Archive for October, 2010

Stark warning three months into Pakistan flood crisis

Post Source: www.dawn.com – Friday, 29 Oct, 2010

ISLAMABAD: International aid agency Oxfam warned Friday that three months into Pakistan’s unprecedented flood crisis funds were drying up, putting millions at risk with swathes of farmland still under water. The United Nations issued a record two-billion-dollar appeal for funds to cope with Pakistan’s worst humanitarian disaster, which ravaged an area roughly the size of England and affected 21 million people. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have estimated the damages at 9.7 billion dollars — almost twice those of Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake which killed more than 73,000 people.

“Funds for the UN flood appeal are drying up and threatening the aid and reconstruction effort,” Oxfam said in a statement marking the third month since heavy monsoon rains began falling in northwestern Pakistan.

“The crisis is far from over,” said Oxfam’s director in Pakistan, Neva Khan.

The United Nations issued the funding appeal on September 17 in New York. Officials say around 35 per cent of the appeal has been funded.

“Cases of disease are increasing and large areas remain under water in southern Sindh province,” said Oxfam. “As winter approaches, seven million people are still without adequate shelter.”

UN officials say 10 million people are in need of immediate food assistance and health authorities have reported 99 confirmed cases of cholera.

“The funding shortfall is so serious that existing regular food rations to 3.5 million people could be in jeopardy,” Oxfam said.

Tens of thousands of families, who had sheltered in schools and other buildings, are being newly displaced as schools reopen. Officials warn that some of the worst-affected areas could take up to six months to dry out.

The United Nations joined forces in urging donors to come forward, particularly for victims in the south, part of the country’s breadbasket.

Spokeswoman Stacey Winston said the United Nations and its partner agencies were doing everything possible to help the victims but warned: “It is simply not enough. We need to have more money.”

“The emergency still continues in Sindh and people are surrounded by water,” Winston said, adding that malnutrition, food security, health conditions and shelter are major concerns.

She said many areas in Sindh were surrounded by water, which she warned may not go down for another three months. “It is a very major concern to us.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said this week it had begun distribution of wheat seed to half a million farming families affected by the floods in order to allow the current planting season to take place.

Pakistan’s agriculture sector, which contributes 21 per cent to gross domestic product and employs about 45 per cent of the labour force, has suffered massive losses that are expected to last several years. —AFP

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Initiating crop insurance in flood-hit areas

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

 

By Hafeez ur Rehman and Dr Abdul Khaliq

CROP production is susceptible to catastrophes of nature and the impact of such disasters and other risks are hardly affordable by the farming community. Growers cannot bear the output losses that, more often than not, lead to debt defaults. The loans need to be secured by crop insurance for which support is usually provided by governments to farmers in the shape subsidies on premium, underwriting and also reinsurance. The crop insurance mode varies from country to country and operates under the central or local governments or under a partnership between government and private insurance companies. Usually, the government subsidies premium to small farmers. Even WTO regulations support subsidy on crop insurance premiums and these are often heavily funded from tax revenue.

Recent floods and torrential rains have ruined cotton, sugarcane and other crops on millions of acres and washed away thousands of tons of wheat stocks, particularly in Punjab. Crop insurance is a powerful tool to mitigate losses to growers caused by natural calamities and helps promote adoption of modern techniques in agriculture mainly by small farmers. However, despite exhaustive exercises of nearly three decades, a model crop insurance scheme is yet to be introduced.

Crop insurance was launched during Kharif 2008 with an agreement between the National Insurance Company Ltd (NICL) and the National Bank to provide cover to farmers against crop losses from natural calamities and exposure to bank loan risks. According to an estimate, the sum of Rs3-4 billion allocated for insurance coverage was hardly two per cent of the total agricultural loaning facility and only about 100,000 farmers benefited from the scheme.

On the other hand, the Zarae Taraqiati Bank Limited, the largest lender to the agricultural sector, showed reluctance to join the scheme due to some technical flaws.

At present, the number of borrowers of agricultural loans is hardly half a million and about 70 per cent of them do not enjoy access to bank loans, discloses the Committee on Rural Finance. The small farmers do not have collaterals to offer as provincial boards of revenue have not issued them passbooks. And, therefore, they cannot enjoy loan facilities, as documentation is a prerequisite for insurance coverage.

A majority of small farmers would remain outside the insurance umbrella even if at any time, the banks agree to coordinate with insurance companies for a cover. Besides, the fear of risk in doing business with landed gentry also inhibits private insurance firms to go in a big way for crop insurance. Success of crop insurance depends on reforms and improvements in the whole system and cannot be achieved in isolation.

