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Changing priorities in farm sector




  • ACCORDING to the State Bank’s Annual Report, agriculture sector showed dismal performance in the last fiscal. The share of this sector in the total GDP growth has been further marginalised. This happened despite the provision of subsidies and better credit supplies. Some quarters have rightfully voiced their concerns regarding further investment in this sector — they are against big water reservoirs.

    The crops yielded poorly. The decline in sugarcane, cotton and wheat production is the main reason for the 3.6 per cent decline in value addition by major crops, in sharp contrast to 17.7 per cent growth in the preceding year.
    Improvement in credit and water supplies last year brightened the prospects but remained short of expectations. Sugarcane and cotton could not do well. Wheat harvest decreased by 1.4 per cent and growth remained 3.6 per cent below the target.
    Minor crops could not fare better, either. The 1.6 per cent growth during FY06 was lower than the three per cent rise in output seen during FY05, and consequently aggregate production of the crop’s sub-sector fell by 2.3 per cent in FY06, compared to its growth of 13.7 per cent in FY05.
    Agriculture remains a neglected area as for as the policy-formulation process is concerned. Most of the agricultural lands are cultivated on commercial basis. Intensive cultivation and careless use of chemicals have not only deteriorated soil fertility but has also inflicted a blow to environment, including the flight of crop-friendly birds and insects and acidity in the subsoil water. This proved another factor for crop failure.
    The government has not undertaken any crop management plan. More credit supplies but little availability of canal water has raised the input cost of agriculturalists as they have to sink tube wells and increase the use of fertilisers and pesticides. The aquifers depleted without any chance of getting refurnished as rapidly as their consumption.
    Similarly, water management policy is nowhere in sight. In some areas, this source is available in abundance causing salinity and related problems. Others have reduced water share due to more areas under cultivation. Bahawalpur provides an interesting example in this regard. Farmer receive 40 per cent per cent of the water which was made available to them half-a-decade back.
    The Indus Basin Treaty giving complete right to India over the utilisation of water of its three rivers — Ravi, Beas and Sutlej — is nothing but a blunder committed by the people then at the helm of affairs. Contrary to international law, the treaty gave upper riparian the right to use the water of these rivers. No where in the world, a party can divert water in a way that could affect the flow of a river to the detriment of the lower riparian.
    Major areas affected by the Indus Basin Treaty are Bahawalpur and Sindh. Due to the perennial rivers gone to India, major cost is borne by the aquifers for being used extravagantly when water in seasonal rivers is reduced. It was to discourage farming in these areas. Instead, lands were allotted to civil and military bureaucracy.
    A recent study of Water and Power Department of Punjab has found that 75 per cent of water in southern districts is not fit for crops. While the Indus Basin Treaty remains intact and raging controversy surrounds the construction of water reservoirs on the Indus River. The fate of lower regions — cotton belt — is almost doomed.
    According to the report, agriculture sector’s failure has been due to crop production. Livestock has gained significantly by attaining eight per cent growth. The other allied sector like fishing and forestry grew below the target. Given their meagre share in agriculture, livestock remains the only hope for agriculture.
    There are few fundamental issues concerning the agriculture sector. Welding livestock, fisheries and forestry with farming reflects a not-so-wise approach. As more emphasis is laid on farming, the more it proves a restraint for the livestock, fisheries and the forestry. Promotion of cultivation in semi-desert areas, like Cholistan and Balochistan, has caused a decline in livestock population due to the loss of space available to herding communities.
    The ZTBL has increased the credit supply but the major beneficiaries are big landlords who mostly get their loans written off. The small farmer ends up by selling his land to pay off the debt.
    As for agriculture, landlords must turn to forestry and livestock. This step is necessary to regain soil fertility. Their income will witness downward slide for a few years but will pay in long-term. There is no reason to keep fisheries as an allied subject of agriculture. It should be dealt separately; credit supply to this new sector will revive hope in a large community associated with this sector.
    Meanwhile, some quarters are pressurising the government to defer water conservation plans on the plea that it was useless to invest in this fast declining sector. The move is intriguing, for having storage dams is must as the same can be used as a guarantee to ensure water supplies in dry-months. It is necessary because ours is an agriculture-based economy and that the country now has seasonal rivers for fresh water supplies.
    The agricultural policy needs a revision. Pakistan must evolve a strategy to replenish soil fertility through shifting emphasise to forestry and livestock from cultivation. Meanwhile, water resources should be managed to ensure supplies during dry-months.
    The government should stop subsidies available to agriculture sector (to any sector whatsoever) and divert credit supplies from crops to forestry and livestock. Meanwhile, crop management policy should be brought forth while taking into consideration the water availability in different parts of Pakistan.

    Courtesy: The DAWN

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