Archive for June, 2011

AGRICULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY: Punjab’s sinking farm economy

Post Source: Dawn Economic & Business Review

 

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

 

Agriculture in Punjab has underperformed over the last three years. Cotton production has fallen 10 per cent, rice 6.7, gram 30 and pulses by 24 per cent. But all these statistics have failed to shake the provincial government out of slumber. Cotton production, which stood at 8.8 million bales in 2008, has dropped to 7.8 million bales. Gram production has come down from 658,000 tons to 460,000 tons. Pulses has witnessed a fall from 830,000 tons to 625,000 tons. Similarly, rice output dipped from 3.7 million tons to 3.4 million tons and maize is down from 2.67 million tons to 2.65 million tons in the last three years.

The country’s population has increased 8.7 per cent, or by 12.60 million, during these years. In Punjab alone, population increased by eight million. But major crops have seen their production falling by varying degrees.

The ever widening gap between demand and supply is causing price hike. The cumulative impact of inflation comes to around a backbreaking 57 per cent.

According to some studies, the number of people living below the poverty line has increased from 47 million in 2008 to 72 million – a jump of over 50 per cent— almost in direct proportion to inflation. All economists agree that the government cannot deal with the monster of inflation without improving supply (production) side.

In Punjab, as in Pakistan, almost other production sectors (like large-scale manufacturing) are sinking. Given energy position hardly leaves any hope for their early revival. It leaves the country and the Punjab with only one sector i.e. agriculture. But it is still to appear on the official policy radar, at least according to its potential.

The sector is in disarray both at planning and execution level. Major part of budget is being spent on non-development expenditures because the provincial department has become an employment exchange for successive governments. Its current strength is at an unbelievable 35,000 people.

Punjab has a total 25,000 villages. Most of the extension experts believe that one agriculture officer can easily cover five villages.

This makes total requirement of 5,000 officers. Even if another 1,000 is added for supervisory role in different layers, the total requirement comes around 6,000 officers.

The Extension Directorate performs the same functions that the Crop Reporting and the Information Directorates do. The Water Directorate is surviving on foreign funded projects and has nothing to do locally. Once these projects complete their lives, and some of them already have, the directorate would be left with nothing.

To make the matter worse, farmers are now buying almost everything – fertiliser, pesticides, seeds, machinery – from the private sector, which has developed huge paraphernalia of extension services. What the government employees are doing?

Just overlapping the effort at best, and working as private sector agents at worst.

Currently, these 35,000 employees are being used as a workforce for the provincial chief executive and are involved in almost everything non-agriculture – from packing of subsidised sugar to administering polio campaign.

In the last few months, the Urea price had hit an unbearable Rs1,600 per bag. Though the company price is still Rs1,250 per bag, the receding writ of government enables everyone to make money at the cost of others. Despite this sheer black marketing of Urea, not even one dealer has been proceeded against by the Punjab government.

Another example illustrates how non-serious the department and the government are dealing with the sector. A new wheat variety was introduced in the province in 2007. This particular variety now covers around 40 per cent of wheat area in the province. But within three years of its operation, the variety has become susceptible to all kinds of bacterial attack.

Most of the discoloured wheat that the province produced this year was result of rust attack on this wheat variety. The farmers allege that the variety was not properly tested before offering it for the sale; it was released prematurely.

The Punjab government is tight lipped on the issue and has still not moved to study the varietal character, find loopholes, fix responsibility and punish the guilty. The farmers blame that it is departmental employees who promoted the seed. The government has not moved so far. It is also because these 35,000 employees have created huge overlapping in the system and devised a system where buck does not stop.

Given the acreage (around seven million acres) that this variety has gained in the last three years, the farmers and the government would be in real trouble to replace the seed on these fields next year. Where would the government arrange fresh seed for it? If it does not and farmers use the same variety as seed, crop on this area would be in a greater risk.