The government has also approved a subsidy of Rs2 billion and paid Rs77 million to farmers so far to cover their losses in different areas of the country but still a majority of them is unaware of this scheme.

There is a need to create awareness among growers about the National Crop Insurance Scheme and the State Bank should re-evaluate the scheme and take provinces on board to make it sustainable and socially and economically viable. The bank networks and insurance companies should develop time-bound action plan to introduce their products in the market. The taskforce to launch the crop loan insurance should start its programme from this Rabi season.

The aftermath of the floods and losses incurred by the farmers call for immediate steps to extend insurance cover to the poor farmers against crop damages.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa farmers await relief

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review (Monday, 25 Oct, 2010)

By Tahir Ali

PADDY growers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly in Malakand division, hit hard by floods and soil erosion, are waiting for government support. The loss to rice crop and land, farmers say, carries risks of food security, price-hike, decreased exports, low incomes and increased poverty. The worst hit are the subsistence farmers. The government would have to reclaim the fields and canals to facilitate cultivation of Rabi crop. KP agriculture minister has said the provincial administration would do everything possible to reclaim the 35,000 acres which had been rendered uncultivable by the floods. But farmers are skeptical of seeing it done any time soon as the task requires huge funds, machinery, personnel and strong commitment on the part of the government.

Abdur Rahim Khan, secretary general of the KP chamber of agriculture, said rice farmers were badly hit. “They should be provided free or subsidised agriculture inputs. Their agriculture loans should be written off or at least the interest thereon should be waived. Easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers should also be arranged,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation says rice is the worst-hit crop in KP. An official from the agriculture ministry said 71 per cent rice crop standing over 55,000 acres was washed away by floods, inflicting loss of over Rs2 billion to farmers. The loss will have serious implications for the impoverished farmers.

Four districts of Malakand division – Swat, Dir upper and lower and Malakand – were home to 68,000 acres or 88 per cent of province-wide paddy crop. But the destroyed crop of Malakand Division constituted 95 per cent of the total devastated crop. The floods also washed away 90 per cent of paddy crop in Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda but due to mere cumulative acreage of around 1,500 acres, its impact was very little.

“Around 35,000 acres in Swat and Dir districts have been rendered uncultivable by around three feet of sand and mud and concentration of pebbles and stones. While the loss of standing crops is also huge, the soil-erosion caused by the floods has been especially horrific. The affected farmers need immediate relief,” said Muhammad Khan, a resident of Batkhela.

Rice is of an important diet for people in MD who use Begumay variety in their evening meals daily.

“Rice is the favourite food and one of the biggest businesses of farmers in Swat, Malakand, lower/upper Dir and Chitral. The low-intensity monsoon floods in the last century had made this land more fertile and suitable for growing rice. Unfortunately, the mud layer is no more there on the fields situated on river banks. It will take 15 to 20 years to spread another layer of fertile mud over the bald land surface,” he added.

Muhammad Naeem from Swat said rice fields on river and stream banks in Dir, Swat and Chitral have been made uncultivable by floods. “Floods have eroded vast lands. I have lost paddy crop on 102 canals on my land. Rich farmers may bear the loss but where will the poor go? They need immediate relief and a vigorous rehabilitation plan and immediate reclamation of their lands,” he said.

“While rice crop in other areas has matured and is being harvested, it is still unripe in Malakand Division and the government should work closely with farmers to save the crop,” added Naeem.

For lack of rice mills in the area, most of the work in different phases of paddy cultivation, harvesting and milling are done manually. It consumes more time, energy, resources and lessens the profit margin for growers.

Haji Niamat Shah, a farmer leader in KP, said per acre yield in most of KP was just around 400kg which was less than the potential of 800kg. “This is because no quality local/hybrid paddy seed is provided to farmers. While the crop requires abundant water, the destruction of irrigation network and soil erosion in the area means still lesser per acre yield in the region,” he said.

Rice growers also face shortage of paddy seed for next year crop as a huge quantity of their stored seed was washed away by the floods.

“The KP seed industry should provide the farmers with sufficient stock of paddy seed for next year,” said Shah.

Okara farmers set to launch protest campaign against ‘forced evacuation’

Post Source: DailyTimes

 

* Farmers claim Musharraf allotted 2,250 acres of land to his favourite generals

By Afnan Khan

LAHORE: The Anjuman Mazaraeen Punjab (AMP) is all set to launch a protest campaign against an alleged plan of the government and the Pakistan Army to take 2,250 acres of land from poor farmers. AMP leaders and Noor Nabi and Nadeem Ashraf told Daily Times that the military dictator Pervez Musharraf had secretly allotted 2,250 acres of land to his favourite generals and other military officers in 2007. The land is situated between Okara and Renala Khurd, they said.

