ARGETS for two cash crops – cotton and rice – have been fixed at lessthan what the country achieved last year, leave alone bumper andrecord yields of the past.This year, cotton target has come down to 13.3 million bales againstlast season’s production of 14.1 million bales.
Similarly, rice targethas been fixed at six million tons against 6.9 million tons producedlast year. The agriculture planners defend these low targets saying it was anextraordinary season last year and its production cannot be taken asbenchmark. Thus, we have set targets, which are achievable and providecredible basis for next year’s planning, they say. The farmers, however, insist these targets are low enough to beachieved automatically, without creating any hassle for agriculturebureaucracy. They claim: “Agricultural bureaucracy has even stoppeddreaming about higher goals.” The lower targets would translate into astaggering cost to the economy. The country would have to import hugequantity of cotton and lose money on rice exports, creating a hugehole in its finances.
Where would it get the foreign exchange from tobridge the gap, especially given the financial crunch it is facingright now? Last year’s trade deficit amounted to $17 billion. If the gap has tonarrow down, agriculture is perhaps the only hope; the manufacturingsector is in negative swing. Growth of services has slowed down. ThisKharif season assumes added significance as it grows two major cashcrops. Around 53-54 per cent of export earnings come only from cotton andcotton textiles. In order to maintain that level of exports, thetextile industry needs around 15 million bales, but the target hasbeen set at 13.3 million bales. It means the country is planning foran import of 1.7 million bales. The planners have disregarded the factthat the country had once produced 14.7 million bales. If Pakistan’s effort is put in the Indian context, the target lookssimply disappointing. During the last 10 years, the Indian cottonproduction has jumped from 17 million bales to 31 million bales. Mostof its yield is coming from non-traditional (rain-fed) areas, where itis watered with pressurised irrigation. Pakistan’s agriculture is inthe hands advocates of status quo, as the farmers claim. Rice, the second largest cash crop, presents the same story. Lastyear, out of total production of 6.9 million tons, three million tonswere exported – 0.97 million tons basmati and the rest non-basmati –for about $2.2 billion. Had it not been for gross under-invoicing –keeping domestic market suppressed, less foreign exchange for nationalexchequer and fewer taxes – the figure could have touched $3 billion.
This year, the agriculture planners seem to be simply planning toreduce exportable surplus. Instead of increasing surplus and findingnew markets for it, rice import is being put on a reverse path. The country is spending nearly $4 billion on import of what the StateBank of Pakistan calls food group – wheat, edible fats, pulses anddiary products.
All of it belongs to the agriculture sector and itssub-sectors. Even these $4 billion could be saved though betterplanning to boost production in the agriculture sector. Planners need to think big and devise strategies accordingly. It is,by all means, a gigantic task, but has to be undertaken to prevent aneconomic mess. There are many states, endowed with much less than Pakistan’spotential, which developed a vision, set goals and targets and thenachieved these within a short span of time. Chile is one such example;it raised its horticulture exports from virtual zero to $6 billionwithin a decade. The Indian agricultural production is also multiplying at a fasterpace – doubling of cotton production in 10 years. All major and minor crops and food group have their own set ofproblems and need careful planning. But it is, by no means, animpossible task; they rather need right steps to become basis forhigher targets.
Pakistan’s cotton and rice crops are now witnessing invasion byillegal varieties, and the issue is snowballing every year. Thecountry needs to ensure genetic purity of both crops as a first step.Secondly, it must bring in new and better yielding varieties, whichare available all over the world. Its 80 per cent cotton is underso-called BT variety, and no one knows what is being sown in the nameof BT. Its rice has just started suffering invasion of hybridvarieties, which are of unknown origin and health. Its main (basmati)variety, Super-96, is 13 years old and becoming increasing susceptibleto diseases. All its coarse varieties are vulnerable to blight and regularly fallvictim to it. Both need replacement. These simple steps, along withbetter extension service, would make huge difference in these crops.But it needs some meticulous planning and a set of objectives – put intimeframe.
Courtesy: The DAWN