UPLIFTING FARMING COMMUNITY

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Nov 30 - Dec 06, 2009

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 35 million people in Pakistan are suffering from food insecurity. Experts strongly believe that Pakistan needs to improve productivity of its agriculture sector in order not only to stave off impending danger of foods scarcity but also to discard the label of net importer of food products through reducing the trade deficit.

The caveat by an international report that in contrast to 1970s food crisis that was triggered by supply constraints this time the world should prepare for a demand pushed catastropheñ bio fuels devour foods ñmay not have complete relevance to the case in Pakistan, but horribly growing population here too is about to outweigh quantity of major crops. Added is a challenge of shedding the load of agriculture imports or imports for agriculture by increasing agriculture exports. Absolute riddance of agriculture related imports is not possible unless components of fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides are manufactured in the country. Petroleum products constitute the main inputs.

To start with, the base of agriculture sector underpinned by 67 percent of the rural population should be modernized by improving their socio-economic conditions. Uplift of rural areas on modern line can fill rural-urban crater. This is indispensable for enhancing participation of farmers in economic building.

Yields per acre from wheat and rice have improved substantially since the 1970s drought-like condition passed, which made the entry in Pakistan new seeds of rice from International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Manila, Philippine. However, they are varied province-wide. For example, Sindh that contributes 32 percent in total national rice production, 24 percent in sugarcane, 12 percent in cotton, and 21 percent in wheat production has 1.37 million hectare cultivable wasteland. In the province, one hectare yielded 2,902-kilogram rice in 2005. Similarly, sugarcane yield was 61 tons per hectare.

Sindh has an arid and hot climate and its main and dubari crops of the different agriculture zones are wheat, sugarcane, rice, rape, mustard, sunflower, cotton, soybean, groundnut, mash, masoor, millet, sorghum, guar, and seasamum. Upper, middle, and lower Sindh as well as desert and Kacho area support production of different crops due to soil and climate conditions. In rain-fed desert and Kacho area comprising Thar and parched tracts of Hyderabad, Dadu, and Larkana districts, crops like seasamum, caster, millet, sorghum are grown abundantly following monsoon. Middle Sindh districts of Nawabshah, Nausherferoz, and Dadu are dry crop tracts and cotton, rape, mustard, and sunflower are produced in the region. Sukkur and Khairpur also support dry crops production.

There are multitudes of problems that are hurdles in enhancing yields per acre or turning around primeval agriculture in most of the rural parts of Pakistan. Agriculture is commonly based in rural vicinity in Pakistan, known as mouza. According to Pakistan 2008 Mouza statistics, faming communities are scattered nationwide and live in deh/goth/or underdeveloped traditional communityóover 67 percent population live in dehs. There are 47,482 rural and partly urban mouzas in the country. The engine of agriculture gets fuels from these mouzas and the whole machine of agriculture that makes over 23 percent of GDP and employs 42 percent workforce ceases to operate if the fuel stops.

The statistics gathered information on distances of mouzas from wholesale markets, health centers, and sources of inputs supplies and availability of irrigations and electricity, and many other essentials for modern and productive farming. The transportation and mettaled road networks are not extensive, forcing dwellers of dehs nationwide to march an average 19 kilometer to reach metalled road and 13 kilometer to get transport. The mean distance is variable for different provinces. For instance, Balochistan has the worst scenario, as farmers there ought to cross an average 40 kilometer to touch metalled road and 31 kilometer to avail transportation.

Countrywide mean distance of mouzas from livestock market is 38 kilometer, grain market 40 kilometer, fruits market 41 kilometer, vegetables market 41 kilometer, and government procurement centers 48 kilometer. The report found out an average 26-kilometer distance between a deh and agriculture inputs suppliers like seed, fertilizer, and pesticides shops.

Another important reason of sluggish progress of agriculture sector is financial exclusion of a large portion of the farming community. Since farmers have low or no access to finance to experiment innovations in farming and to apply technologies to boost agriculture produces, they continue to hang on primitive low yielding ways of crops production. Only one percent of total number of mouzas has access to more than one facility of commercial banking, but again average distance to bank/specialized bank is not less than 29 kilometer. That implies the sparse branch network of banks. In Sindh, out of 5,573 mouzas, only 48 have the luxury of more than one commercial banking facilities. Of 6,428, Balochistanís 14 dehs have such an access with 79-kilometer average distance. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, only 14 percent rural population is banked. Its financial inclusion programme envisages rollouts of credit schemes for agriculture finance.

Water scarcity is another important problem making farmlands uncultivable. Especially, low flows of water downstream barrages leave space for seawater to envelope Indus delta undermining income sources of riparian wagers. According to a press report, non-release of water downstream Kotri is playing havoc with the agriculture lands on Indus delta. It says that unavailability of water and thereby seawater intrusion has rendered two million acres of agriculture lands barren and 400,000 anglers relocate. Socio-economic conditions of these areas are not favorable to explore optimal potential of agriculture sector.

FOOD SECURITY, ENERGY SECURITY AND TERRORISM ARE THE MOST SERIOUS CHALLENGES

Tariq Sayeed, President SAARC CCI at the inaugural session of the 3rd SAARC Business Leaders Conclave held in Sri Lanka, recently in his key note speech address discussed issues faced by SAARC region today, which includes global financial crises, climate change, trade facilitation, trade in services, tourism etc and put forth various policy suggestions for the implementation of proposals under SAFTA.

The Conclave was inaugurated by Hon'ble Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, who regarded private Sector as the engine of growth and said that the open policies of the government of Sri Lanka will be helpful for enhanced economic cooperation to foster integration process in south Asia .

Tariq Sayeed termed Investment as life line of economic cooperation and urged for regional investment treaty, which would increase trade in Services manifold. He demanded adaption of Trade Facilitation mechanism open sky policy, establishment of SAARC power grid & liberal visa policy to improve people to people contacts which could propel the process of economic integration.

The Conclave saw the congregation of large business delegations from Pakistan , Sri Lanka , Bangladesh , Nepal , India , Bhutan and Maldives . Over 300 leading business delegates along with eminent International experts, Academia, Media and social scientists from across the region deliberated for two days on various pertinent issues of regional economic cooperation.