PLIGHT OF FARMERS

AROOJ ASGHAR (Arooj.asghar@hotmail.com)
Aug 17 - 23, 2009

Agriculture plays a key role in Pakistan's economy both from the point of view of employment generation as well as its share in GDP. The sector is vast in its coverage, consisting of food grains/ cereals, fruits, vegetables and several commercial crops like oilseeds, cotton, rubber, spices, sugar cane, jute, and tobacco. While Pakistan is a dominant producer of several agricultural commodities, Pakistan's productivity in almost all crops is far behind the world averages. There are two main cropping seasons: generally, crops harvested from July to December are known as Kharif crops and those harvested from January to June are Rabi crops. Pakistan has a vast and diverse agricultural structure.

A recent economic survey expressed concern with the decline in the share of the agricultural sector's capital formation in GDP. The condition of farmers is awfully bad in Pakistan. Since independence, they have been driven to the wall and hardly making both ends meet. The dismal situation in which many farmers find themselves in Pakistan today was reflected in a study, which for the first time assessed the situation of farmers in 2007-08. An alarming trend has been witnessed in Pakistan in recent years with rising rates of farmers committing suicide or killing competitors or robbing. Several different reasons have been put forward as the cause of these incidences including: mounting debt of farmers, crop failures due to overuse of pesticides, imbalances of international trade, or social and psychological factors.

Agriculture was generally excluded from intellectual property protection in Pakistan and there was no legal system of rights of farmers' for decades. With the adoption of the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), bilateral and multilateral pressure was also exerted on Pakistan to establish intellectual property rights in agriculture.

A large number of diverse stakeholders influence Pakistan's policy on farmers' rights. Stakeholders across various categories acknowledge the importance of farmers' rights nationally and globally. A majority of people understand that farmers' rights must incorporate rights beyond the farmer's right to save, use and exchange seeds. Various issues also need consideration such as financial support for inputs, access to technology and farmer's participation in decision-making. While some believe that the government is the main agency which can only facilitate benefit sharing, while another view is to involve NGOs or for an independent agency to promote benefit sharing.

The approach of defining farmers' rights as intellectual property rights may provide political rather than economic benefits for Pakistan, whereas defining farmers' rights as development rights may ensure greater economic/social advantages. While defining farmers' rights as a kind of intellectual property rights could provide a tool to enhance the production. Legal and economic costs of establishing the system, the difficulties of legally claiming rights for farmers, and the limited returns from plant variety protection itself are some of the reasons why significant economic returns to farmers are not provided.

India is the first country in the world, which has done the legislation on farmer's right in the form of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001 which we also need to follow. India's law is unique in that it simultaneously aims to protect both breeders and farmers. It also attempts to establish rights for farmers to register their innovations and protect extant (existing) varieties. Over the time, India has evolved a unique legislation, but is still facing the task of implementation therefore Pakistan should do case study on India and instead of reinventing wheel, learn the lessons from their model, make legislations and implement.

Farmers' rights are currently acknowledged as a global concern, yet consensus on how to implement it remains elusive. There is a certain level of acknowledgement worldwide that farmers are an important part of the economic, social, and political fabric of society and require support. Farmers' participation is an essential element for the formulation of any strategy to improve performance of irrigation and drainage systems in the world. The review of participatory initiatives indicated that participatory approaches help improve efficiency, effectiveness, self-reliance, and sustainability of irrigation schemes. While participation implies a greater chance for efficient use of resources, it also ensures effectiveness.

Women farmers also play a key role in the rural economy of Pakistan, and their agricultural labor leads to direct exposure to pesticides. As in many societies, there is a gender bias not only among policy makers, but also in society, which reinforces the problems facing rural women. Women farmers face social and economic discrimination, which is further compounded by new hazards in rural areas as pesticide use increases. About 33% of farms now use pesticides in the country, and while women bear a major responsibility for farm work and using pesticides, their contribution to the agricultural economy is not recognized. Any short stay in a rural area is sufficient to observe women active in many jobs in the fields. Women farmers have to work more, longer and harder. They are economically active and substantially contribute many activities, including: crop farming and livestock keeping; post harvest activities; household management; off-farm and non-farm economic activities; and bearing and rearing children and looking after the sick

Most of the farmers work and produce on land they do not own. With the introduction of market economics, the situation has further deteriorated. The harvest is sold by and through middlemen, and they control income. Land is owned by influential people and the fruits of the land are also enjoyed by them. Other factors like lack of access to credit facilities, region & political association bias in transfer of new technologies and required training, education and extension further compound the matter and force the poor to remain behind the scenes. Farmers have always played a key role in disease and pest management, which took shape in various activities of soil improvement and fertility management as well as direct measures to eradicate the diseases in crops and animals.

A number of reforms are essential to ensure better visibility for farmer's work and to recognize their role in the mainstream agriculture. It is of paramount importance that land reforms be initiated that guarantee ownership of agricultural land to poor. Technology packages must be urgently introduced.