Feb 13, 2011

Rethinking agriculture policy

Availability of farm inputs has to be adequately increased to increase productivity

By Tahir Ali

In an effort to improve agriculture growth and increase income of farmers in the province, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government intends to reconsider provincial agriculture policy that was enforced in 2005. The review and reshaping of agriculture policy is the need of the hour as it has failed to address major issues confronting the farmers and farming in the province.

The main goal of the agriculture sector, as per the 2005 agriculture policy, is to ensure food security and alleviation of poverty, but the low per acre yield, land erosion, negligence of livestock, especially milk/meat-farming, failure to prepare and disseminate better animal fodder, outdated farming and lack of water/soil conservation practices and poor agricultural marketing and lack of a crash programme for the uplift of agriculture have made it impossible.

The sector has been ignored and allocated insufficient funds -- ranging from one to two percent -- in the provincial Annual Development Programmes (ADPs) by successive provincial governments despite the fact that it accounts for over 20 percent of provincial gross domestic product, accounts for 45 percent of the total labour force and it is the main source of income for about 80 percent of its population.

Gul Nawaz Khatak, chief planning officer in KP’s agriculture ministry, says they now would assess the performance and identify the achievements, shortcomings and bottlenecks in the policy’s implementation and requirements for the future, “The re-examination will help us reshape the agriculture policy, bring in improvements in it as per requirements and take remedial measures to develop agriculture, livestock and other sub sectors in the province.”

Khatak agrees that the main problem confronting the agriculture sector in the province was poverty and inability of small farmers to buy quality inputs. “They have been neglected in the 2005 policy. They will now be listened to and empowered,” he adds.

To a question, Khatak says prices of inputs were beyond the jurisdiction of agriculture ministry as these were determined by the market forces and inflation. “We will ensure timely and easy availability of the commodities to farmers. For this purpose, farm services centres have been established and more such bodies would be formed in the hitherto uncovered areas,” he informs.

To enable them buy inputs at their hour of need, Khatak says, the banks are already providing agriculture credit to small farmers at 8 percent mark up in the province to buy inputs and services.

“And the provincial cooperative bank and its cooperative societies have also been revived this year. The government would provide Rs1 billion seed money to the bank to give easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers and rural women to increase their incomes. The Bacha Khan Poverty Alleviation Programme (BKPAP) has also been started in some districts which would provide farm inputs and financial, technical and educational support to thousands of farmers,” he explains.

Farmers’ income can be increased by ensuring improved marketing of their products, “We intend to establish more regulator markets province-wide. At present, these markets function only in two districts. These markets will have market committees comprising 6-10 farmers plus one official. They will weigh, assess and sell farmers’ produce. Farmers will get good price for their produce and hard work,” Khatak hopes.

Niamat Shah, Vice president of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says cost and unavailability of farm inputs is one of the major problems, “Though the seed research farms have developed quality seeds for different crops but their timely and easy availability has always been a problem. About 80 percent farmers have no access to quality seeds and modern agriculture technology,” he claims.

“The government has so far failed to streamline input distribution. Mass availability of under-weight and fake fertiliser/seeds varieties will have to be checked as these are adding to problems of farmers,” he points out.

The department seems to be focussing on the Farm Services Centres (FSCs) for improving input availability. But unless these bodies are expanded to each union council or village and their number and membership is increased -- there are only 60 FSCs province-wide at present which have only around 45000 members while millions of farmers are out of its ambit -- and their weaker financial position of the bodies is improved by giving them financial support as they have to buy and sell inputs through their revolving funds, the idea may not work.

The BKPAP can solve some of the basic problems of farmers but more funds will have to be allocated to increase its area of application. Shah argues that the agriculture sector should be allocated five percent of ADP for the time being, which should be gradually increased later as without funds and robust attempts nothing can be achieved.

“Sufficient money should be earmarked to do research on, and development of, seeds. High-yielding seed varieties must be imported as was done during Ayub’s era. Also, easy and timely availability of seeds and other inputs should also be arranged for through improved distribution network,” he suggests.

“To cope with decreasing agriculture land for its unprecedented consumption by real-estate sector, the government will focus on bringing vast cultivable wasteland under cultivation by leveling and developing it through bulldozers and tractors,” Khatak explains.

Increasing the acreage demands more irrigation water which is already scarce. “This problem will be tackled by efficient management of available water for which schemes have been suggested and through extension of irrigation infrastructure in the province by building new dams which is what the irrigation department is doing,” he adds.

“The department is also working out on how to cope with new and bigger responsibilities following the devolution of the some departments to the provinces,” Khatak says.

Lack of coordination between farmers and the government and non-governmental organisations has also affected the farmers, “First, we will be identifying and removing problems in inter/intra departmental coordination and then it will be worked at with farmers and their associations,” he says, adding, “Rs240 million have been earmarked for the purpose which would be paid to farmers soon through district coordination committees as nominations have been made.”

If expert advice, machinery and marketing support are provided to farmers, it will shift their farming from subsistence to commercial/modernised one. Household farming should be developed. The role and impact of the middle-men in agri-businesses must be minimised to increase farmers’ incomes.

Livestock accounts for 50 percent of provincial gross domestic product but it continues to be neglected. It still has no separate secretary and is being supervised by agriculture secretary. There should be special plan for livestock farmers in rural areas.

Promotion of agriculture is the most effective tool for eradicating poverty and, therefore, terrorism and extremism. But traditional methods, paltry allocations and weak commitment cannot develop the sector. The government will have to opt for out-of the-box solutions to develop the sector.

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