The Punjab government needs to get its act together. Agriculture is now assumed added significance because that even planning part is now being devolved to provinces after the 18th Amendment. The Punjab has to replace federal planning and truly play the role of national food basket. If it continues flounder on basics, it would be increasingly hard for it to help the country achieve food security.

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AGRICULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY: Paddy growers’ worries

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Mohammad Hussain Khan

 

 

PREPARATIONS for rice cultivation in Sindh are underway amidst fears that flood-ravaged canal network — recently repaired by the irrigation authorities — will not be able to carry water to their farms.

Growers on the right bank of Indus River were dealt a severe blow by the floods last year which washed away their Kharif paddy crop. Thy were not able to have a normal Rabi crop as well.

Now, they fear drought-like conditions in their areas that may hit paddy crop this Kharif. Farmers are ready to grow paddy despite imposition of 16 per cent GST on all agriculture inputs including seeds, urea, fertiliser, and pesticides, making it a costly ride.

It was August 7 Tori dyke breach that had ravaged the irrigation network of the province; more breaches followed in upper Sindh on Indus right bank which is known for paddy cultivation. Similarly, August 26 breach on left bank of Indus in Thatta – a paddy growing area destroyed a large swath of the district.

Breaches were plugged in and canals network was repaired by the irrigation authorities. But growers are concerned about the quality of dykes’ repair work and the recently repaired flood-ravaged canal system. Besides, they also hint at non-availability of quality paddy seeds for cultivation.

Sindh Abadgar Board’s Vice-President Gada Hussain Mahesar, who is also a paddy producer, says that seed availability seems to be a serious issue because the government had initially announced provision of free paddy seeds, but later on said the seeds would be provided at subsidised rates. According to him, the government has been trying to procure paddy seeds.

Around 69,000 tons of seeds are required for paddy cultivation in the province.

“I am really sceptical about quality of canals’ work and I am not sure whether these water channels will be carrying water safely to our lands”, Mahesar says. Water is available in River Indus and there is no shortage at all but if branches and minors don’t carry water or develop breaches, the growers will suffer. He specifically mentions Begari canal where repair work remained questionable.

This year irrigation authorities couldn’t de-silt the canals due to belated de-silting drive as budgetary allocations meant for it were diverted for plugging in breaches. “Silt deposits have affected capacity of canals and branches to carry water. The repaired canals will not withstand pressure of water if full supply level is delivered by the irrigation authorities. The tail-end areas’ abadgars would be badly hit when water does not reach their lands,” he fears.

Ishaq Mughairi, SAB Shahdadkot district official, points out that growers have serious reservations over canals’ repair works and refers to RD-175 of Saifullah Magsi branch, RD-62, RD-96, RD-97 of Keer Thar canal, which are fed by Sukkur barrage and where breaches occurred.“ These are not repaired properly and we have pointed it out to the Presidential Ministerial Oversee Committee headed by Mir Nadir Magsi,” he says.

He says the growers’ fear may prove to be genuine as these branches will not be able to carry enough water. We will be facing drought if we don’t get water for Kharif crop.”

Sindh Agriculture Board Secretary Agha Jan Akhtar claims that paddy seed can be obtained through DCOs for Rs600 per maund, by submitting applications which will be subject to verification. “One and half maund bag will cost a grower Rs900. It is not certified seed but of quality one surely”, he says.

He confirms to have received complaints that seeds are not being provided to the growers and has issued directives to the DCOs to ensure supply of seeds by end of this month. “The government had foreseen shortage of seed due to damages to paddy crop by floods 2010”, he says.

Secretary Irrigation Khalid Hyder Memon admits that right now water availability for right bank paddy growing areas is to be ensured. He also concedes that water is being supplied gradually to avoid any losses in canals which are recently repaired but expresses hope that canals will operate to their full capacity.

