POWER CRISIS BLIGHT FOR AGRICULTURE

KANWAL SALEEM
Dec 29 - Jan 04, 2009

Current load shedding crisis has not only left adverse negative effects on country’s industrial sector but also started hitting the agriculture and its allied sectors.
The farmers in the country are facing difficulty in getting water for their crops as they are unable to run tube wells due to load shedding. On one side, the farmers are facing water shortage while on the other they are unable to get limited quantity of water due to load shedding, a spokesman of Kissan Board said.
The current load shedding is badly hitting the functioning of fruit grading and packing units and rice threshers. Both Kinnow and rice are exportable items and if immediate attention was not paid, targets sets for kinnow and rice export would be difficult to achieve.
Sources in Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board (PHDEB) told PAGE that unannounced and announced load shedding is severely damaging the smooth functioning of fruit grading and packing units located in Sargodha areas resultantly hitting the target of exporting 2,25,000 tons of kinnow set for the current season.
There were 250 fruit grading and packing units in Bhalwal and other areas of Sargodha district, which were facing longer hours of load shedding. Currently, around 14-16 hours long announced and unannounced load shedding was being carried out in these areas severely hampering the smooth functioning of these units.
The government needs to give some kind of concessions to this Industry and no load shedding should be observed from 3:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., which were the peak hours of working of these packaging and grading units,’ the sources added.
The kinnow export season in Pakistan starts from December 20 every year and it is getting pace now. The sources maintained that at least the government should provide concession to these units from January to mid April next year. If necessary steps in this regard were not taken, Pakistan would definitely miss the kinnow export target and would not get required precious foreign exchange, which is direly needed by our country at present, they stressed.
They were of the view that Pakistan could earn US$40-50 million through exports of kinnow. They also said that these units are not among high electricity consumption units and the government should have to look in
to this.
Chief Executive Officer of the PHDEB, Shamoon Sadiq told this scribe that the government should ensure provision of electricity to these units round the clock to ensure that we should not miss the export target. He said that high interest rate was another issue for which the government needs to give incentives to exportable units. He said that the loans should be extended to this sector on a rate not more than 10 per cent.
Regarding the PHDEB efforts for increasing kinnow exports, Shamoon averred that they were trying to explore the potential of China and it would be opening up of a new market for Pakistani fruit. Besides this, efforts would be made for expanding the traditional markets such as Middle East and others. However, he said: “We were concentrating to get more value for our fruits and tap high-end markets instead of making all efforts to increase the volume of exports’’.
He also hoped that this year kinnow export to Russia would also be increased due to the efforts of Board and the exporters. At present kinnow export to Russia was around 30 to 35000 tons which would increase to 40 to 45,000 tons.
He said that quarantine issues with Russia had been resolved and a committee comprising exporters representatives from Bhalwal had been constituted with members from the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) to inspect any consignment before dispatching to any country especially Europe.
He said that export of good quality fruit would help getting more value for Pakistani fruits.
Shamoon said that efforts were also made by the Board in the past to get EuropGap certificates and HACCP certificates for the farms. He said that now much awareness had been created among the farmers and they were ready to spend for these kinds of certifications themselves as they were sure that it would get them good value of their produce.
He said units with HACCP certification were only 4 in Pakistan some two to three years back but now their numbers had reached to 32. Nevertheless, he said that marketing was no more a problem for the kinnow exporters and now they had asked the Board to concentrate on pre-harvest problems. He said rind blotch was a problem, which affected 80 percent of the crop during last season.
He said that in this disease skin of kinnow gets spots although fruit in it remains safe. However, such a fruit could not get good price in the foreign market.
He said this year due to timely rains this disease was not intense but the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (Minfal) and provincial agriculture department should look in to this problem to resolve the issue on permanent basis.
Regarding any delegations to foreign countries for exploring new markets, he said that the exporters would be taken to ‘fruit logistica’ this year only as they would be more concentrating on mango during the year 2009.
Pakistan People’s Party led Government is going to introduce ‘Benazir Agricultural Card Scheme’ to ensure farmers to get loan up to Rs. 500,000 in a bid to ensure food security in the country. Initially, the scheme will be test launched during early next year for which one district will be selected in each province. The progress of the Benazir Agricultural Card would be reviewed every three months, after which its coverage would be extended to other areas of the country.
A senior PPP leader told PAGE that Benazir Agricultural Card will be a secured revolving credit card valid for three years, adding that interest rate on the Credit will be low as applicable to production loans. In order to facilitate the farmers it has been decided that there will be no limit on the number of transactions that can be carried out through the Card and will require no more than one interface of the farmer with the bank officials. The card could be used by the farmers for the purchase of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and POL etc.
According to him, the PPP Government has also decided to provide 20,000 tractors to the farmers on subsidized rates for promoting the agriculture sector. He said that Rs. 200,000 subsidy on purchase of tractors would be provided to the farmers. He said the government considers agriculture as backbone of the country’s economy and steps are being taken for the development of the sector and improving per acre production for benefit of the country.
He further said that government would follow the Bangladesh model for exporting rice and fisheries at government to government level.