AGRICULTURE: THE VEHICLE OF FOOD SECURITY

SHAMSUL GHANI (shams_ghani@hotmail.com)
Mar 16 - 22, 2009

While many import-dependent world economies are doing their best to achieve food security objective by raising their food stocks, we, despite being an agro-based economy are paying little attention to the most serious problem by resorting to the decades-old feudalistic approach. Our agriculture sector problems are well defined and simply need off-the shelf solutions. It is not the question of scarce resources; it is simply the issue of management of resources. Like any other project, our agro industry has five distinctive sections; resources, management, finance, production and marketing.

AGRO RESOURCES

We have ample agro-based resources namely arable land, rural workforce and water. These resources need upgrading and proper management. Our arable land is generally nutrient deficient requiring enrichment through proper fertilizer use. Major portion of fertilizer requirement is met through domestic production. Every government, for political reasons, allows subsidy on fertilizer and fixes per bag prices. Since political setups have more "pressing business" to be engaged in, they have little interest in implementing the policy decisions as announcement of such decisions is all they consider necessary. The poor farmers and small growers never get the fertilizer at government prices. The market mechanism is such that the middlemen, investors and hoarders take control of the crop and fertilizer supply for future sale and smuggling at inflated prices. There is no scientific information dissemination system to guide the less or little educated community of farmers on the combination and optimum use of different fertilizing agents. The result is a very high input cost for the uninitiated and unsatisfactory yield per hectare for the economy.

As already said, the major portion of our agro workforce is uneducated and it becomes an easy prey to the exploitative forces of the sector which include large size landholders and middlemen. These forces have on their side the support of government functionaries in most of the cases. To revolutionize the agro economy, we will have to upgrade the social status of the sector workforce by equipping them with necessary education and professional training. Instead of treating them as rural underdogs subsisting below the poverty line, we will have to induce in them a sense of community to enable them to work for the development of this country. This requires will to introduce land reforms focused on the well being of exploited yet dominant section of the farm community.

We have river water, the largest canal system and sufficient rainwater during monsoon season. Our crops are destroyed both by the lack of irrigation water and by the excess pouring of rains. The recent damage caused to the Sindh rice crop by persistent rainfall is an example. To manage our water resources we have to build additional storage capacity through construction of dams. Unfortunately, our political leaders have used the issue of dams to assert their regional influence thereby jeopardizing the food security of this country on one hand and keeping us energy deficient on the other. Surprisingly, this mindset continues to lack flexibility with little realization of the extent of damage it has caused to the overall economy. Water resource management is the key area for the fulfillment of food security objective.

WHO TO MANAGE?

The success of any project depends on the management group that undertakes the implementation job. Our agro economy has had been managed by the cartel of exploitative feudal forces, generally corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, and the hoards of profit-seeking middlemen and marketers. The feudal community in collusion with the government functionaries gets fixed issue prices, support prices, subsidies etc. and fully benefits from the support of corrupt sections of the government and greedy middlemen. The profit seeking middlemen and marketers trade on the woes of weak growers by denying them the just prices for their produce on one hand and by overcharging them for inputs on the other. The Sindh rice growers who had their crop damaged by heavy rainfalls are their recent victim.

With a dubious track record, no management group can expect to survive in the market. But in case of agriculture, the inapt and corrupt managers still rule the roost. This sector needs a complete shake-up through de-politicization and corporatization. Under public-private partnership, the sector should go through reorganization. An autonomous government organization, totally free of political influence, should oversee this partnership. The said organization should have the mandate to develop agro resources and control price and quality of the produce. Any moves to seek higher profits at the expense of consumers should be discouraged.

ON THE PRODUCTION FRONT

What to produce and how much to produce should be decided on year to year basis by a council of controlling organization and partnership members keeping in view the domestic requirement and export prospects. The council should have adequate representation of the farmer community as well.

TABLE- MAJOR FOOD CROPS PRODUCTION
FISCAL YEAR RICE AREA (000 HECTARES) RICE PRODUCTION (000 TONS) RICE YIELD
(KGS/HECT)
WHEAT AREA
(000 HECTARES)
WHEAT PRODUCTION
(000 TONS)
WHEAT YIELD
(KGS/HECT)
2003-04 2,461 4,848 1,970 8,216 19,500 2,375
2004-05 2,519 5,025 1,995 8,358 21,612 2,568
2005-06 2,621 5,547 2,116 8,448 21,277 2,519
2006-07 2,581 5,438 2,107 8.578 23,295 2,716
2007-08 (provis) 2,515 5,563 2,211 8,414 21,749 2,585

The table shows the major food crops production pattern for the last five years. Other food crops include maize, bajra, jawar, barley, gram, pulses, vegetables etc. The said council should plan the most optimal mix of food crops in line with the food habits of the masses and export market demand.

(The finance and marketing aspects shall be dealt with separately)