Reports about questionable quality of works of damaged canal systems are also coming in also from another flood hit district of Thatta. Recently Kheeral minor that emanates from Darro branch of Pinyari canal had developed a big breach because its regulator gate was not installed. Proper soaking and sand coring has not been done, according to growers of the area.

Following last year’s floods, the irrigation department had reported around 2515 breaches which were repaired by it. Entire branches and distributaries were washed away by floods. The irrigation authorities, reports say, are releasing water gradually in such canals to ensure their safety. Their main thrust is on river dykes’ repairs because they have to withstand floods first.

Food security risks in devolution

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

 

 

 

PAKISTAN may soon be the only country that would not have any federal agency to deal with food security issues, unlike other states in the world.

Under the 18th Amendment, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Minfa) is being dissolved, its functions transferred to the provinces. Whether federating units are ready, or even have the capacity, to perform the Minfa functions, is entirely a different debate.

The Implementation Committee has set a date of June 24 for devolution of Minfa functions to the provinces, ignoring agricultural ground realities in the country.

Pakistan is a federation of now five units if Gilgit-Baltistan is taken as the fifth province. Of these five units, only Punjab produces farm surpluses. Sindh hardly breaks even. The other three provinces face gross deficits on almost all essential food items and have to depend upon intra-provincial imports to meet even basic needs.

Punjab and Sindh have a track record of placing “un-constitutional restrictions on wheat (a national staple) movement, squeezing supply to other federating units.”

On every occasion, the federal government intervened to set things right. In such circumstances, can the only bargaining agent (the Minfa), be taken out of national picture and leave provinces in-charge of their agricultural produce and trade? Answers to this question must be found before completing the devolution exercise.

The second biggest question mark hanging over the exercise is the planning part. For the last six decades, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has been planning (firming up national requirements) food security for the country and telling provinces to meet the targets set by it. Who will replace the Minfa for its painting of national food picture, plan for it and target setting for provinces.

As executed in Pakistan, ensuring food security policy entailed three-aspects – first one is the ensuring food availability, second is keeping it financially affordability for all the people all the time and third is ensuring people`s accessibility to food. All three functions have so far been performed by the federal government through Minfa. Availability depends on ensuring production – calculate national requirement, divide them among the provinces and fix their targets. The other part of this planning was how to ensure these targets were met.

In order to do that, the federation, which has exclusive right to order imports of inputs, also ensures smooth supplies of inputs – seeds, pesticides and fertilisers.

In the absence of Minfa, who is going to perform all these functions? The provinces can certainly plan for themselves but the question is who would do it for other three federating units? Even if provinces do plan for national requirements, who would ensure smooth supply of inputs?

Would they now directly be importing inputs, and exporting surpluses? If that is going to be the situation, the federal government should have clarified by now. If provinces are allowed to deal with foreign markets and countries, what kind of effects it would have on national market. Pakistan needs to calculate all this before sprinting down the road constructed by the 18th Amendment.

If production suffers, affordability (price factor) would be even harder to maintain, especially if the federation abdicates its responsibility. A subsidiary of the Minfa had been calculating the cost of production, and accordingly fixes prices of essential commodities. In the absence of the Minfa planning, prices would inevitably, but wrongly (because the federal fiscal and monitory policies also directly hit the prices) be read in the provincial context.

Given the wretchedness of poverty in the country, it would be politically explosive especially if one federating unit, or its farmers, is seen making unreasonable profit at the cost of other federal units and people.

Here again, the Punjab has regularly been blocking wheat and flour supplies to others saying that it subsidises both and must not be forced to feed other units. Each time, the federation intervenes to set things right. Without national planning, any federating unit can claim that it did not produce much and demand-supply equation has pushed the price up.

Where will the federation be standing if that regularly emerges to be the case? If provinces have to plan and produce for themselves, who will stop them from exploiting the situation to their advantage, and do it at the cost of others?

