Agriculture in post-flood areas

Agriculture in post-flood areas

By Tahir Ali


Having been badly hit first by years of militancy and of late by devastating flash floods, farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are eagerly waiting for financial support from the government and international community.

But the revival of agriculture and rehabilitation of farmers, apparently, may take some time as the federal government and international community have not provided funds for the purpose. Development of agriculture and rehabilitation of farmers is crucial to defeat terrorism and extremism in the region as over 80 per cent of the people depend on the sector directly or indirectly.

The total losses to the agriculture sector, estimated thus far, stand at about Rs43bn, with the losses — Rs34bn and Rs7.35bn — in the crops and livestock sectors respectively. A loss of a few billions more has been incurred by other agriculture sub-sectors for destruction or damages to the assets and infrastructure. Director irrigation Muhammad Naeem Khan says losses to irrigation infrastructure in all the ten major canal systems in KP, that stretch about 1909 miles and irrigate over 1.37 million acres, amounts to Rs10.6bn in all.

Murad Ali Khan, President of Kissan Board Pakistan, says agriculture and farmers had witnessed huge devastations during recent floods. “Farmers in Charsadda, Nowshera, Peshawar, Swat, Dir, Shangla, Dera Ismail Khan and other areas not only lost standing crops and orchards but their fields have either been eroded by floods, or made uncultivable by accumulated sand, silt, salts and water. Water-logging, salinity and soil erosion caused by the floods may deprive them of this income this year,” says Khan.

Inundation of vast agricultural lands, destruction of irrigation channels and of thousands of tonnes of ready-to-use- seeds would not only impact crop production in the coming season but is likely to lead to food shortage and food inflation. The loss of around 0.15mn animal is very troubling in that farmers were deprived of source of income but it also would lead to shortage and price hike of animal-products like meat and milk.

The destruction of irrigation infrastructure, like the Munda Headwork that irrigated around 0.3mn acres of land alone and others, was a big blow but officials, working incessantly, have solved the problem temporarily, much to the relief of extremely worried farmers. But farmers have many other problems which must be addressed for reviving the agriculture in KPK. Ali Khan says floods have destroyed huge public and private wheat seeds and fertiliser stocks in the province.

“Farming community faces a potential shortage of seeds and fertiliser in coming months. With thousands of tonnes of wheat and maize seeds having been washed away by recent floods and the wheat growing season to start next month, the government should procure and provide wheat seeds to farmers free of cost. Farmers have no seeds or money to buy the costly seeds from private vendors. If the problem is not solved immediately, there would be little wheat crop which entails food security risk for the KPK,” says Khan.

As a short term measure, farmers must be provided free or subsidised agriculture inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and medicines and fodder for their living animals. Abdur Rahim Khan, Secretary General of the KPK chamber of agriculture, also says farmers must be provided free farm inputs for a couple of years.

“The escalating debt burden of farmers also needs immediate intervention. Agriculture loans of all farmers, especially small ones, should be written off or at least interest thereon should be remitted. The government should give easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers to increase their incomes,” he says.

“As medium term measures, reclamation of fields and irrigation network should be addressed. For this purpose, the government must arrange for tractors and other field-levelling machinery to the affected farmers. Production and provision of enough fodder and medicines for livestock will also have to be ensured,” adds Khan. For this, he says, the government should quickly restore communication system and rebuild farm to market roads.

The construction of chashma lift canal project, which can irrigate around 0.3 million acres of land waiting for irrigation water, is must for developing agriculture in the province.

The disruption of supply of vegetables, fruits and other essential daily food items to market has also resulted in food inflation. Prices of tomatoes, potatoes, meat, fruit, wheat-flour and other food items have registered an increase of about 30 to 150 percent.

This will have highly negative fallouts for the majority poor if the government doesn’t come to their rescue by increasing or maintaining the level of food subsidies, which are being cut down these days.

Floods are estimated to have destroyed around 0.19 million acres of farm land. With the vegetables and crops of the summer season having been washed away, the government would have to launch a de-silting and land-levelling campaign for the fields before cultivation of winter vegetables and wheat. To regain soil fertility, the soils will have to be dug deeper. It requires heavy machinery, money, personnel and close coordination between farmers’ bodies and officials. Before this develops into a big problem, the government should devise a speedy and efficient mechanism to redress these tussles with the help of local communities.

It also means that the tilled and irrigated land in the province might have decreased further which can have devastating effects on agriculture in KP. This necessitates bringing under cultivation vast cultivable land available in the southern districts of the province.

“All the affected districts are the main sources of wheat and maize, fruit, vegetable, sugarcane, rice, and livestock. KP is a food-deficient province which relies for over 3/4th of its food needs on Punjab and PASSCO which too is badly hit and may not be in position to provide us the wheat we need. Destruction of the maize crop and endangered wheat cultivation for water logging and soil erosion will drastically decrease production,” he says.

This year KP’s wheat requirements are over 3.94 million metric tons. As the projected local production of 0.99 MMT may not be possible, wheat requirements will surge. The estimated amount of wheat subsidy is Rs14.08 billion. But the subsidy may have to be increased for two reasons: an almost certain drop in local wheat production this year and increase in the cost of imported wheat.

Both the federal and provincial governments will have to divert a major part of their current as well as development budgets to finance the critical phases of rehabilitation and full recovery of farmers in the province.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, on its part, has suspended its annual development programme and earmarked Rs18 billions for relief and rehabilitation efforts. But the loss is too huge. The federal government should announce and quickly implement a compensation and rehabilitation package for the province.

The agriculture department should involve the Bacha Khan Poverty Alleviation Programme the KP chamber of agriculture, the model farm services centre, and village representatives in the rehabilitation process. This will reduce corruption and expedite the process.

The provincial government seems to be alert to its duties in this regard but availability of funds is halting the process.

“We would provide seeds and fertilisers to farmers for the coming Rabi season with the help of the food and agriculture organisation (FAO) and the matter would be solved by November this year. We would also be reclaiming the lands and water channels and compensating the farmers for their losses as soon as possible,” he adds.


Extent of disaster.


About Tahir Ali Khan (Official)
I am an academic, columnist, and a social worker.

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