INTERVIEW: QADIR BAKHSH BALOCH

Agriculture Development Commission

SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
Bureau Chief, Islamabad
July 23 - 29, 2007

The government has spent heavily on the development of Agriculture during the last few years which has paid dividend as during the last financial year (2006-07) all important crops recorded a high production levels, claimed Pakistan's Agriculture Development Commissioner (ADC), Mr. Qadir Bakhsh Baloch in an exclusive interview to Page in his office in Islamabad on Wednesday morning.

According to him the agriculture PSDP that hovered between 300 and 500 million rupees per annum increased in 2001-02 to 13.6 billion rupees in 2006-07. The 2006-07 PSDP was 49% more than the PSDP of 2005-06 and manifold more than the 290 million rupees PSDP investment of 2001-02, he added. S sum of Rs. 16 billion has been provided for 2007-08.

He said that the overarching goal set for agriculture by the government is to make agriculture productive, profitable and competitive. The strategic direction taken to achieve this end is to increase agriculture profitability within the overall framework of a pro-poor and pro-small farmer's focus and insurance of national food security. Enhanced agriculture profitability is planned to be achieved through narrowing the wide yield gap existing between progressive farm yields and the average farm yields and diversification of farming to more remunerative high value areas of horticulture, livestock, fisheries, oilseeds, and cash crops.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

The policies pout in place within the above framework coupled with generous financial incentives and dispensation given by the government to agriculture and timely and appropriate market interventions has enabled agriculture to recover from the calamitous effects of a protracted four-year drought to register a high average annual growth rat of 4.5% over the three years 2004-05 to 2006-07. Growth in the agriculture sector remained buoyant during 2006-07 pitched in the range of 4 t0 5 percent as against the preceding year's growth of 2.5 percent. All-important crops recorded high production levels. Estimated wheat production of 23 million tons is 6 percent higher than 2005 and the record highest ever production of wheat that has enabled possible export of surplus wheat stocks of 1.2 million tons. Maize production likewise, improved by 6.5% over last year to 3.3 million tons while sugarcane production improved by 23% over last year to 54.9 million tons; both being record highest ever productions. Cotton production at 13 million bales is 4.8 percent more than 2005-06 and is the 2nd highest ever production of the cotton crops after the record crop of 14.3 million bales achieved in 2004-05. Rice production at 5.4 million tons though marginally lesser than the 5.5 million tons produced last year, by virtue of higher demand abroad for Pakistani Basmati rice following a shortfall in the Indian Basmati crop and high international prices is expected to top the record export earnings of 1.2 billion dollars achieved in 2005-06. Similar vertical gains were achieved in production of important high value crops of gram 77%, mung 21%, lentils 17% and potatoes 578%. An encouraging feature of the agricultural achievements over the past five year are the significant productivity gains obtained in most major crops: wheat 21.6% cotton 19.7%, maize 88.3%, gram 98.5%, rice 16.5% and potatoes 30.5%, he ADC, Mr. Baloch said.

The government over the past five years has taken several significant steps to boost agriculture production. Awareness campaigns were launched through the electronic and print media to reach the farming community with packages of improved technology, cultural practices and input usage for major crops of wheat, cotton and rice extend subsidy so far available only on Urea fertilizer to phosphate and potash fertilizers as well thereby reducing their costs by Rs.250 per bag and resultant more balance use of the three key fertilizers. During Rabbi 2006-07 alone use of DAP fertilizer increased by 45% in comparison to its usage during Rabbi 2005-06. Following steep increases in international prices of phosphate and potash fertilizers the government in March 2007 jacked up the relief in price of these fertilizers from Rs.250 to Rs.400 per bag. This decision entailed an additional bill of Rs.6.18 billion raising the total subsidy provision for fertilizers in FY 2006-07 to RS. 15 billion. The fertilizer initiative was complimented by substantially increased agricultural credit disbursement from Rs.80 billion in 2004-05 to Rs.137 billion in 2005-06 and to RS. 160 billion in 2006-07 along with spread of its coverage to high value horticulture, livestock and fisheries production and related agribusiness.