Both these aspects would largely determine the third one i.e. accessibility – a matter of supply and price. If the planning part is missing and prices fluctuate, accessibility would naturally be compromised. Agriculture in the country is archaic, and needs meticulous planning both at the federal and provincial level to ensure accessibility for the people. It is not to suggest that things should be reversed, but only to maintain that all these question marks are national in nature, and must be dealt with before moving forward with the 18th Amendment.

Taxes on farm inputs pinch small growers

Post Source: Dawn Economic & Business Review

By Mohammad Hussain Khan

 

 

THE levy of general sales tax and withdrawal of subsidies as part of next year`s budget has not gone down well with farmers. The government had imposed 17 per cent GST on farm produce and inputs in March this year, that was reduced to 16 per cent in the budgetary proposals 2011-12. Growers said it has a direct bearing on cost of production.

Farmers fear GST would badly hit agricultural productivity as big landholdings are few and 90 per cent are subsistence farmers.

Under new taxation regime the bulk of the growers would find it hard to cultivate crops like wheat, which doesn`t give fair returns owing to questionable writ of the food department. For instance the government, according to farmers, hasn`t increased the rate of 100kg bag of wheat to be procured by the food department. By and large, the growers do not get the wheat support price of Rs950 for per 40kg.

Small growers say they should not be subjected to heavy indirect taxation. They can`t absorb sudden rise of taxes in one-go.

The withdrawal of subsidies on inputs, according to estimates of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), would account for losses of Rs245billion to the country`s agriculture sector. With increasing cost, the farmers would avoid applying enough inputs – considered essential for increasing productivity – as the prices would go beyond their reach.

SAB President Abdul Majeed Nizamani says that if a drop of three maunds per acre yield in wheat, paddy and cotton and 100 maunds shortfall in cane per acre yield is to be kept in mind due to withdrawal of subsidies, it would account for loss of Rs204 billion to the agriculture sector. “When prices of inputs record increase, it lessens their use by farmers”, he says.

Dr Nadeem Qamar, President Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA), maintains that the world is pondering over the question as to how to give a boost to agriculture because next 25 years are supposed to be years of agriculture. “The World Economic Forum (WEF) is discussing options how to boost-up farm economy while our government is slapping farmers with GST and flood surcharge,” Qamar says.

Farmers reckon that with new taxation measures a 50 to 100 per cent increase in cost of production may occur. The companies that provide urea and DAP have increased prices on account of gas shortages. Consumers will be the ultimate sufferers since this burden will be passed on to them. For cotton cultivation four to six bags are to be used per acre and for sugarcane 10 bags of urea are preferred. With fresh levies it would not be possible for small farmers to afford it.

Ghulam Rasool, a small grower, says that he doesn`t know what to do after steep rise in input prices because the government is not increasing wheat procurement price while being tail-end grower, he is facing untold hardships to irrigate his land. “My cotton crop is drying as I am not getting required supply of water while the urea bag which I bought for Rs900 is now being sold at Rs1,500”, he complains.

Qamar says prices of tractor has shot up to Rs1,180,000 from Rs870,000 after 16 per cent GST and DAP`s cost is up at Rs3,950 from Rs3,100. Urea was sold for Rs830 in December last and in January this year its price was Rs1,020, showing a 23 per cent increase. Same is the case with seed. For instance, the price of a bag of rice seed available for Rs380 last year has jumped to Rs667. A sustainable growth rate can only be ensured through pro-farmers policies.

SAB`s Mehmood Nawaz Shah adds that worldwide farmers had an uptake of 300kg of nutrients per acre while in Pakistan it is just 145kg per acre. If prices of phosphate fertiliser like DAP are increased, its application will drop. He calls for saving small farmers from indirect taxation and bringing big landholders under direct tax net on the basis of income, provided GST is withdrawn.

Changing agriculture profile

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By: Mohiuddin Aazim

 

THE annual development plans of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa envisage enhanced spending on farming, livestock and fisheries in the new fiscal year starting July 1.

