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Agricultural policy

  • Since the inception of Pakistan agriculture was the backbone of our economy .In its earlier years Pakistan was agriculturally surplus country and we used to have an exportable food grain surplus of 500,000 to 700,000 tons. On the other hand India had a defecit of 2.5 to 3 million tons of food grains .But due to inept agricultural policies of our successive rulers we have imported wheat for 47 years in 57 years of the country,s history .Likewise, we are importing other agriculturalcommodities regularly .For instance we imported in 2002-03 ,1.29 million ton of edible oil ,raw cotton 0.2 million ton,pulses 0.4 million ton , tea 0.12 million ton ,milk and milk products 11006 tons and we are again importing 1.5 million ton of wheat in 2004 .On the other hand India which was a chronic importer of food grains , edible oil , pulses etc has not only become self sufficient in their production ,but is nowexporting them due to their well planed agricultural development policies .Unfortunately our concerned politicians and bureaucracy did not want that we should become self sufficient in agriculture as they earn commissions on the import of various agricultural commodities .
    In 1960, agriculture contributed 65 per cent to our national GDP .Inspite of industrialization and shift of capital from agriculture to industry ,agriculture still contributes nearly 24 per cent to the GDP ,employs 44 per cent of the total labor force and contributes over 70 per cent of the total exports .Instead of developing a strong agricultural policy on sound economic parameters for sustainable growth of agriculture ,the continued neglect and poor planning by successive governments has resulted in Pakistan becoming a chronic importer of various food and fibre items costing a burden of billions of rupees on national exchequer .
    None of the eight five years plans with the probable exception of second five year plan (1960-65) could achieve the projected targets of agriculture sector .The ninthfive years plan with tall claims of agricultural development could not be implemented due to the removal of the then government in 1999 .According to the national press the present government has prepared tenth five year plan with as usual tall claims of bringing a green revolution in agriculture .Since the details of the plan has not yet been given ,it is difficult to make any comment at this stage .But the question arises that when the economy of the nation is not stable ; corruption is rampant at all levels of the country ;there is serious law and order situation ;tension is growing in the tribal areas and the provinces ;there is no democracy according to the perception of Father of the Nation, and according to the reports of international media Pakistan is now a very instable country .Under these circumstances ,naturally the question arises ,will it be possible to bring green revolution which needs complete national harmony .Nevertheless , some suggestions are made for the consideration of the agricultural planners as under:
    One of our major approach should be to attain self-sufficiency in wheat ,edible oil, cotton ,pulses and development of livestock and forestry sectors . In addition , there is great need to streamline our agro-based industry and existing inefficient marketing and export system .After 57 years bitter experience ,a commission of highly competent scientists of all agricultural fields should be made to study the major constraints of our agricultural institutions , production and marketing constraints .The commission should recommend how to remove these constraints onpriority bases and suggest foolproof measures to improve agricultural production to attain self-sufficiency as has successfully done in several countries of the world .
    The Federal and Provincial Secretaries of Agriculture must be highly competent scientists/technocrats in the field of agriculture instead of bureaucrats which are the outdated legacy of former British Empire .The departments of agriculture and irrigation should be under the same secretary of agriculture with an additional Secretary of agriculture(an agriculture scientist)and an additional Secretary of irrigation(irrigation engineer) under him .These additional Secretaries should coordinate their activities for increasing crop production .For instance ,they should be made responsible to see that maximum area of wheat is sown within Oct 20 to Nov 21 .Because thereafter, a delay of one day results in reduction of yield by 35 kg per hectare per day .Since the planting of wheat continues till end of December in the rice- wheat belt and continues even later in January in cotton -wheat belt thus seriously affecting the production of wheat .Such coordination between the departments of irrigation and agriculture in the Indian Punjab has enabled them to sow over 90per cent of their wheat area by the end of November the optimum time for planting wheat to obtain maximum yield in the Indian Punjab .As a result the Indian Punjab which is one-third of our Punjab contributes 70 per cent to the national wheat pool of India which is over four times bigger than Pakistan .
    Similarly the coordinated agriculture and irrigation departments should ensure timely availability of water to various crops ,especially during their critical stages of growth .For instance ,the critical stages of irrigation for wheat are tillering and anthesis ,for cotton flowering and boll formation , for rice flowering and grain development ,for maize tasseling through silking, for sunflower bloom and early seed formation .Even if the total water requirement of a crop is given during its growing period except at one of itscritical stage of growth ,it will seriously effects its production .For instance , if the total water requirement of 19 ace-inch of wheat is given during its growing period , except at its tillering stage ,it will reduce its yield up to 20per cent.