They alleged that the army was planning to forcibly expel the poor farmers from five villages who were cultivating the land since generations.

They said the farmers had been struggling for their rights since decades, but neither any government nor the army allowed serious negotiations with them on the issue. They alleged that the government always wanted to kick them out from their inherited land despite the fact that it was a subjudice matter.

They claimed that 65 army personnel were the beneficiaries of this scheme at the cost of thousands of people living in villages Hazal Pura, Water Gunj, Renala Kalaan, Luis Pur and Dorisabad.

They said the local government officers, instead of supporting their cause, were also forcing the farmers to peacefully evacuate their houses. The AMP representatives said their community had decided to strongly resist any such idea and it would be a do or die case for them.

They stated that the AMP leaders, including Mehar Abdul Sattar, Saleem Jhakar and Nadeem had planned a protest campaign with the support of the Labour Party Pakistan.

They said a protest schedule would be announced during a press conference at the Lahore Press Club in the near future.

They regretted that the public representatives did not ever bother to do anything for them and the farmers were continuously persecuted in their own country.

They said that farmers were allowed to harvest and control the land by British rulers in 1935 and they not only cultivated this barren land but also served the country by producing crops since decades. “We are now told by the establishment that we have no right on the land,” they said.

The AMP leaders added that it would be the first such move in which farmers would be evicted from their lands by the Pakistan Army after 1991.

Will Punjab return to cane zoning system?

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

IT is time for the country, especially Punjab, to review its sugarcane policy. A powerful lobby of millers has kept intact a policy regime that suits the industry and, to some extent, the cane growers, and induces them to cultivate the crop. Unfortunately, all this is being done in total disregard to national and provincial ecological endowments. Despite the crop giving a negative competitive advantage, when compared to other crops like rice, cotton, wheat and maize, the country is sticking to sugarcane through a regime of protective duties, subsidised inputs including loans etc.

It also causes a serious misallocation of agricultural resources like land, water, finances, and labour inputs into low productivity and sub-optimal output. But still, no one is ready to take a holistic view of the crop.

Take the example of Punjab, had it not been for political patronage, no saner farmer would have dared sowing cane for ecological reasons. It has been sowing cane extensively in semi-arid climate with less than 15 inches average rainfall per annum and with humidity less than 30 per cent for 75 per cent of the crop cycle. Sandy soil of south Punjab does not retain water in the root zone either.

Precisely for these reason, the average production of Punjab is just over one-third of the world average and almost half of what Sindh produces. Punjab recovers nine per cent sugar against 11 per cent by Sindh. But still, it is not ready to hand over the responsibility to Sindh which is better placed to produce cane.

To make provincial priorities more confusing, the Punjab government, of late, has started considering steps to make the crop more attractive for farmers. In some recent meetings, the government started considering returning to the zoning system: allowing each mill an exclusive area of 10-kilometres radius for collaborating with farmers, run its development programme and become only legal buyer of the crop.

The Punjab government thinks that the zoning system can develop integrated areas for cane crop, which would help create humidity in the area and help better growth of the crop. By developing such areas, it could also take other crops like cotton out to other areas and save it from sucking pests that thrive on cane crop.

The entire debate is being carried around extent of radius: whether it should be 10 kilometres or five. Because taking cane, being a very heavy commodity, some 20 or 30 kilometres away could be a problem for farmers, and its yield should thus be reduced to half. Another proposal was to create a no-man’s land between two mills, so that farmers have a choice of selling. The meetings are thus looking for designs to keep and enhance fiscal attraction of the crop.

In a major policy shift, the Punjab government has also decided to turn cane procurement receipts (CPRs) into a financially negotiable document – considering it equivalent to a bank cheque. If it happens by next crushing season, as promised by Punjab Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Rana Sanaullah on the floor of the Punjab Assembly, it would meet the longstanding demand of the farmers, and add to attraction of the crop.

Farmers have to run after the millers for years to encash their CPRs, Turning them into a negotiable financial instrument should help farmers and cane crop, at least psychologically.

Punjab’s fascination with the crop, which it cannot produce beyond a certain average due to natural compulsions, is now taking a bizarre proportion. Currently, it is developing a policy framework to encourage maximum production, without considering larger national picture.

