INTERVIEW WITH MAHFOOZ UR REHMAN URSANI, ADDITIONAL GENERAL SECRETARY SINDH ABADGAR BOARD
Dec 13 - 19, 2010
Mahfooz Ur Rehman Ursani got his early education from St. Michele's Convent School, Mirpurkhas and then from Government Comprehensive High School and S.A.L. college Mirpurkhas. He graduated from Mehran University of Engineering & Technologies as an Electrical Engineer and graduated from T.A.F.E Sydney University, N.S.W. Australia. He has been an active sportsman. He was selected in Operation Raleigh Expedition in 1987 and he climbed mount Rakaposhi and Nangaperbat up to 18000 ft altitude along with Japanese, American, and British mountaineers. He also hitchhiked to China from Hyderabad to Kashgar and Tashkurgan in Xinjiang province through Khanjrab pass in 1986. He owns and flies a power paraglider as an ultra light weight aircraft pilot just to quench his thirst for adventure. By profession, he is an Engineer, a full time farmer (ownership by virtue of inheritance), builder and owns CNG business. When he came back from Australia in 1993, he was given the responsibility to look after his family business of agriculture. He joined Sindh Abadgar board, a farmers' representation organization of Sindh in 1997. He was elected as information secretary of SAB in 2007 and then was elected additional General Secretary of SAB.
When interviewed by PAGE, Mr. Mahfooz Ur Rehman Ursani expressed his views as follows:
The agriculture in Pakistan is mostly done through old methods developed probably hundreds of years ago. The practices based on the knowledge transferred from one generation to other. Things are changing now, mostly because of new means of communication. The awareness and knowledge disseminated through media is well picked up by farmers and thorough discussions and timely implementation is possible because of highly developed telecommunication means. Technology is also playing an important role in quick transformation. But we are way back from modern agriculture, specially which focused on increase quantity as well as quality of agri output. For last ten years, there is no significant dramatic change in our agriculture. But, there is slow and steady growth of around average 3.5 percent per annum in this sector. The growth was because of area under cultivation increased and not the yield per acre. Pakistan remains net exporter of its agriculture produce. This export consists of rice, cotton, fish, oranges, mangoes, onion, and meat. Surprisingly being the 5th largest producer of milk in the world, it could not earn a single dollar from milk or milk products' export. In these last ten years, technologies like laser levelers, tunnel farming, drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, mechanized sowing and harvesting etc, were introduced, but I think that the use of laser levelers in preparing the land helped increased the farm output significantly and are now in widely used in irrigated areas. The other positive change was the lining of water courses which was done on a larger scale through a national program. It not only conserves water but also improves the quality and yield per acre of the crop. The other good change was introduction of imported hybrid seeds in certain crops like sunflower, canola, vegetables and maize. A pleasant surprised and that I considered a gift of God to especially the farmers of lower Sindh, was accidental introduction of a variety of genetically modified seed of cotton called Bt cotton. It was originally produced and marketed by a multi national company for Egypt, Africa, and Australia in late 90s. Some of the multiplied seed was brought by some locals from these countries in Pakistan around 2000. This seed was multiplied here and when crossed with local verities, it produced a cotton variety which brought a revolution in cotton crop. But, this is only good for Southern Sindh as it required humid air and the climate of this area suits it.
In year 2008-09 Sindh produced a million bales more than last year (3.2 million to 4.2 million) just because of this variety. But, it is sad to say that Pakistani scientists and researchers are unable to produce such kind of seeds of any crop from last many years with revolutionary results.
Today crops like rice and sugarcane in Sindh have no locally developed variety sown on its soil. Lack of funding and extremely low budgets allocation are said to be the cause of such performance. But, whatever is the reason, the truth is that non availability of quality seed is one of the major reasons for stagnant output of our crops. About the agri output I think currently even if we are producing enough and food security issue is resolved for time being, it is high time to decide once and for all, that this is that all we need or we have to at least achieve the near potential of our crops, live stock and fisheries. If that satisfies us that Pakistan is the 5th largest producer of milk, 2nd in Chicpeas, 4th in cotton, sugarcane, apricot, 5th in onion, 6th in Date palm, 7th in Mango, 8th in Rice, Tangerines, Mandarin Orange , 9th in Wheat and 10th in Kinoo oranges , in the whole world and overall it stands at No. 20th largest producer of farm output worldwide after irrigating its quarter area of its total land with the world largest irrigation system, then I must tell you that agriculture can never make us a developed and rich country. We must see the other side of the picture. Pakistan irrigates three times the area Russia irrigates but their farm produce is twice than ours. Our post harvest losses are among the highest in the world. Our agri products fetch the lowest prices in the international market because of poor quality and no value addition (not properly processed). Recently, a team of Australian scientist arrived here to know the causes of sudden death syndrome in mango trees and to boost up mango exports. The group leader said that most of the mango plantations in Pakistan are not orchards but mango jungles. When you want to export something, keep the requirement of the market you are targeting for, and unfortunately the mangoes varieties you are growing here taste and look great to you but are not required by the rest of the world. On the other hand, achievable yield gap is huge at the existing and current level of cultivation. For instance, Pakistan national averages in different crops are: wheat 26 maunds/acre, paddy 28 maunds/acre, sugarcane 510 maunds/acre and cotton 13 maunds/acre whereas achievable are wheat 38 mds/acre, paddy 40 mds/acre, sugarcane 800 mds/acre and cotton 30 mds/acre. Hence, if we calculate the difference of additional income in case of improved yields achieved, it is around Rs550 billion per year enough for one-year development budget. If you ask me where I want to see our agriculture in next ten year. Then I will say government should immediately take steps to form two five-year plans with set target for year 2020. None of the developed countries have increased their area of cultivation rather countries like U.S.A, Australia, Russia and China reduced the area of cultivation over the period of time. They have emphasised on crop efficiency, increased crop output, better quality, longer shelf life of agri produce and value addition. The policy should address the solution of problems, such as water scarcity, ensured water supply to crops, network of processing and packaging plants throughout Pakistan, establishment of agro based industry, and export oriented establishment of modernized large farms on corporate basis.
Of course, I also want to see a complete social security system. Because, if we see more mechanization, more people will lose their livelihood. So, it is necessary to develop a system where industrialization will happen simultaneously in the area where agriculture will be reduced. I actually see the agriculture in next ten years is full of disappointments and disputes between provinces over water and resources. Until crop zoning is not being implemented, the area of cultivation will move on towards the head end of water resources, especially when farm output prices will increase. People will use this money to secure their positions.
State bank of Pakistan allocated Rs260 Billion in 2010 for agriculture credit. The largest performing bank is Zarai Taraqiati Bank of Pakistan formally Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan, which landed around Rs65 billion. Where this money goes and what is its impact and where is a debatable thing. Even the loans given to different industries like sugar, rice, dal (lantern) and oil for procurement are given from this allocation. The loans, which are given purely for the farm production, are far less than actually projected.
SAB assessed that total requirement of farm loan is around Rs800 billion annually and nearly 80 percent of this need is fulfilled from the informal sector at a mark up of 35 percent to 50 percent per annum. The procedure to acquire loan from banks is so hard and time consuming that loan approval is not guaranteed, and even if loan is approved, it is hardly enough to cover the 40 percent of actual expenditures. Most of the banks are shy to give credit to farmers as they think that recovery is a risky job. That's why, apart from agriculture loan they also decline to give credit card or consumer financing to any one mentioned his profession as farmer.