From KHALID BUTT, Lahore
May 15 - May 21, 2006

The historic and first ever insurance coverage provided to the crops and livestock in the predominantly agricultural province of Punjab has been among the many unique initiatives taken by chief minister Parvaiz Elahi, to uplift the economy of the province.

To know about these remarkable initiatives, PAGE, talked to the youthful

Rana Muhammad Qasim Noon, Punjab Minister for Agricultural Marketing and a rising political force belonging to Seraiki belt of Multan, who in a short time has made a mark with his innovative ideas and dynamic approach in the hitherto neglected agri sector. Pakistan with its dominant agricultural economy and with Punjab known as a

'Food basket' of the subcontinent even from the pre-partition days had somehow taken a back seat in this important sector due to continued neglect and apathy of the past regimes. What we can achieve with little imagination, resourceful planning and a lot of hard work was shown by our neighborly country in the smaller and much truncated province of Punjab. It was therefore not surprising that the lesson was not lost on Punjab chief minister, who himself hails from the rural stock of a Jat family known for there traits and acumen in the filed of agriculture on both sides of Punjab. The creation of a new portfolio of Agricultural Marketing was the brainchild of Punjab CM, and he had hand picked Rana Qasim Noon for this task to make it work. Doubtless to say the experiment has paid rich dividends. Whole new ideas have emerged from this exercise to kick start the sagging economy and particularly revive the sleeping giant of agriculture. The creation of a new portfolio of Agricultural Marketing under a dashing minister, creation of PAMCO (Punjab Agricultural Marketing Company) and soon to be established Punjab Institute of agricultural Marketing (PIAM) and complete transformation of the Punjab agriculture sector have been some major and notable achievements.

Rana Qasim Noon who had started his early career in PIA before pursuing his natural political ambitions is a genial and result oriented person and infused the new department with the same spirit and goals he learnt early in his life.

He talks about the two most remarkable achievements of the present Punjab Government. One is the chief electricity scheme for the tube wells during the night hours. Started with the help of WAPDA, aimed at boosting the agriculture and the farmers the other is the Crop and Livestock Insurance started in conjunction with Bank of Punjab. Both were started on specific instructions of CM Pervaiz Elahi.

Talking about the insurance scheme, he said that there was coverage for borrowers from BOP, for a starting loan amount of Rs. 5, 000, 00 @ insurance premium of 1.35 percent. The same amount of loan with risk coverage of Rs. 2, 000, 00 @ insurance premium of 2.75 percent is available. He said both the innovative insurance coverage for the crops and livestock introduced over a year ago by BOP, have proved to be highly successful and blessing for the farmers community in the province.

Among the other innovative schemes in the agri marketing have been complete reorganization of marketing committees, grain markets, fruit and vegetable markets in Punjab. Also the improvements made in transportation and computer networking and display of commodity rates of market committees have been a salient feature.

He said joint strides were now being made by PAMCO to involve private sector and financial institutions and banks to boost the agri sector and bring the desired structural changes which have been long overdue. The other significant moves have been to help being offered to the farmers to improve their marketing, eliminate waste and enhance profit as well as in the exports of fruits, vegetables, livestock, fisheries and dairy products.

He talked of important recent development make by PAMCO in kinnoo exports and hopes for similar moves in mango exports which are now on the anvil.