DEVELOPING SINDH AGRICULTURE

GOVT WELCOMES PROPOSALS OF AGRICULTURE ON COAST

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Dec 28, 2009 - Jan 03, 2010

Sindh government welcomes proposals from the private sector of utilizing cultivable wastes along the coastal belt in the province, said Mohammad Arif Khairi, deputy secretary (tech) Sindh agriculture department. The government is ready for this purpose to allot lands, he added. Coastal development authority is supervising palm tree plantation, however coastal cultivable wastes can be useful for other cultivations for instance of oil seeds like salicornia, coconut, watermelon, etc. in saline areas like Keti Bunder, Thatta, and Badin. It is not in my knowledge if any research institute in Sindh have developed saline-resistant seeds; if it is so we request them to share with us the feasibility report and we guarantee our full cooperation, he said while talking to this correspondent. Agriculture research facility at University of Karachi has experimented successfully saline resistant seeds. We request Sindh government to appropriate cultivable lands on coastal belt for the university to implement our research findings, said Dr. Pirzada Qasim, Vice Chancellor KU in an interview with Page couple of months back.

There is a difference in pot-cultivation in controlled atmosphere and cultivation in natural environment, Khairi noted. 'A researcher should get positive results in natural climate after he has realized the difference in the laboratory.' He said government had allocated 50 acres in Ghulam Mullah (Thatta) for cultivation of oil seeds.

Sindh agriculture comprises of four major crops that include sugarcane, rice, wheat, and cotton. Besides, there are many vegetables and fruits cultivated in the province. Wheat has an average 25 maund per acre yields across the province, which can be increased by management of inputs. Cost of inputs is so high that growers often find it commercially beneficial to utilize low-yielding inputs instead of costly high yielding fertilizers. Realizing that yield of wheat can be enhanced manifold government of Sindh has introduced wheat varieties such as TD1, TJ83, and Kiran. There are several varieties in pipeline as well, said Khairi.

He expects good wheat production this season. Growers have completed 80 percent wheat sowing in the province. It is not that varieties are limited in supply instead some growers do not adapt to new technology, he commented. 'Agriculture extension wing tries to make new varieties and agriculture implements accessible to farmers.' Government has allocated Rs50 million subsidies on purchase of agriculture implements and technologies including tube wells, rice and wheat threshers, he said. For instance, 'it will subsidize 50 percent cost of tube well.' Government is giving subsides on fertilizers as well. Fund scarcity disturbed subsidy programme when DAP prices went up.

Framers do not want to change their standard of living; they are leading ambitionless lives, he observed. Middlemen or arthi take them for a ride therefore, he noted. Government has not developed efficient marketing system that can help farmers become independent, he conceded. Sindh produces enough onion, chilli, banana, and debts that can raise foreign exchange earnings. Drier plants for preservation of chilli and dehydration of fruits increase life span of crops. According to him, 40 percent of fruits are wasted due to dearth of storage facilities. In many countries, controlled atmosphere cold storages are set up to preserve freshness of fruits for as long as six months. He said that recently a company established cold storage facility at Port Qasim. More cold storages are needed to make use of all fruit crops including mango, dates, banana, apple, watermelon, guava, muskmelon, grape fruit cultivated in the province.

Sindh government has set up a public-private partnership cell to facilitate private investments in such projects. It wants full-funding partner, limiting its authority only over right of ways. Near or on-farm cold storage for example in Mirpurkhas for mango is necessary to persuade growers increase yields. Generally, growers are reluctant to increase production because they have no place to protect their crops. Especially, vegetables and fruits, which are highly perishable, are wasted in the absence of buyers or cold storages. Sindh is acclaimed internationally for debts and chilli. The province produces 80 percent of total debts in the country. Chilli market at Kundri (Mirpurkhas) is Asia's biggest market.

Security problems in rural Sindh are foremost investment constraints. Kidnapping for ransoms, looting, and disturbed law and order situation constrict rollup of investments by private sector in the agriculture developments. In past, security threats rolled back debts processing project of Lipton.

There was a time five or six years ago, when Sindh used to produce sugarcane for not only its local consumption but also supplying excess produces to other provinces in the country. Recent sugarcane crisis has proved that this status of crop supply is fading away to the extent of creating supply shortages in the sugar mills across the province. The importance of Sindh agriculture in the agriculture economy of Pakistan is indisputable not only because of Sindh's significant contributions to the overall production of major corps in Pakistan but also its recognition in Asia for its minor crops such as chilli and debts. Yields per acre of sugarcane and cotton are high in Sindh as compared to other provinces, claimed Khairi. 'Four or five years ago, Sindh used to supply its excess sugarcane productions to Punjab and Balochistan. The province has 21 to 22 percent share in national agriculture.' He said sugarcane production in the province dropped mainly because of reduction in acreage for its cultivation. 'Growers get payments for sale of cash crops like cotton easily while they have to wait for months to monetize sugarcane crop.'

