Jan 18, 2010

The once market

The government should waste no time in providing funds and facilities to the farmers of Malakand division

By Tahir Ali

Farmers in Swat are anxiously waiting for the promised compensation for the huge losses they incurred during the last couple of years. As funds have been delayed, government functionaries assure the farmers that funds will be released soon. The insurgency and the subsequent military operation have badly affected agriculture in Swat and the adjoining agencies. Fruit and vegetable production has stopped in Swat, known as the fruit and vegetable basket of the country.

Initial damage assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and district government departments in July 2009 estimate losses at 62 percent for vegetables and 56 percent for fruit in Malakand Division and Malakand and Bajaur Agencies.

According to Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA), an Islamabad-based organisation, Swat alone has suffered fruit losses of Rs3 billions and vegetable losses of Rs1.4bn in the last two years. This assessment, however, does not include the losses caused during or after the military operation, the body reports.

The provincial minister for agriculture, Arbab Ayub Jan, says compensation package had been finalised and farmers will be compensated for their losses soon. Secretary Agriculture NWFP, Attaullah Khan, says the government will surely give compensation to the insurgency-hit farmers. "The PC-1 has been approved. Now detailed work plan is being prepared for the purpose. After that, compensation to the farmers will begin immediately." "Besides, the government will arrange for tractors and other field-levelling machinery for the affected farmers," he adds. Dr Sher Mohammad, an official of the agriculture department in the militancy-hit area, who is also Director General Livestock NWFP, says the Damage Needs Assessment (DNA) report, prepared by the government in collaboration with the World Bank (WB), has estimated Rs2.2 billion losses of fruit and Rs2.8bn of vegetables in the area. He says the losses in Swat are higher.

The DNA-based Rs85 billion work-plan for Malakand envisages Rs22 billion for agriculture, livestock and irrigation sectors in the area. But lack or delay in the release of funds has made it impossible to initiate it. For want of money, the plan will be implemented in phases. The federal government is yet to release Rs17bn for the first phase which was approved by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in November.

An official of the agriculture department in Swat says 78 percent fruit orchards in Swat suffered from normal to heavy losses amounting to around Rs1.6 billion and Rs2.1bn losses for vegetables and fruit respectively. "Areas in the Upper Swat like Kabal and Matta were the most affected with around 80 percent losses of fruit production. Over 0.109 metric tonnes of fruit was either destroyed or decayed last year for lack of packaging material or transportation problem. The problem was made acute due to lack of labour and delay in harvesting last year," he says adding, "Vegetable losses have been estimated at around 80 percent each for both kharif and rabi seasons last year. Around 57000 MT of kharif vegetables and around 29000MT of rabi vegetables were lost that inflicted a loss of Rs570 million and Rs293mn on the farmers," the official adds.

President, Model Farm Services Centre, Swat and a farmer, Mohammad Naeem, says peach grown in Swat had eight varieties, "Peach from variety one to seven were totally lost while the last category could be sold up to fifty percent as it matured late. Apple from Swat was also damaged by fifty percent. Most of the fruit orchards were destroyed," he adds.

Naeem says farmers have so far received no compensation from the government, "To deal with cases of corruption and exaggerated claims, the government and NGOs should provide aid, agriculture inputs, and technology through the agriculture department. It should provide enough plants, pesticides, and modern technology rather than giving cash to the farmers," he says adding, "Fruit orchards take around ten years to mature. An apple or peach orchard starts production in the fourth or fifth year but its commercial production begins in the seventh year. The government should help farmers grow more orchards."

Naeem points out that though NGOs are doing a commendable job to support the farmers "the problem is that their support is restricted to the suburbs of Mingora or other nearer sites. A few days ago, an NGO came but distributed only ten fruit saplings to each farmer. It was much less than needed. The far-flung areas such as Kabal, Matta and other upper Swat areas are yet to be given the badly needed attention."

Swat is the centre of both seasonal and off-season fruit and vegetable production. Its fruits such as apple, peach, apricot, pears, and fresh vegetables, like potato, turnip, cabbages, ladyfinger, etc, have a countrywide market and are exported. It provides employment to 70 percent of local populace who does the work like spraying, pruning, packing, and transporting the fruit from orchards and vegetable farms.

According to an estimate, in the year 2006-07, out of the total province-wise fruit of 0.42 million tonnes, Malakand division accounted for 56 percent while Swat alone produced 34 percent. Per capita fruit production for fruit in Swat was 82 as compared to 18 for NWFP. Three in every five peaches that Pakistanis eat come from Swat. Swat is also rich in vegetables production. Besides other vegetables, Swat also accounts for 3/4th of the onion produce in the province. According to an estimate by the South Asia Partnership, the share of Swat in national production of tomatoes is 13 percent.

Onion is sown at around 4000 hectares in Swat. The loss of this important source of income for the farmers in the area ranged between 70 to 80 percent in different areas. "Around 67000 metric tonnes of onion amounting to Rs669mn were lost. This makes the annual loss to vegetable farmers around Rs1.6bn," Naeem says adding, "The area produced 70 percent of yield of onion. In 2006, the area had produced about 108,000 tonnes of onion. "I had sown onion in my field but could not harvest it which caused me a loss of Rs0.1mn," says Abdur Rahim, a farmer from Kanju, Swat.

Tomato was cultivated over 7000 hectares in Swat. The crop was lost entirely as it matured in May and June when displacement had already started. Though prices of tomatoes and onion skyrocketed due to limited supply in the open market Swat farmers didn't benefit. "I would earn around Rs0.2 million from my tomato crop annually. But last year, there was no income for me from the crop," says Maimoon Khan, another farmer from Kanju.

Another farmer, requesting anonymity, says Kabal is still not clear from the militants, "It is inaccessible to outside fruit dealers. There is no aid to them so far. The owners of the fruit orchards there are under great duress." There are around 0.3 million farmers in Swat a majority of whom -- around eighty percent -- are small farmers who do not have money to buy agricultural inputs. They should be given free or subsidised agriculture inputs.

There are several challenges before the government. Experts believe the government should go for small projects rather than mega and complicated projects in the agriculture sector. It should seek community participation in the endeavours.

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