Must constitute boards for different crops to identify problem, remedies and reforms
Interview with Mr Mahfooz Ursani — Additional General Secretary, Sindh Abadgar Board
PAGE had an exclusive conversation with Mr Mahfooz Ursani about agriculture sector. The excerpts of the conversation are as follows:
Agriculture is the culture and the lifestyle where I opened my eyes. From childhood to youth I saw my elders cultivating different crops round the year. Putting all their energy, wisdom, efforts, hopes and money in sowing it and then pray for good weather from God to raise it for the finest and richest yield. My whole village life revolved around this phenomenon. We talked about things mostly related to crops, when to sow wheat, which and how much seed to use, how much water we need and so on. Even which bird and wild life will be visiting our crop at which time, making an opportunity to hunt them and consume as big feast dinner. Partridges, pigeons, hares, doves and migratory birds used to be our food. When there was no game in the menu, fresh mustered leaves ‘saag’ (local spinach type) was the favorite. When it was the harvest time and along with semi golden wheat field, bright yellow flowers of mustered spread till one can see, brought the festival of Bassant. All the girls wore matching yellow clothes, played games and music to celebrate a bumper crop. Now more than half a century after, I am a seasoned farmer, an Electrical Engineer, Additional General Secretary of Sindh Abadgar Board and have recently joined politics with the sole aim of serving my people and my land. I am also serving my party PTI as Secretary Agriculture (Sindh).
My aim is to revolutionalize agriculture of Sindh, transforming it from century old practices to modern farming methods in order to elevate the lifestyle of my people to new heights and to set example for the rest of the world.
By the grace of God, Pakistan has all the required components to achieve all the aims and objectives of modern agriculture. Apart from grain crops, it’s suitable for numerous varieties of fruits and vegetables. When we talk about vegetables it is a must to see what we are growing and for which market. We are already exporting onions and potatoes and we have tremendous potential for tomatoes, okra, green chilies, cucumber, beet root, turnip, zucchini, carrots, peas, asparagus, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower and celery. Though these vegetables are grown round the year in different parts of Pakistan and have been catering to our local requirement sufficiently since a long period of time. But it’s a big challenge to produce these in line with international standards and required parameters. Issues like pesticide residuals, shelf life, processing units and a proper infrastructure to facilitate quick and efficient export are major impediments in achieving the goals for value addition in this sector. We have to work hard to develop indigenous quality seeds for vegetables with required characteristics.
Same is with fruits, which are performing better than vegetables but with the lack of internationally required varieties and modern processing facilities we are performing at the low level of our potential.
Unfortunately agriculture in Pakistan is going through its worst era. Since 2007, Pakistan has witnessed a high annual double digit inflation rate, resulting in high cost of inputs like fertilizer, seeds and pesticide. To compound the effect, subsidies on diesel and electricity along with agriculture subsidies, if any, were abolished under IMF and World Bank programs. Till 2010 agriculture commodities also increased with same proportion, thus no negative impact was felt until 2011. Suddenly the prices of cotton, wheat, rice, maize etc started tumbling down internationally. Countries started to face a glut in their farm output. Since then prices of commodities have plummeted to almost half, but the input prices have remained at the highest level.
Without any subsidies, Pakistan’s agriculture cannot cope with its competitors, hence currently in a sorry state. The farmers are economically shattered and crops are failing one after another due to high input cost and low price of their product. Pakistan cotton crop has once reached almost 15 million bales, however, now stands at less than 10 million bales, though the recent cotton output is somewhat better, affecting our annual GDP and missing targets of national economy and agriculture growth. We are exporting highest quantity of rice but fetching less in terms of value. We are carrying huge stocks of several million tons of wheat since last year and because of low international prices of around 30% less than our procurement price of Rs34,000 per ton in 2017, the country is unable to export in time. Same is with sugarcane. Price of refined sugar is slashed around 30% internationally, forcing sugar mills to close and deny the minimum purchase price of Rs182 per 40 kg of sugarcane to farmers. The provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab have already announced cane crushing season 2017-18 from around 1st of December 2017 delaying it by one month. But it’s getting uglier day after day. Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) Sindh has announced a complete closure since 25th Dec, 2017 as according to them the ex factory sugar price is hovering around Rs45 per kg and if they buy cane at government announced rate they will bear loss of Rs15 per kg. While on other hand farmers are agitating against such decision by blocking roads and high ways throughout the province and blame Sindh government for being partial and not protecting the farmers through Sugarcane Act 1950. They also blame that due to the ownership of several sugar mills of Ex-President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of ruling People’s Party Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, this issue is not being tackled by the Sindh Government in their favor.
Whatever the case, it is important to understand that agriculture is still the backbone of Pakistan. Growth of agriculture will ensure growth of Pakistan. We have to develop a proper agriculture policy, where the key issues of sustainable and modern agriculture must be addressed, both short term and long term. There should be boards constituted for the development of different crops like cotton, rice, sugarcane development boards, which may identify the problem, remedies and reforms in crop development. Good governance and corruption free implementation of such programs will be the key steps for the right result.