those that exhibited certain beneficial traits. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, they produced new strains of fast-growing, high-yielding and disease-resistant wheat.

And after they did that, they gave it all away.

Such developments helped kick-start the Green Revolution. A generation of the world’s farmers used these improved seeds, and wheat rust was fading into memory.

The Theory of Weary
The dark red lesions that infect the open stomata, or pores, of the wheat and siphon off the plant’s nutrients have earned Ug99 many colorful nicknames — red rust, the red menace and the red death among them.

But perhaps the real enemy of wheat farmers is what could be called the Red Queen — after the fictional character from Alice in Wonderland who must run faster and faster on her accelerating treadmill just to remain in the same place. Like the Queen, farmers now have to spray more and more fungicide every year to keep the same yield as the year before.

Meanwhile, wheat researchers in a secure Minnesota biotech laboratory run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture frantically work to find a new genetic defense that can protect against the mutated Ug99. As plant and fungus co-evolve, coached along unwittingly by humans, each contest intensifies, and the races never end. And ever since advances in biotechnology allowed humans to challenge bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms head on, we are now running in a lot of them.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, humanity’s first antibiotic. It took more than a decade to refine the drug for distribution, but by 1944, the U.S. had 2.3 million doses ready to land with the Allied troops on Normandy beaches to combat the infections brought by German bullets and bayonets. Now we don’t even trust penicillin to treat a moderate fever — the bacteria of the world have adapted and become almost completely immune to its effect.

Likewise in Omaha — the city in eastern Nebraska, not the beach in northern France — the herbicide Roundup, widely used on U.S. maize, cotton and soybeans for decades, has lost part of its effectiveness as weeds adapted and now more easily survive its continued application.

According to Walter Falcon, the deputy director for Stanford University’s Program for Food Security and the Environment, and a former chairman of CGIAR’s wheat and maize center in Mexico, “much of what happens these days [in agricultural research] is maintenance breeding — where pests come back and you have to battle them again after you thought the battle was over.”

Like Borlaug, Falcon was one of the journeymen of the Green Revolution. He lived in Pakistan while the revolution was in full swing and his work helped develop the South Asian wheat fields whose fate now hangs in the balance.

“Growing wheat is a roulette game,” he says now, speaking from long experience. “We always know that rusts come and go — that is why you typically rotate varieties every eight or 10 years. But in humid tropical conditions [like East Africa], all bets are off.” In warm, moist tropical regions, there is no winter frost to kill rust spores and annually reset the growth of that virulent fungal population. Furthermore, moist air improves the germination success of those spores and rusts tend to mutate more quickly in the warm weather.

All together, the climate of East Africa acts like an incubator for the development of new mutations and new strains of dangerous plant disease. That is why even though Uganda and Kenya aren’t global leaders in growing wheat, they have proven to be quite proficient at growing rust.

The Path Less Taken — Will it make the Difference?
In this through-the-looking-glass world of wheat rust and the Red Queen, a White Knight may emerge from the most surprising of places. Ethiopia, lying just north of the areas where Ug99 first began its march toward the wheat belts of India, was one of the first countries hit by the resurgent fungus. Surprisingly, it weathered the storm much better than any would have expected. One reason lies in Ethiopia’s forgotten reservoirs of rust-resistant crops that can cushion the supply shocks created by threats like stem rust.

A particularly good cushion seems to be the soft, spongy and slightly sour injera dough. Injera is the bread served at any Ethiopian restaurant and used to sop up the lamb and lentils. It is made from teff, a grain native to that nation’s highlands — almost exclusively grown in Ethiopia and largely ignored by the development scientists of the Green Revolution.

Along with other crops that dominate the farms of many of the world’s poorest nations, Ethiopia’s native cultivars had never benefited from the extraordinary yield gains of Green Revolution varieties of wheat, rice and maize. Rather than developing native African crops, the big three that were developed for and had worked so well in Mexico and South Asia were merely transplanted to African soils.

While the development of Ug99 points to the flaws in that traditional strategy, the overlooked, “orphan crops” in these areas are a big part of the solution to the current crisis. Over the past decade, Ethiopia — the name itself is synonymous with famine — has shown it can still teach the world a thing or two about food security.

Why Wheat?
Wheat did not even arrive in Kenya until 1904, when the British colonial government planted 1,200 acres of the stuff in pursuit of an export industry. In the 1970s, Kenya’s post-independence government consolidated East Africa’s wheat research laboratories and vigorously worked to attain the impractical goal of wheat self-sufficiency.

In a sense, blame McDonald’s for encouraging production — as people become richer, they often emulate media representations of how the West lives and dines. In large part, that means sandwiches — and sandwiches mean wheat. Plus, as the world urbanizes, people’s jobs change, time becomes more valuable, and the time for food preparation is, in many cases, disappearing. Making a sandwich is simply faster than cooking a pot of rice, boiling cassava or rolling a mat of injera bread from teff.

