Reviving agriculture in KP

Reviving KP’s agriculture
By Tahir Ali
(DAWN Monday, 23 Aug, 2010)

REHABILITATION of farmers and revival of agriculture in the post-flood Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is likely to be handicapped for want of enough funds.

The cash-strapped provincial government has neither received any support from the centre nor has the international community provided the required fund for the purpose.

To cope with the devastation, the PK government has asked the centre to provide an initial amount of Rs10 billion.

The floods have inflicted enormous devastation. Official estimates put the losses to crops, livestock and irrigation system at Rs12 billion, Rs7 billion and Rs10.6 billion respectively. Some other sub-sectors of agriculture have also suffered loss of a few billion rupees.

Murad Ali Khan, president Kisan Board Pakistan, said the flash-floods have not only destroyed standing crops and orchards in Charsadda, Nowshera, Peshawar, Swat, Dir, Shangla, Dera Ismail Khan and other districts, but also made lands uncultivable due to accumulation of mud and water.

In Lakpani area of Barawal in upper Dir, hundreds of acres of agricultural land worth billions of rupees have been washed away by the ravaging floodwater.

This soil erosion is likely to lead to legal fights over ownership of the farmland holding up cultivation till the settlement of disputes.

The destruction of irrigation infrastructure, like the Munda Headwork that irrigated around 0.3 million acres, is also a serious blow.

“With the main irrigation infrastructure destroyed and canals to remain closed for repair, there would be water scarcity for the next crops. This would mean little wheat crop,” added Ali Khan.

Director Irrigation Muhammad Naeem Khan said the losses to irrigation infrastructure in all the ten major canal systems in KP amounts to Rs10.6 billion. “The department is trying its best to do the necessary repair and cleaning work to restore water availability within a month,” added Naeem.

Abdur Rahim Khan, secretary general of the KP chamber of agriculture, said farms will have to be cleaned from mud and leveled for cultivation. For the purpose, the government will have to provide sufficient support. That would not be an easy task keeping in view the fact that it would require sufficient funds, machinery and personnel.

The floods have also damaged the livestock sector. An official of the livestock and dairy development department said the floods have killed 0.15 million heads of animals.

The farmers have been deprived of an important source of income. It would also lead to shortage and increase in prices of meat and milk.

“The breaking down of the communication system prevented farmers from transporting their farm produce to markets and these decayed in trucks on way or in fields,” Khan added.

The disruption in supply of vegetables and fruit to market has also resulted in food inflation. The prices of vegetables, meat, fruit, wheat-flour and other food items have increased by about 30 to 100 per cent.

An official in the KP’s ministry of agriculture said that all the affected districts are the main sources of wheat and maize, fruits, vegetables, sugarcane, rice, and livestock production.

The wheat subsidy is Rs14.08 billion for this year. But it may need an increase due to a drop in local wheat production and increase in the import bill.

Farmers have demand that the government should immediately restore the communication system; address the critical problem of demarcation and rehabilitation of fields and irrigation network. For this purpose, the government must arrange for tractors and other field leveling machinery to the affected farmers.

The escalating debt burden of farmers also needs immediate attention. Farmers need to be provided free or subsidised agriculture inputs and fodder for their livestock. Agriculture loans of farmers should be written off or at least interest thereon should be waived. Easy farm and non-farm loans should be extended to small farmers to restart their businesses.

Farmers in the flood affected areas also need exemption from riverine and abiana for a couple of years.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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