While devolving the ministry of agriculture to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, the federal government has also set aside some funds for farming projects.

The federal government has set aside Rs2 billion for the Benazir Tractor Support Programme and Rs500 million for Crop Loan Insurance. These allocations are in addition to Rs33.2 billion allocated to water sector projects, several of which would directly or indirectly benefit agricultural activity.

The Punjab government has made a cumulative allocation of Rs18.5 billion for agriculture, livestock, forests, food and irrigation. Sindh has earmarked Rs6 billion for these sectors excluding forests but including fisheries. And Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has allocated Rs335 million for agriculture and another Rs6.7 million for forests.

All these allocations are aimed at boosting growth in agriculture and allied sectors at a time when climatic change threatens global food security—and governments across the world look for sustained ways of feeding their populations. Several countries including China and Saudi Arabia are even leasing in large chunks of foreign lands to grow food crops.

“Currently, Pakistan is facing a two-pronged challenge in agriculture. First is to rebuild the infrastructure (damaged by the last year’s floods). And the second is to produce more to achieve self-sufficiency in food and improve food trade balance,” said a senior official of Sindh Agriculture Department.

He said that spending on agriculture and allied sector projects of annual development plans of the provinces are generally aimed at increasing the crop yields and improving farm-to-market transportation. But some are also directed at efficient distribution of irrigation water, soil management, availability of quality seeds, prudent use of fertiliser and more scientific ways of farming. “The bottom line is to increase the per acre yields.”

According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan, major crops showed some growth in the per acre yield in FY11. The per hectare yield of wheat, for example, rose7.7 per cent followed by sugarcane (6.9 per cent) and cotton (2.5 per cent). This happened due to soil enrichment after the floods but also because of better farming techniques and scattered and more frequent use of modern technology. “The challenge now is to sustain whatever growth has been achieved in whichever crops,” according to a ministry of food and agriculture official, “and to obtain higher per unit yields in other crops like rice, maize, gram and pulses.”

Whereas officials believe that financial allocations in provincial ADPs and federal government initiatives can do that, agriculturists attach some ifs and buts. Out of the Rs18 billion plus allocation shown under the head of agriculture and related sectors only Rs3.4 billion is exclusively meant for agriculture. “This is too little money and I fear much of it will be finally consumed by a 30,000-plus army of agriculture department personnel,” remarked Mr Ibrahim Mughal who heads Pakistan Agri Forum—a farmers’ lobby group.

“During the next fiscal year, Punjab would generate Rs43 billion through sales’ tax on various agricultural inputs. Why not earmark a certain percentage of it to be spent on agricultural development,” he wondered.

He and some other agriculturists contacted by Dawn suggested that the fund so created should be spent by an advisory board comprising members from the government and representatives of farmers “to make spending transparent and meaningful.”

A Sindh-based rice grower Ghulam Sabir said that all efforts to enhance the per acre yield of crops would be frustrated if post-flood rebuilding task is not completed immediately. “In Jacobabad there are many fields still filled with flood water and several roads and link roads are yet to be repaired,” he told Dawn on telephone.

Financial allocations in Sindh and Punjab ADPs for development of livestock and fisheries sectors are such that can set the stage for tapping the growth potential of these sectors. For example, Sindh government is going to set up a dairy village and meat processing zone in Bhambhore, just 78 km from Karachi seaport.

Under the plan, milk-processing plants, chilling units, feed mills, a livestock and fodder market, slaughter houses and a meat-processing unit will be built over 1300 acres of land. Similarly, ADP allocation for fisheries sector in Sindh is designed to be integrated with a three-year fisheries and aquaculture strategy.

According to an official of Sindh fisheries department, plans are under way to build new chilling, storage and processing facilities in Karachi, Thatta, Badin and Dadu. In addition the provincial government has also set aside funds for fishing gears, modification of boats and manufacturing of ice boxes and plastic crates besides improving existing facilities at Karachi fish harbour. Privately, some fishermen have started fibre glass boats instead of wooden ones to increase the spell of hauling and to lengthen on-boat preservation of fish.