Whatever the motivations behind growing wheat in East Africa, it has (through the spread of wheat rust) created a huge external cost for the world’s food system – an externality that may soon be paid both by millions of Indian wheat farmers and the billions of consumers who could see wheat prices skyrocket in ensuing shortages.

Falcon warns that it is within no one’s pedigree to decide what crops a country should be allowed to grow. And beyond history’s usual scapegoats for global ills — the British, McDonald’s, globalization and urbanization — at least some of the blame lies with the agricultural development community itself. In the card game that is cultivating wheat in humid tropical climates, agricultural research since the 1970s has inadvertently stacked the deck.

Save our Orphans

Some 30 major food crops are currently or have historically been widely grown throughout the world. Since the Green Revolution, just the top three — maize, wheat and rice — have accumulated near 90 percent of the research and development funding. Those three crops have received most of the benefits of increased grain yields, increased fertilizer efficiency, faster growth periods and improved drought tolerance.

Ten orphan crops to watch. Click to enlarge


With those immense advantages over the next 25 most important crops (which received little development funding), it is no wonder countries would want to import nonnative, climate-inappropriate, but technologically superior varieties for cultivation. Wheat rust was the inevitable result, and the scale of the physical famine nipping at its heels has not been seen for so long that it is hard to imagine.

Historically, the last large, wheat-dependent poor populations to see actual large-scale and annually repeated crop losses were those of France in 1789. Riots there didn’t stop until a king and about 40,000 others ultimately lost their heads. In 2008, just the expectation of food shortage caused cereal prices to double and food riots to occur in cities from Mexico to Bangladesh.

Ethiopia and its orphan crops have not solved the world’s hunger problem. On the contrary, poor baseline yields for Ethiopian cultivars — like teff — have resulted in chronic famine in much of that region. Nor are the Green Revolution research principles of improving yields and increasing disease resistance culpable.

Ug99 did not occur because of human research; it occurred because there was not enough research on more agro-climactically appropriate crops. Perhaps the lesson, then, is that agricultural research should spend more time and money developing yield improvements for native, local crops like teff, cassava, sorghum and pigeon pea so that developing countries will have viable alternatives to just wheat, rice and maize.

With real alternatives to wheat, Kenya won’t be under so much pressure to look like Kansas.

“A Very Nasty Tradeoff”

But few dollars are available to provide that choice.

“Last time I looked, there were only four full-time yam breeders in the world. Who’s going to do it?” asks Falcon. “The problem is twofold: First, overall agricultural investment is too low, and second, investment in developing countries has either stagnated or is decreasing.”

Total public agricultural investment hovers around $25 billion a year. A third of this investment goes toward the developing world, and only about 5 percent is allocated toward sub-Saharan Africa and its orphan crops. The publicly funded CGIAR system, historically the most effective and prolific development network for Third World agriculture, has an annual budget of $500 million. Those centers spend roughly $25 million directly improving the yield of orphans.

Despite this historical disparity, or perhaps because of it, Falcon is optimistic that big gains can be made in the yields of orphan crops if only we give them a chance.

“We’ve learned a lot from the big three that we can apply quickly to these new crops. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit, so to speak.” If more funding were made available to these orphan crops, it is likely that large yield gains could be made quickly.

On the other hand, given the importance now of wheat, rice and maize to providing the world’s raw calories (above 30 percent, and greater if including the amount used in animal feeds) — that reallocation decision is, according to Falcon, “a very nasty tradeoff.”

Perhaps though, the rapid and potentially catastrophic spread of wheat rust will force our hand in finally making that trade off. The lesson of wheat rust has been that when we standardize our food system around a few staple crops, we also globalize our vulnerability to their pathogens. We may be able to develop a new strain of rust resistant wheat and distribute it to India and Pakistan before the winds drop the first fateful spore onto those fields. If so, we will have breathlessly reached another checkpoint in that race with the Red Queen, earning a short respite as the clock resets.

But the race will go on indefinitely.

In the world of agriculture, the future is always uncertain — success is only achieved with good weather and a lot of intelligent foresight. But one thing is sure: One way or the other, this round of wheat rust will beget orphans. If we do it right, and if the money is there, the newest batch of orphans in Ethiopia and Kenya, in India and Pakistan, will only be of the crop variety.

Farmers seek water

Post Source: Dawn Newspaper – Monday 26 Jul, 2010


QUETTA: Farmers from Gandakha tehsil of Jaffarabad district have criticised the authorities concerned for what they described as unfair distribution of irrigation water in the tail-end area of the Khirthar canal.