Given the water stress, if nothing else, the country should not be sowing cane in semi-arid areas, which the Punjab largely offers to the crop. The crop requires 60+ acre inches of water over two seasons while cotton and maize are below 20 acre inches. Its yields range between 50 and 55 tons per hectare, whereas the world produces 100-130 tons per hectare.

With that kind of average production and 11 per cent recovery rate, the world produces one killogramme sugar with 1,500 litters of water. In Punjab, water consumption is more than triple one-third of production and 2.5 per cent less sugar recovery.

It has 45 odd operational sugar mills. All these mills run below their capacity during their 130-day season because production and its pattern do not allow them going beyond a certain limit. Punjab roughly sows cane on 1.7 million acres, and gets 35 million tons of production. Out of it, around 70 per cent gets to the mills, as 30 per cent is used as seed, gur making and fodder. These 45 mills have a combined crushing capacity of 325,000 tons a day. Thus none of the mills can run at its full capacity at any point of time during 130-day operation, except for a few.

If Pakistan is considered as one country, someone must paint the national agriculture picture with a brush of ecological advantage? It is not necessary for every district or province to try to produce everything and destroy soil sustainability without getting much in return. The country needs to re-arrange its agriculture priorities, and cane is the prime item for such a revision.

UN says 2.2 million hectares of crops lost in Pakistan’s floods

Post Source: www.dawn.com

Wednesday, 20 Oct, 2010

Over 1.9 million homes have been destroyed or damaged and at least seven million people are currently without shelter, it said. Parts of Sindh Province are still under water.

 

UNITED NATIONS: An area larger than the Netherlands – 50,000 square kilometers- has been ravaged by the devastating floods in Pakistan, with over 2.2 million hectares of crops lost, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Wednesday. In giving its latest estimates, OCHA said 20.2 million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan, with 14 million in need of immediate humanitarian aid. Over 1.9 million homes have been destroyed or damaged and at least seven million people are currently without shelter, it said. Parts of Sind Province are still under water. 

Throughout September and October, food rations have been supplied to an estimated 8.8 million people, according to OCHA. High-energy biscuits and Ready to Use Supplementary Food is being provided for around 2 million children. 

Also, since the start of the response, essential medication has been provided to cover the potential health needs of 5.15 million people. 

OCHA reports that the emergency shelter needs for an estimated 3.4 million people have been met, while 3.7 million people have access to clean water on a daily basis. 

At the same time, the Office says, the Response Plan for Pakistan is still only 36% funded. 

Meanwhile, UNICEF reported an increase in polio cases in Pakistan.   

Seventy-eight polio cases have been reported among children, which is a 26 per cent increase over 2009 figures. UNICEF says its last immunization campaign in Pakistan reached more than 8.5 million children.

Cotton growers seek early release of water

Post Source: www.dawn.com

 

By Nasir Jamal

LAHORE: Pakistan can obtain at least one million additional bales of cotton if government releases water in perennial canals during the current month, according to Pakistan Cotton Forum (PCF), a joint platform of growers, ginners and spinners. The forum said on Thursday that recent devastating floods might have damaged around 2.6 million bales of cotton – one million bales in Punjab and 1.6 million bales in Sindh, reducing the current year’s crop in the country to 10.7-11 million bales.

The floods have affected a little over 13 per cent cotton growing area in Punjab and 35 per cent in Sindh, the PCF said.

The government can help growers recover part of the lost crop by providing water to them during the current month, it was claimed at a meeting of the forum at the office of the All-Pakistan Textile Mills Association (Aptma).

The meeting was attended by spinners, ginners, farmers, cotton scientists from the Punjab government and representatives of the Karachi Cotton Association.

“The damage to the cotton crop can be curtailed provided water is supplied to 61 per cent of the cotton belt having perennial canals till the end of this month,” said Pakistan Farmer Association office-bearer Farooq Bajwa. He said it would add one million bales to the crop.

Punjab government expert Dr Abid Mehmood said that conditions for the cotton crop had improved in September and if a favourable weather might see additional production in the next three months.

PCF chairman Mohammad Akber said cotton was in short supply worldwide, therefore, government should announce measures to improve productivity of standing cotton crop.

He said water released for cotton this month could be adjusted in the next crop. “It will save the country over billion dollars in foreign exchange,” he added.

Aptma chairman Gohar Ejaz warned of negative consequences of implementation of reformed general sales tax (RGST) on entire textile sector, saying it would ruin the entire industry.

He said spinners would have to pay over Rs60 billion on purchase of cotton during October-December period.

He warned that the trade concessions offered by the European Union would go waste if textile industry is brought under the ambit of the value-added tax.

“If the tax has to be imposed, it should be imposed only at the finishing stage,” he said.