Jan 1, 2010

Free to fertilise

The government should provide facilities to farm services centres

By Tahir Ali

The Farm Services Centres (FSCs) and Model Farm Services Centres (MFSC) can solve most of the problems relating to agriculture provided they are given more financial support from the government and the numbers of these institutions increase. FSC and MFSC, brainchild of farmers, aim at capacity-building of farmers and are supposed to create linkages between farmers and public/private departments and associations.

According to the procedure, farmers can become FSC members after paying an enrolment fee of Rs100 and a share-money of Rs500 each once. The NWFP government provides a matching grant equal to the farmers' share. It has spent around Rs 255 millions so far on the scheme.

Each FSC and MFSC has a revolving fund made up of membership fee, matching grant by the government, and the income earned by these organisations. It uses the fund to buy agricultural inputs and offer it to member farmers on comparatively cheaper rates than the market. This way their revolving funds increase with the passage of time.

However, there are discrepancies in revolving funds of the MFSCs. Some bodies like those in Laki Marwat and Haripur have large amounts at their disposal while others, because of fewer memberships, have small revolving funds with them.

There are 90 FSCs in all with around 50,000 farmer members throughout NWFP. Twenty of these are, however, non-functional. The number of FSCs and their membership is much less as there are 1.356 million farms in the province. On average, there is one FSC per ten union councils. Farmers say the ratio should be at least three FSCs in each 986 union councils of the province.

All the member farmers form the general body (GB) of an FSC. The executive body (EB) of FSC is supposed to serve as a bridge between the GB and the management committee (MC). But interaction between them and between EB and MC is not a regular feature. In some areas, the GB and EB members pursue their individual needs which may weaken the FSC system.

The MC is supposed to take all important decisions, but in effect 75 percent of all FSCs are predominantly managed by agriculture officers because of their final say in financial matters. This goes against the dictates of the FSC by-laws that promised autonomy to these establishments. MFSCs have been built in 23 of the 24 NWFP districts. Kohistan is yet to have one. Unfortunately, those in Swat and Shangla are non-functional these days.

In 2007, MFSCs were opened in every district of NWFP. The government constructed a building complex for each MFSC that had offices of all relevant departments along with a warehouse having equipment, machinery and a training and conference hall. A president, invariably a farmer, heads each MFSC. The government provided one million endowment funds to each MFSC.

The NWFP project director of MFSCs, Rasool Mohammad, says after the completion of the project, it is expected that MCs of MFSCs will be able to run their activities on their own. "This objective will be obtained through consultation and training of farmers. MFSCs will provide fertilisers, quality seed and other services to their member farmers at cheaper rates. These services will form sources of income for MFSCs as well as save time, energy and money for farmers besides expediting the pace of work and services."

According to the director, seven departments -- agriculture extension, agricultural research, water management, soil conservation, cooperative inspector, water and soil testing, livestock/poultry and plant protection -- will have offices in MFSCs and provide services to farmers. Some departments, he says, are yet to be shifted to MFSCs. "Millions of funds are available with FSCs. If these funds are spent judiciously with technical advice and expertise of the government, it will go a long way in the development of agriculture in the province," he says.

MFSCs and FSCs have been registered under Cooperative Societies' Act. The bodies should have an independent act of their own. This is vital to give sanctity and credence to the entity and its resolutions.

Asif Ali Jah, a farmer and President of MFSC Haripur, says formation of MFSCs is a very good idea that could solve all the agriculture-related problems. "We provide cheap inputs, modern machinery on rent and even interest-free loans in the form of inputs that had 100 percent recovery ratio. We have also provided over 2000 fertiliser bags to our members this year. This has resulted in the stabilisation of prices in the market and the fertiliser mafia was no more the sole arbiter of things," says Jah.

But he points out that these bodies have limited membership. "Though there are around 0.7 million farmers in Haripur, just 1,630 farmers have joined MFSC. Our MFSC, fortunately, is the only body in NWFP that has around 80 female farmers as its members," he claims.

"Fertiliser dealership and provincial organisation for MFSCs should be ensured. Small projects for value addition be planned and subject matter specialists pertinent to the area potential, like poultry in Mansehra, should be nominated for all MFSCs," demands Jah.

Hafiz Minhajuddin, President of MFSC Laki Marwat, says MFSC makes coordination between growers and government possible. "It provides cheap agriculture inputs and services. It provides farmers guidance and marketing services for their outputs which in turn increases their incomes." Minhajuddin says his body has 4500 members while there are an estimated 0.7 million farmers in the district. "The government will have to offer incentives to farmers to join the system," he says.

Malik Jamshed, President of MFSC Mardan, says MFSC offers many benefits to farmers. "Our MFSC provided seed at Rs 1600 per bag as against Rs 2000 market price the previous year. Member farmers were sold a bag of urea at Rs 670, much below its market price of around Rs 1100." Jamshed believes, "a processing and cold storage, seed certification, soil and water-testing facilities for MFSCs should be provided. The government should give endowment fund of Rs 5 million to each MFSC to purchase inputs and machinery. Maximum limit for farmers from MFSC fund should be increased and the period of loan recovery extended. All departments should be asked to cooperate with the bodies."

President of MFSC Charsadda, Mohammad Zahir Khan, says MFSC is the best available option but lack of policy implementation and support by the government, and lack of resources have baldy damaged the initiative. "Its membership should have been rising but it has stopped. To be able to have a leading role in the distribution of fertilisers, the bodies should add more members and funds as it works on self-help basis for its registered farmers."

Following reports that three fertilisers are being used in making indigenous bombs, the provincial government has decided that the commodities will be provided through MFSCs and FSCs. NWFP Minister for Agriculture Arbab Ayub Jan tells TNS that the bodies will send weekly reports to the government as to who took how much of the fertilisers along with their identity cards. "In areas where there are no MFSCs, district offices of the agriculture department will serve as provision centres," he says.

President of MFSC Swat, Mohammad Naeem, says it is the best forum to solve the agriculture problems of farmers. "For this to happen, however, strengthening of MFSCs and increase in their membership is vital. The government will have to offer incentives to farmers to join these organisations. Our body has only 2000 members while there are around 0.3 million farmers in the district. Almost 80 percent are small/poor farmers who do not have money to buy agricultural inputs. The government should provide free fertiliser or provide these bodies with a minimum of Rs 5 million," says Naeem.

Naeem says the office of their body was ransacked by Taliban in 2007 and agriculture inputs of around Rs 6 million were taken away. "We have no money to buy seeds or fertilisers to offer to farmers," he says, urging for a special revolving fund for their organisation.

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