Increasing productivity, reducing input costs, and efforts to increase competitiveness

Aug 21 - 27, 2000

A little attention to the Agriculture sector during the last one year has proved beyond any doubt that there is no business like agriculture specially in the context of Pakistan. The country which imported 3 million tonnes of wheat in 1998-99 has finalised arrangements for the export of over one million tonnes of wheat during the current year.

The Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, Shafqat Ali Jamote, disclosed at a press conference in Islamabad last week that as per final assessment of the last wheat crop, production had crossed 22 million tonnes as against earlier estimate of 21.5 million tonnes leaving a surplus of about 1.5 million tonnes available for export. Arrangements have been finalised to export 1 million tonnes to Afghanistan at the rate of 175 US dollars or Rs.9000 per tonne "we are looking for the potential buyer for the remaining surpluses," he added.

It is heartening to note that the present government is fully conscious of the large potential in Agriculture sector. Chief Executive Gen Pervez Musharraf while presiding over a high-level meeting the other day directed for the constitution of a committee to prepare comprehensive proposals for the promotion of various crops, besides approving a sum of Rs. 5 billion for the development of new avenues in the agricultural sector. The attention which the government of Pervez Musharraf has given to the agriculture sector since assuming the office on October 12, 1999, reflects the new administration's resolve to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture. The bumper wheat crop this season makes it abundantly clear that if right strategies are adopted and then efficiently implemented, the agriculture sector can be revolutionised.

General Pervez Musharraf's directive for formation of committee to institutionalise agricultural marketing together with crop-wise proposals for reorientation of the entire farming sector, with due emphasis on self reliance, food security, import-substitution and export promotion is a welcome step. The proposed committee, to be headed by National Security Council Member Shafi Niaz, a noted agriculture expert, will also include Food, Agriculture and Livestock Minister, Dr. Shafqat Ali Shah Jamote, besides representatives of ministries of commerce and finance as well as nominees of the provincial governments.

The meeting which was also attended by the provincial governors and Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz. They were given comprehensive briefing on the potential, problems and prospects of agriculture growth by Dr. Shafqat Ali Shah Jamote and Secretary Ministry of Food and Agriculture Dr. Zafar Altaf. The major thrust of the new strategy, as explained to the participants of the meeting, aims at maintaining an annual growth rate of 5 to 10 per cent, besides increasing productivity, reducing input costs, and efforts to increase competitiveness.

The bumper harvest of wheat is the result of a comprehensive package of measures taken by the government to boost production. The most important incentive that was provided to the farmer was in the form of a 25 per cent increase in procurement price which was raised from Rs.240 per 40 kg to Rs.300. It was done well in advance of the sowing season, allowing farmers enough time to prepare maximum land for cultivation. Secondly, cleaning and desilting of canals through the joint efforts of the army and the farming communities, which made larger supplies of water available for irrigation, contributed fairly to the achievement of the target. The monitoring of the distribution of water was done by army personnel which made it certain that big farmers did not steal water in excess of their allotted share and that the farmers at the tail end received their due share. Thus the dividends of the increased yield have been widely and equitably distributed. Thirdly, apart from water, other inputs, like certified seeds, fertilizers and credit were also made available in required quantities and at the right time.

The Food, Agriculture and Livestock Ministry has planned a programme to increase crop yield from 5 to 10 per cent per annum till 2005 to achieve self-sufficiency in deficit crops by 2010. The target of wheat will be 23 million tonnes in the next five years and the country will achieve self-sufficiency by the year 2003 in oilseed production.

Black tea will be commercially grown and processed to enable the country to end imports of it by 2010. The country will achieve self-sufficiency and exportable surplus by the year 2005 in the production of pulses, the sources claimed.

An agriculture data bank would be created, including computerised land records and crop statistics and reporting through satellite imageries to be established at the provincial levels and networking at the federal level. The number of farm machines will be increased by 20 per cent such as tractors, implements, harvesters by 2005. The agriculture polytechnic institutions at the level of agricultural districts will be established. The ministry has also planned to introduce insurance for agriculture labour and farm works. Establishment of Federal Agriculture Bank to introduce concept of working capital in the agriculture sector had also been suggested.

An extremely dynamic agriculture extension service would be created that would cater to the development of quality of human resources and provide knowledge for modern agriculture techniques and practices.

The sources said the existing ADBP and Federal Bank for Cooperative would be merged and increase the coverage of passbook system from the existing level of 10 per cent to 25 per cent in the next five years. For speedy disbursement of agriculture, in all the provinces, one-window operation would be made compulsory, the sources added. Spate Irrigation system in Rod-Kohi, Sailaba and Riverine areas covering 3.25 million hectares would be developed, while small dams and earthen ponds to store 2.5 maf runoff in mountainous and barani areas of N.W.F.P., Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan will also be established.

To achieve the self-sufficiency in oilseed, emphasis would be made on production of local hybrid seed for sunflower, domestic certified seed for canola, and removal of anomaly in solvent extraction industry. For self-sufficiency in tea, plantation would be made in watersheds and state forest lands, installation of black tea processing plant, watershed management of Tarbela Dam, production of high quality organic tea and to avoid hazards of chemical pollutants to River Indus, pioneer plantation and pilot green tea processing plan at Shinkiari.