In tandem with the above actions and with the objective to assure fair prices for the farmers the wheat support price was increased to Rs.425 per 40 kg and intervention prices were announced upfront for all other important crops. The government has been pursuing a market friendly wheat policy consecutively for the last three years. This wheat policy ensures free marketing of the commodity and voluntary selling by farmers at the guaranteed minimum price while maintaining a clear distinction between operational and strategic reserves held by the government. The wheat growers under this policy were assured of receiving at minimum the support price announced by the government through sales to PASSCO and the provincial food departments who had in parallel with the private sector established their own elaborate setups for wheat procurement. The government had committed to procure through these agencies any and all the wheat stocks offered to them by the farmers. A similar critical initiative was taken to assure and regulate prices of other essential agricultural commodities through setting up arrangements at PASSCO for procurement of around two hundred thousand tons of grams at the intervention price of rupees 850 per 40 kg and procurement of rice. These measures assured farmers of better return, improved farmer's confidence to continue to grow these important crops and helped in the stabilization of market prices for the consumers.

FOOD SECURITY

In order to ensure food security and to improve productivity of small farms the government in 2006-07 initiated a phased 'Special Program for Food Security and Productivity Enhancement of Small Farmers' covering 13,000 villages by the year 2015 stating with 1,000 villages in all four provinces, AJK and FATA and FANA in first phase at a cost of 7.8 billion rupees. This program aims to enhance crop productivity of small farmers at the village level and support them to start income generation activities in the areas of livestock, fisheries and high value crops on sustainable basis. The project will also create required systems for value addition of crop and livestock products coupled with improved market linkages. This initiative will catalyze 50% reduction in the yield gap that now exists between progressive growers and small farmers and boost overall production levels in the agriculture sector.

The use of quality seed assures 20 to 30 percent improvement in productivity of various crops. The government has committed financial resources to the tune rupees 836 million with the aim to strengthen and improving the seed sector related countries. The Central Seed Testing Laboratory, Islamabad is being upgraded to achieve excellence and attain international accreditation. Provision has been made for registration, certification and quality control on food plant nurslings and vegetable seed production. A program has been started to locally produce hybrid and other high tech seeds of vegetable crops. Services of internationally renowned scientists have been hired to work on evolution of high yield, disease resistant and temperature of learnt whet varieties. A major initiative is to venture into the production and marketing of BT cotton seed under secure bio-safety arrangements.

Recently, Mr. Qadir said, the government has granted yet another big concession to the farmer community by reducing the power tariff for agriculture tube well from July 1, 2007 by 25 percent. The cost of 25% relief would be equally shared equally by the federal and the respective provincial governments.

Addressing the members of Rawalpindi Chambers of Commerce & Industry (RCCI) on Wednesday (July 18). Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Livestock Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan said that due to solid steps taken by present government there has been record crop production of wheat, rice and cotton in the country. He said focus of the government to give benefit to 92% small farmers to ensure maximum growth in our total crop Production strategy has been evolved to promote agriculture and livestock sectors to achieve maximum targets. He said there has been 23.5 million tones of wheat production which he said was record as the target was set some 22.5 million tones adding no doubt we have a credible potential to enhance growth of wheat to 28.5 million tones.

The Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture made it clear that there was no shortage of wheat saying measures would be taken also to increases would be taken also to increase its growth with control of price. He was of the opinion that growers profitability must be taken into account which he said was imperative and key to success for this essential segment of our country.

He said that as a policy, the government has been focusing on those crops which are beneficial and results yielding. About the price of the wheat he said earlier, the farmers were getting Rs.510 for 40 kg wheat adding now due to appropriate and suitable steps taken by the government, the price has been increased upto Rs.435 per 40 kg, just to benefit the small land holders farmers, who he said have to wait for more than six months to get reward after hectic work and investment. He urged the business community to make balance in their profit margin just to give relief to common consumer. He assured the RCCI members to resolve all their genuine problems relating to export and import of this industry, saying maximum incentives and relaxation would be offered to the Agriculture and Livestock sectors business community.

Replying to a question as to why the prices of food items are constantly on the rise despite the bumper crops of wheat, rice, gram, pluses and sugarcane as claimed by him, he said that the question of prices did not directly relate to his ministry, he was however, aware that the government was fully cognizant of the problem and was trying hard to develop and effective mechanism to check and control prices. In his personal opinion the upsurge in prices was not due to any shortage but because of hoarding and manipulations of and by the profiteers, the minister added.