FOOD INSECURITY SOBERING ISSUE
Feb 13 - 19, 2012
Food scarcity and insecurity has become a dreadful problem in Pakistan. This crisis has cropped up due to the absence of a national strategy and plan of action to give boost to agriculture output. Since the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, the contribution of agriculture in country's gross domestic product (GDP) has declined from 54 per cent to 24.6 per cent, reflecting the inadequacies related to the existing policies and the implementation of these policies in the agriculture sector.
A large section of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Our major crops include cereals, pulses, fruits, and vegetables. These crops play an important role not only in earning foreign exchange but also fulfilling the nutritional requirements of the people. Paucity of these edibles may deal a lethal blow to the economy as well as the lives of people. To avoid any grim circumstances, Pakistan has to increase per acre yield, which is possible only through research and utilization of modern technology. According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the agriculture growth target for FY-12 is 3.4 per cent while it was 1.2 per cent last year.
Main issues entailing food and agriculture sector are:
1. The agriculture sector is credit starved. Growers do not have an easy access to loans because of the cumbersome bank procedures. They are required to produce different documents, difficult to obtain, from revenue officials. Farmers are harassed and it takes a long time before they are issued passbooks and other certificates like cultivation, evaluation, and crop assessment. Farmers are now demanding that loans of growers having below 50 acres should be written off and debts should be rescheduled in case of above 50 acres of landholdings.
2. Prices of inputs, especially fertilizers have gone far beyond the reach of farmers. During last one year, urea prices have doubled and that of DAP increased by more than 50 per cent. This unchecked rise in price has curtailed its consumption; urea consumption in Rabi has dropped by more than 15 per cent so far and DAP by 40 per cent. Shortage of gas and sporadic supply to fertilizer industry is squeezing the domestic production thereby compelling the government to import it. However, the import is also delayed. Total import requirement is around 1.3 million tons requiring the government to pour an additional $600 million. Rabi predominantly is the season when wheat crop consumes large quantity of urea. The food security is directly linked to the Rabi (wheat) season. Therefore, there is a dire need to import urea instantly to achieve the wheat production target.
3. Monsoon season, heavy rainfall, and floods play havoc for the standing crops of Kharif every year. FY-10 surfaced with a super flood calamity and wiped out the whole agri business. The scars of 2010 deluge did not disappear that there was another disaster in 2011, which gave a massive blow to farmers and caused enormous damages to their standing crops of cotton, sugarcane, vegetables, and rice.
4. Another heated matter is intense fiscal ferocity of sugar mill owners regarding the sugarcane crop. According to SBP quarterly report 2012, the expected sugarcane production is 53.9 million tones this year. Now the sugarcane crop is having a delayed start of the crushing season and price sliding. The millers, fully aware of the crop size, are making up to 25 per cent deductions in price on excuses like quality. Sugarcane has overlapping harvesting and sowing activity. If farmers do not get proper returns, the sowing would immediately suffer.
5. Pakistan has a large proportion of soils, which is unsuitable for agricultural practices and only 21.2 per cent land is under cultivation. The major factors affecting land usage include soil salinity, water logging, and soil contamination. Remaining agricultural land is further shrinking due to over population and people are using the land for construction of residential apartments. About four million acres of cultivable land in Sindh are not being brought under plough because of various administrative and financial problems.
6. Water resources and their management are in a pitiable state. About 56 per cent irrigation water is lost in channels and watercourses. A lot of inefficiency exists both in provincial and national water management projects. Water loss can be minimized by leveling of the land. The government is claiming to introduce "center pivot irrigation" system shortly at a cost of Rs16 billion across the country.
7. Dairy farming and livestock are important sectors of the country's agriculture. They are major contributors to food basket providing major items i.e. milk, meat, and eggs. This area is also in a deplorable condition because of successive floods and monsoon effects. In some areas, chaff and grass have almost vanished which has also affected the heath of the ruminant and reduced their weight and milk output.
8. The plight of fishery is no less awful as there is a significant decline in fish resources due to fishing malpractices. Some species earlier commonly found such as grouper (gassir), croakers, catfishes (sumandari khagga) and ribbonfish (chin) are not encountered while some important species like sharks, rays and guitarfish are either not found at all or not in as much abundance as found previously.
9. Investment in agriculture and its research is inevitable. But, there is severe shortage of funds to carry forward research projects. There has to be a public-private dialogue, research and development of agriculture, horticulture, livestock and poultry, dairy and fisheries sectors. Moreover, there should be food storage plants to preserve excess production of vegetables like potatoes. Biotechnology can work wonders in improving per acre yield. For instance, wheat seed can be imported from China to see its output in the field. If it produces 5-7 per cent better yield, the variety can be developed and provided to farmers for better crop production.
This is high time for Pakistan to look into ways for improving water availability, introduction of better yielding variety of rice, and the increase in wheat support price so as to achieve its agriculture output target for FY-12. We need to devise and adopt modern ways to multiply our agriculture productivity and prevent disease by universal vaccination methods. Government must reduce export taxes on agricultural commodities. Small farmers should be provided greater access to credit to improve their productivity. Efforts must be made to grow crops, which use less water, are resistant to salinity, and give a relatively higher yield.
Better support prices, better tillage, and soil preparation practices and adequate and timely availability of fertilizer and certified seed should be added to get the positive response from the farming community. Biotechnology should be adopted as it has the potential to provide healthier foods, reduce dependence on fossil fuel, and offer more effective cure of prevalent diseases.