Addressing a press conference on Sunday, farmers’ representatives Hasan Din Jamali, Mohammad Qasim Sarparah, Syed Liaquat Shah and Mohammad Bakhsh Methazai said that farmers could not cultivate their thousands of acres of lands because of non-availability of water.

They said tail-end areas were without water because of its unfair distribution, adding that their Rabi crops had also been destroyed for want of water.—Staff Correspondent

Farm credit lag

Post Source: Dawn economic & business review

By Rauf Nizamani

AGRICULTURE the mainstay of Sindh’s rural economy, is underserved by the banking sector. Credit plays an important role in increasing farm productivity, but the province, due to various reasons, lags behind in benefiting from bank facility. Of the total Rs260 billion allocated for agriculture credit for the country in fiscal year 2010-11, 11.11 per cent has been earmarked for Sindh, 86 for Punjab, 2.61 for NWFP and 0.28 per cent for Balochistan. However, there has been no marked improvement in the availability of this facility in Sindh despite numerous efforts including one-window operation and mobile credit service.

The farm credit in the province during July-December 2010 increased by only six per cent over the same period of the previous year. However, it significantly fell short of the target as the disbursed credit amounted to Rs11.8 billion against the target of Rs36 billion. Similarly farm credit inflow into the province in the half of last year was Rs9 billion or 26 per cent of the target of Rs35 billion.

An agricultural survey carried out in Sukkur district recently revealed that 52 per cent of the farmers had no bank account. Only five per cent of them had obtained loans from banks, whereas 54 per cent had taken loans from informal sources including friends and family, input suppliers and arthies.

About 89.6 per cent of the respondent had no information about the various bank products. About 71.5 per cent of the respondents considered interest-based financial products against Shariah and refused to avail the facility. About 85 per cent of farmers, who had taken loans/credit from input suppliers, were obligated to sell their produce to suppliers.

The growers blame low utilisation of farm credit in Sindh to non-cooperation of revenue officials and commercial banks and corruption in loan processing. A large number of growers’ land records and passbooks have not been updated. The farm credit off-take is also hindered due to various problems relating to land record. The lack of computerisation of land record is a big hurdle in the maximisation of agriculture credit.

A few years back, the provincial government had decided to computerise land records. However, nothing has been done so far in this regard. Some time ago the Sindh High Court had ordered that no transaction should be carried out by any bank until the land record was computerised within three months’ time. But this did not happen.

Besides, banks are reluctant in sanctioning loans especially to small farmers. And if they at all approve small loans, those carry exorbitant mark-up in some cases up to 25-30 per cent. There are also complaints that once the loan is sanctioned, the bank officials compel the growers to pay 20-25 per cent mark-up, which is deducted before the amount of loan is deposited in grower’s bank account. Thus the growers get only 75-80 per cent of the sanctioned loan.

In addition to this, commercial banks take more than two months to process loan applications which delays sowing and results in low crop yield. There is a need to simplify the process, so that growers may apply for bank loan instead of going to traders for borrowing money which though high in mark-up rate is easier and quick to obtain.

Another reason for low disbursement of bank credit is that banks make farm loans mostly against recoveries. As recoveries in Sindh have slowed down due to water shortage and other reasons, the disbursement of loans has slowed.

The central bank believes that agricultural credit in Punjab, the NWFP and Balochistan have shown a positive performance while in Sindh it remains sluggish. It has emphasised that improved role of provincial revenue department and computerisation of land records can help maximise disbursement of farm credit

The State Bank governor has also strongly advised the provincial governments to manage speedy issuance of passbooks to farmers to enable them to avail bank credit. He has especially asked the Sindh government to resolve the issue on priority basis. Some bank officials are of the view that even if 50 per cent of the land records are updated, the credit to agriculture in Sindh will rise..

The concerned department in Sindh says it is trying to resolve the issue on a priority basis but so far no tangible result has been achieved.

Retailers fleecing flour consumers

Post Source: Dawn Newspaper

By Aamir Shafaat Khan

KARACHI: Consumers have yet to benefit from the falling wheat and wholesale flour prices as retailers continue charging higher rates for various flour varieties. Some 10 days back, the 50-kg bag of flour No 2.5 had come down to Rs1,350 from Rs1,390. On Monday, it slipped further as some retailers quoted the rate of 50 kg bag at Rs1,320. The 100-kg wheat bag price had also plunged to Rs2,365 some 10 days back from Rs2,410. On Monday a flour miller quoted the price of wheat bag at Rs2,350.

Retailers in various areas were seen demanding Rs28-30 per kg for atta No 2.5, while the rates of chakki and fine flour were Rs33-34 per kg. The 10 kg Ashrafi flour bag is tagged at Rs310, while another variety of 10 kg bag sells at Rs270.Some retailers said that they had old stocks purchased at higher rate prevailing 10 days back and as soon as this stock is cleared the rate would come down in the next two to three days. However, the same retailers were quick enough to pass on the impact instantly to the consumers in case of any upward change in wheat and wholesale price of flour.