LAND REFORMS

Like other province in the country, Sindh has also small numbers of landlords who hold majority of agriculture lands and contract out peasants for crops cultivation. Sharecropping peasants grow crops on lands not owned by them, and therefore bound to share certain percentage of crops with landlords. Numbers of sharecroppers in Sindh are significant. There are two different opinions about this arrangement. Some argue there is no harm in holding unlimited tracts of lands as far as landlords do not exploit the rights of sharecroppers. "I have 200 acres of lands cultivating crops in all seasons with personal involvement of our family members in agriculture process from beginning to end," commented a landlord from Larkana. Lack of interest of landowners in agriculture is one of the reasons that result in underproduction of crops. Government entitles them absentee landlords. 'Yes, it is because of indifferent attitude of landowners generally that shortage of crops erupts in the province every now and then,' he agreed.

Land reforms remain a ballyhooed subject since the very inception of Pakistan notwithstanding zamindars were the main driving force of partition movement in western provinces. The advocates of ceiling on individual holdings have been enumerating several negative economic and social fallouts of zamindari system for years. There is also rejection of studies, which attribute low productivity to smallholdings. Underproduction has nothing to do with smallholding, contended Khairi. Recent research studies link productivity with area of cultivation. Sindh has cultivable wastes in patches that do not befit the demand of the foreign investors who want gigantic acreage in single piece. The argument against agriculture corporatization foreign investors have in their agenda is that this will be nothing more than a shift in exploitation of small famers from local men to foreign organization. Farmlands' holding in Sindh is highly skewed, constituted largely by smallholders.

Why have different land reforms introduced in Pakistan since partition not succeeded abolition of feudal system? An answer is that Pakistan is a semi-feudal society and has dominated influence of landlords in its civil and military services. This has remained a main snag in the transformation of status of peasants constituting major portion of the country's population in addition to falter any attempt to introduce law intending to set a ceiling on land holdings. There are [and were] restrictions on holding lands to certain limit in Pakistan. But, the upper limit set enlarged the gap of poor and rich famers, besides solidifying the net of moneylenders around poor famers. The insufficient representation of middle and poor class in policy making for one reason is because of power politics survived on suppression of people's rights and their humiliation was another reason of status quo.

In contrast, for example in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) zamindari (feudal system) was abolished in 1950 because of its political and administrative systems backed by middle class and its people resistance to subdual of rights. The reform fixed upper limit at 3.3 acres for individual holding. The first Land Reform Commission set up in 1959 in Pakistan allowing individual holding of 500 acres of irrigated and 1000 acres of non-irrigated lands. It is worthwhile to remember that the defeat of Pakistan Muslim League-backed Khawaja Nazimuddin in 1937 provincial election in East Bengal to AK Fazal was an outcome of PML's refusal to strike down zamindari system. AK Fazalul Haq parted its ways from PML because of Quaid-e-Azam's refusal to dissolve zamindari system. Italian fascism got a much support from capitalists, as it did not allow class agitation that stood against exploitations by elites.

Often in Pakistan, setting limit paves the way for backdoor entries, that getting advantage of lacunas in reforms, or enforcements, get round of the regulations. Reforms regulating individual holding are said not to have devised mechanism to restrict multiple holding by front men of single landlord.

Water scarcity is another underlying cause of low productivity of agriculture in the province, affecting adversely agriculture households on the tail end. Growers of low riparian Sindh are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Sindh agriculture department has so far constructed 18,000 watercourses in the province while 4,000 to 5000 watercourses are constructed annually, said deputy secretary (technical). 'Under 'on-farm water management' project of World Bank, it will make 3,000 watercourses this year. Sindh government signed $50 million loan agreement with the bank for watercourse construction.' As per lender's principle, only 30 percent of watercourse is cemented to speed up water flows. In this portion, instances of water logging and rate of seepage are high. Watercourse construction is 80 percent funded by government and 20 percent by growers.

Sindh has a pivotal position in the agriculture economy of Pakistan. Its share in the major crops production in the country is significant. Rice crop in the province can generate more foreign revenues if IRRI varieties are introduced. A result-oriented tie between universities and government cannot only augment diffusion of knowledge for the benefit of underdeveloped agriculture sector, but also make use of cultivable wastes. This will also encourage investors to capitalize on plentiful land resources in Sindh under government-academia research outcomes. Further, private sector will come to go in to joint venture with public sector if government ensures security of investors without political predispositions and fears. Participation of subsistence farmers is vital for sustaining agriculture development. Economic and social empowerments to them through distribution of lands will amplify agriculture outputs.