Punjab food department has purchased some steel silos from the US for hygienic storage of wheat and is trying to get such silos manufactured within the country. Pakistan Agricultural and Storage Services Corporation is working on a project with the financial help of Islamic Development Bank for manufacturing steel silos to boost its storage capacity.

Farmers across the country have been trying, with help from within the community as well as from foreign governments and NGOs, to upgrade agricultural practices to fetch better prices for their produce at home and abroad. In some villages of Sindh and Punjab, they have started using solar energy to run tube wells and more enterprising growers are even using solar-fired wheat threshers on experimental basis to reduce wastages. The potential for growth in food producing sector is enormous. The government and the private sector need to join hands to tap it under a strategy to integrate all developmental initiatives in this sector.

Farming season begins in Kashmir

Post Source: Dawn.com

 

 

 

Farming activity has picked up in Kashmir over the past couple of weeks with improvement in weather. India produced 236 million tones of food grains in 2010-11 which was the highest ever production, surpassing the earlier record of 234.47 million tones achieved in 2008-09. Photos by AFP

Peasants-management face off: 24 jailed, 11 in police custody following clash

Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.

 

By Farooq Sindhu

 

 

RAHIM YAR KHAN: 

Twenty four of 35 peasants arrested by Abe Hayat police following a clash with Roberts Farms management a week ago have been sent to district jail. The remaining 11 were remanded in police custody on Wednesday by a local magistrate for further investigation. The men, who claimed to be members of Anjuman Mazareen Punjab, were arrested under sections 395, 511, 447 and 324 of the Pakistan Penal Code. MPA Ijaz Shafi, one of four men who have power of a general attorney for Roberts Farm, told The Express Tribune that the men allegedly fired at the farm management and the police after their attempt to illegally occupy the farm was prevented. He denied that the men had been working as peasants at the farms and said that they were belonged to a gang of land grabbers. He said he had already settled the matter with his peasants one and a half months ago. He said they had vacated the farm after he paid them the amounts they demanded.

Dr Christopher John, member of the supreme council of Anjuman Mazareen Punjab, said that the 35 were peasants. He said they belonged to the AMP and had been tilling the Roberts Farms for more than six generations. He said families of some peasants had received a small amount one-and-a-half months ago from Shafi. He, however, said the ‘deal’ was struck under duress.  “The families were made to sign documents at gun point stating that they had no rights to the farm.”

John also rejected the claims that the men were armed and that they shot at the management and the police. He said peasants were poor people who could hardly afford food for their families. He said they did not have enough resources to own guns.

He said the peasants had gone to the farm to work on their cotton fields but were attacked by farm management and told to leave. On resistance, he said, police were called in and why beat up the peasants and arrested 35 of them.

The other three men who hold general attorneys for Roberts Farms are Chaudhry Munir, honourary ambassador of the United Arabs Emirates; and Mian Imtiaz and Mian Ijaz of Haji Ibrahim and sons.

Abe Hayat clerk Yasin said police were interrogating the 11 men remanded back to them. He said the men had attacked a police team at the Roberts Farm. He said they had earlier attempted to illegally occupy the farmland.

Roberts Farm is named after the University of Agriculture Faisalabad’s pre-partition vice chancellor, Sir William Roberts. Roberts was allotted the land by the then provincial government. Under an abadkari scheme, Roberts had granted several peasant families the right to till his land.

AMP’s Christopher John said since Roberts had left Pakistan after Partition the farm was property of the provincial government. He accused Shafi and the other three of illegally taking over the ownership of the farm during Pervaiz Elahi’s government. “They paid only a fraction of the market rate and bought the land from the farm manager,” he said.

Shafi, however, maintained that he had obtained the general attorney in accordance with the law.