Government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has prepared a draft Agriculture and Food Security Policy amid the acknowledgement that one in every three Pakistanis does not have regular and assured access to food. The most vulnerable are children, particularly girls, women and the elderly, especially the lower income groups.
Developed by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, the policy sets out a vision and goal for agriculture and food security, along with a number of policy directions and is expected to help the provinces that have, after the 18th Amendment, overall responsibility for agriculture and rural development to articulate their own policies and strategies as well as formulate investment plans for both the public and private sectors.
According to the former Planning and Development Division (now Ministry of Planning and Development) the agriculture sector needs to grow at 5 per cent for reducing poverty and reach the growth targets of 7-8 per cent for the national economy.
Agriculture performance in Pakistan has been poor in recent years with low growth (3.1 per cent in 2011-12 and 3.3 per cent) over the last decade. Major factors underlying the poor performance include a slow rate of technological innovations, problems with quality, quantity and timelines of input supply, limited investment in construction and maintenance of infrastructure, marketing and trade restrictions, pest and livestock disease problems and limited amounts of credit for agriculture production and processing and the lack of agriculture-specific loan products.
The draft policy envisages rationalisation of the government support through use of Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) and smart phone technology.
The current wheat procurement schemes will be replaced by a more rationalised programme that procures the quantities needed to provide subsidised wheat or flour to well defined food insecure consumers in rural and urban areas. Such programmes would be based on the use of balanced poverty scorecards such as national income support programme and international best practices such as that of the Brazilian Zero Hunger Programme. In order to maintain domestic food price stability in the face of possible large fluctuations in international food prices, rules-based adjustable tariffs that set floor and ceiling prices will be introduced.
Given the size and strategic importance of agriculture, public investment in agriculture will be raised to a least 10 per cent of total public sector development expenditure at federal level and provincial level.
Service delivery and support mechanism for enhancing timely access to quality inputs through establishment of Rural Business Hubs (RBHs) will be introduced. These hubs will be a “one stop shop” providing business solutions to the farmers particularly to link them to markets both for inputs and output, promote private sector enterprise developments and initiate public partnership. The RBHs will be operated by farmers associations/community based organisations including with the help or in joint management with the National or Provincial Rural Support Programmes.
Credit programmes particularly for small farmers, will be strengthened based on the negative and positive lessons learnt from the operations of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF). This would be complimented by a greater collaboration with other important financial service providers such as commercial banks and mobile banking to improve their operations in rural areas, better link up with traditional savings and loan activities and develop suitable credits/microfinance products particularly for small farmers. Secondly, legal and regulatory framework for large scale investors in agriculture and rural activities including for purchase of land, will be improved.
Targeted productivity enhancement programmes will be introduced for those who cannot meet their subsistence food needs such as small farmers and livestock breeders.
In the case of poor households with insufficient income to buy food, targeted food programmes will be developed and introduced. Depending on local circumstances these would be in the form of food rations or in the form of cash vouchers.
The current regime of charges, taxes and subsidies for agriculture sector which is the result of ad hoc adjustments will be reviewed to ensure that price signals to farmers encourage efficient use of resources.
Amongst the first issues to be addressed would be Abiana charges that in current levels do not cover costs and reflect the actual water usage for different crops, particularly high water users such as rice and sugarcane. Similarly, the system of taxing export crops, such as rice and cotton but subsidising fertiliser prices, much of which goes to the larger and more influential farmers will be rationalised. Restrictions on domestic and international trade will be simplified to ensure that only those required for essential reasons such as health and bio-safety reasons are maintained and Pakistan avoids creating segmented domestic markets where provinces restrict trade among themselves and the country is isolated from opportunities provided by international instruments such as a trade related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), Good Agriculture Practices (GMP).
To achieve the goals to be set in the new Agriculture and Food Security Policy, following measures will be taken the federal and provincial government which are the real stakeholders: (i) improvement in surface water management at watershed level;(ii) improvement in groundwater management;(iii) rightsizing provincial support services;(iv) reduction in direct role of government in fruit, vegetable and livestock markets to setting health hygiene and regulatory standards;(v) reform in land markets;(vi) reduction in export taxes on cotton and rice;(vii) replacement of blanket fertiliser subsidy with targeted support;(viii) establishment of legislative and regulatory framework for branding products;(ix) promotion of sustainable cropping practices;(x) promotion of water harvesting and erosion control in fragile areas;(xi) variable tariffs for wheat imports and ;(xii) creation of national guidelines for agriculture land use planning, water and effluent management in rural areas and on use of dangerous and hazardous agro-chemicals.