The city government also does not issue price of various flour varieties in the fortnightly price list. The list also lacks rates of sugar and ghee and cooking oil.

General Secretary Karachi Atta Chakki Association (KACA) Anis Shahid said that the association has kept the old wholesale rate of chakki flour at Rs30 per kg so far, but retailers are charging higher price from the consumers.

He said there are two types of wheat. For chakki quality, the rate of 100 kg wheat bag (unclean) has fallen to Rs2,400 from Rs2,450. After going through the cleaning process, the 100 kg bag of clean wheat for making chakki flour is now priced at Rs2,575 as compared to Rs2,650 some 20 days back.

Anis said that if the wheat rate falls further the price will come down as the ban on arrival of wheat from Punjab still exists despite calling off the strike by flour millers on the assurance that the matter would be resolved soon.

He said the quality of Punjab wheat is far superior to the Sindh wheat. He added that the wheat arriving from Sindh in March/April was infected and carried dust and around three to four kg was going into waste. Now the quality has further deteriorated as share of wastage in 100-kg bag is now six to seven kg.

Meanwhile, flour millers are expecting some decisions over the lifting of inter-provincial ban on movement of wheat from Punjab to Sindh.

A flour miller said that the government had given us 10-15 days time to settle the issue after ending the strike by the millers on July 12.

Can the role of middleman be eliminated?

Post Source: Dawn economic and business review

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

THE role of middleman in the commodity trade is back in focus. The Sindh Assembly has enacted the Wholesale Agricultural Produce Marketing Development and Regulation which empowers the provincial government to eliminate the middleman’s role. The act has come after Punjab’s continuous maligning of the middleman for more than a decade and repeated attempts to reduce his role. But Punjab has not been able to even reduce, leave alone to eliminate, the middleman’s role. Can Sindh succeed where Punjab has failed?

Punjab failed to throw the middleman out of the commodity trade (especially wheat) because it treated him as an ‘outsider,’ who jumps in at the time of trading, exploits farmers, makes money and gets out of market. The reality, however, is different. The middleman is very much part of the production process.

In rural economy, the farmer uses land and his labour power and the middleman provides money to facilitate production. Without middleman’s credit, over 80 per cent farmers would not be able to buy seed and fertiliser. They will not even be able to prepare their fields for sowing if the middleman does not provide money for the diesel. That is how ground realities define the role of the middleman and make him an essential part of the crop cycle.

The financial role of middleman can be gauged from the fact that of the total loan requirement of around Rs1,000 billion, the formal sector (banks) provides around Rs275 billion. The government banks hardly provide Rs80 billion.

The middleman’s mode of credit is tailor-made for farmers. They get as much money as required and frequency dictated by their agricultural, and even social (family functions), requirements. No player from the formal sector has ever dared to venture where the middleman routinely does.

Punjab started this anti-middleman campaign way back in 2000 when the country, for the first time had a record wheat crop and the federal and provincial bureaucrats raised issues such as: “Pakistan is not only becoming self-sufficient in wheat but also becoming an exporting state, cleaning the production line of middleman’s exploitation etc.” Since then, Punjab has done everything administratively possible, even involving the State Bank of Pakistan to restrict commodity finance, to throw the middleman out, but failed.

Most of the emerging Far-Eastern markets like China, Singapore, Thailand and even India have not only acknowledged the role of middleman but also used him for improving the quality of agricultural produce. All successful models are available, but the provincial governments in Pakistan are trying to swim upstream now.

In these Far-Eastern markets, the middleman has been turned into a very effective vehicle of technology transfer. Since the middleman is, by far, the biggest investor, the farmers listen to him more than the extension workers who can only advise without any financial clout. There is no reason why Pakistan cannot benefit from these experiences.

These middlemen normally have 100 to 500 farmers registered with them, depending on the quantum of their investment. If the middlemen are trained in export and domestic quality issues – grading, packing and traceability – they can more easily persuade the farmers into compliance. They can be turned into trainers of trainers to educate farmers.

By making these middlemen quality conscious and linking them to exporters, their places can be turned into trading platforms for quality produce. Pakistan can never think of increasing agriculture, especially horticulture exports without developing and implementing domestic quality standards. That is exactly the point where middlemen have played their role in the Far-East and that where he should be playing role in Pakistan.

Some of the middlemen could be helped develop into bigger trading house, where literate people would also find some place.

Both Punjab and Sindh need to have dispassionate analysis of the role of middleman and his potential. It is not to suggest that the middleman should be left alone to exploit the farmers. They should be regulated in a way to reduce exploitative part.

But in order to do that, the governments have to accept their role, and then re-define it.