    Again ,crash programs of achieving self sufficiency in edible oil ,pulses , cotton and other important crops be developed on top priority bases .The concerned departments and District Mayors /Councilors should be made responsible for achieving their targets within a specified time .Their on going progress be monitored and evaluated for timely removal of any constraints .Thosedoing good job for obtaining these targets be awarded and rewarded and those found neglecting their responsibilities should be given exemplary punishment .
    According to the international consultants our Agricultural Education ,Research and Extension System has deteriorated due to its disintegration ,dominance of bureaucracy and too much political interference in its affairs and corruption .They suggested various alternatives to highly standardize this system but no action has been takenso far as bureaucracy did not want to loose hold on it .
    Top priority be given for the construction of new waterreservoirs on purely technical grounds rather than on political bases in the supreme national interest .Again ,within a canal and water course commands equity of water distribution be strictly ensured as thepolitically influential feudal lords and members of national and provincial assemblies ,especially from Sindh and Punjab are depriving the middle and tailend farmers from their water rights in connivance with the concerned corrupt officials of irrigation departments .The policy makers should ensure equity of water distribution for increasing crop production and welfare of the common farmers in their tenth five year plan .
    Again ,due to uncontrolledirrigation and over-mining from over 700000 tube-wells ,in addition to Persian wells ,lift pumps ,karezes etc has already seriouslyexhausted groundwater acquifer in vast areas in the country .The new five year plan must include measures to over come this serious problem . One of the measure to overcome this serious problem is that their off-take rate must not exceed 70per cent of their natural recharge rate for sustainable ground water availability .Likewise ,nearly 70per cent of total tube-wells have slightly to highly brackish water that adversely effects crop yields and increase soil salinity . The policy makers should consider to implement sulfurous acid generator technology on such tubewells located on gypsiferous soils as is being done successfully in several countries of the word ,whilegypsum technology be used on those located in non-gypsiferous soils .Again, rainfed agriculture did not receive the attention it deserved by the policy makers in the last nine five year plans as it was considered a high risk agriculture The present planers of green revolution should know that by followingmodern advanced rain water harvesting techniques 90per cent or even more of rain water is being harvested in several countries of the world and many of them are getting their rainfed crop yields nearly equal to their irrigated crop yields .On the other hand due to conventional water harvesting practices we arecollecting 20-25 per cent of rain water run-off and our rain-fed crop yields are 80 to over 100 per cent below the irrigated crop yields.
    The policy makers should consider to develop a plan for conservation agriculture which is now followed on over 72 million hectares in the world and is fast spreading to meet the requirements of the burgeoning population and declining resource base .It not only increases yields but also conserves resources and reduce cost of production. Again, according to the census of 2000, out of the total farm land of the country , 44per cent is under subsistent and below subsistent level . If to this is addedthe area under small farms then the area under small ,subsistent and subsistent level farms comes to 63per cent of the total farm land which itself is a major constraint for agricultural production . Therefore present policy makers should seriously consider for land reform and fix 20 acres of land beyond which no further fragmentation be made as India has already brought green revolution by fixing such lower limit of 17 acres .
    Livestock contributes nearly 44 per cent of agriculture’s GDP .Its population increased from 49.5 million in 1960-61 to 138.8 million in 2000-03,while that of poultry increased from less than 24.3 million to 346 million during the same period .The existing yield gap of buffalo and cow milk between actual and potential yields varies between 56-63 per cent .The major problems of livestock sector are poor feed ,health ,breeding ,marketing and smuggling to Afghanistanproblems which need immediate attention of policy makers .Again , there is great scope of export earnings from poultry and its products by proper planning .Likewise , there is good potential of fish export by following latest technology for catching ,processing ,marketing and export of fish .
    Forests are vital to our ecology as they play a vital role in conserving natural resources and themselves are a source of valuable commodities . Unfortunately they still hardly occupy 4.8 per cent of the total geographic area of Pakistan as against the minimumstandard requirement of 20-25 per cent . Mismanagement ,corruption ,illegal deforestation by the politically influentials has also resulted in soil erosionin our river catchments resulting in silting up of our reservoirs .Similarly overgrazing andmismanagement of our rangelandshave resulted in their significant depletion .These are just some of the national problems which needs immediate attention of the policy makers for bringing green revolution of agriculture in the country . They should form a task force of highly competent ,dedicated and honest scientists in various fields of agriculture for the guidance of policy makers throughout the tenth five year plan period .

    (The author is Ph.D. and held numerous high positions in acedemic and research organisations).

    The Nation

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