Farm inputs provsion

The missing ingredient

Substandard agricultural inputs, or sheer absence of standard ones, have greatly damaged productivity

By Tahir Ali

Costliness and non-availability of farm-inputs are two main reasons for low agricultural productivity and farmers’ poverty in Pakistan. With wheat-sowing season underway, it is high time the government introduces a sound mechanism for easy, timely and cheaper provision of agriculture inputs to farmers, if it wants to ensure food security and develop agriculture in the country.

Establishment of village-based agriculture inputs/services centres (AICs) could help ensure vertical and horizontal increase in agricultural output and prosperity of farmers, farmers’ leaders say.

The president of the Kissan Board Pakistan, Murad Ali Khan, says agricultural inputs were the main headache of farmers throughout the year. “In times of need, they either disappear from the market or are too costly and unaffordable for the poor farmers. A robust system of availability and distribution for these is, therefore, the call of the hour. With the wheat sowing season underway, there could not be better time for advocating the set-up,” he says.

“If implemented fully and efficiently, the revolutionary idea could solve all the agriculture related problems. It may provide cheap agriculture inputs and services. It may offer farmers guidance and marketing services for their outputs which in-turn would increase their incomes. What else farmers need,” he asks.

Niamat Shah, the General Secretary of the Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says farmers’ income could be substantially increased if quality seeds, fertilisers, machinery, pesticides and other services are given to farmers in time and on cheaper rates.

He says the AICs would be like agriculture utility stores which also would serve as store houses/marketing centres. “All agricultural inputs would be made available to the member farmers. The bodies will provide inputs, soft loans, guidance and training and other services to farmers on comparatively cheaper rates and in time. These are vital for capacity-building of farmers and are supposed to create linkages between farmers and public/private line departments and associations. The centres will also develop and fund some demonstration farms. The high yield of these farms will serve as incentives to other farmers,” Shah claims.

AICs can be established on the basis of union councils or villages and will comprise all stakeholders in agriculture, i.e. farmers, livestock owners, agriculture department field assistant, patwaris, veterinary doctors, seeds/fertilizer industry and bank representatives.

To minimise the chances of corruption and wastage of resources, there should be oversight bodies over the local village-based chapters at the district and provincial level with membership in the same pattern.

“It will surely be a long and arduous process and as a first step towards the goal, the government should open a centre at each of the 986 union councils in the province. Then the bodies should be organised on Patwar halqa and ultimately on village basis to cover most of the farmers of the province. These centres must function under the supervision of the provincial agriculture department,” he advocates.

Every AIC should have certified seed, fertiliser, pesticides and farm machinery, repair workshop, veterinary hospital, the latest information about various aspects of farming, branch of Zarai Traqiati Bank to disburse interest-free loans, a multimedia workshop, storage facility and a branch of insurance company for crop insurance.

Finances for the centres are likely to be the most pressing of problems. But the issue could be talked by taking some steps. Farmers should contribute a membership fee of at least Rs200 and another Rs800 as share money in the revolving funds of the bodies. This should be augmented by a matching grant by the government. This revolving fund will increase with the passage of time as the bodies will invest in agriculture inputs and services and earn money.

Farmers would also be provided training, guidance, credit facility to start businesses locally to earn more money for their families. Revenue collected from agriculture can/should also be spent on its development. Cooperative bank, that has been revived fortunately, should also fund the entities once these are established. Banks could also be asked to be a share-holder in the business.

The seeds research farms have developed high yielding wheat, maize and fruit and vegetable seeds but their timely and easy availability has always been a problem.

When quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are not available to farmers, they have to use substandard, often dangerous, inputs and are thus looted by the profit-hungry agriculture inputs mafia. This explains the low per acre yield in the province.

“How can farmers be blamed when they go for these non-quality seed which is available to them when they need it, while standard seeds are not available in the market or are costlier. The government has failed to streamline seeds distribution. It has not been able to check and crackdown on substandard seeds in the market,” Shah says.

In villages, the government need not build huge buildings for the purpose. Houses available in plenty therein can be utilised for the purpose. “The AIPCs will surely help develop agriculture in the province. This will solve the farmers’ problem of easy and timely availability of agriculture inputs and services on the one hand. On the other, it will also change their farming from subsistence and outdated farming to commercial and modernised one when expert advices, machinery, and marketing support is provided by the bodies,” says Sajjad Haider Khan, a farmer from Mardan.

The government and farming community seems oblivious of the expected potential shortage of seeds and fertilisers in coming months. As thousands of tonnes of wheat seeds and other inputs have been washed away by recent floods, there is an urgent need to procure and store substantial amount of the commodities in advance. The government should be able to provide these two basic inputs free of cost as farmers are in no position to pay.

It is a tragedy that there is no official mechanism to check the standard and rates of important agricultural inputs like fertilisers, seeds and pesticides. Thousands of employees of the agriculture department should be authorised to check the rates, quality, quantity and weight of different types of inputs.

increasing tax to GDP ratio

Challenge of raising tax-to-GDP ratio

By Tahir Ali

Low tax-to-GDP ratio is one of the major economic problems faced by Pakistan. Its tax-to-GDP ratio stands at just 9 per cent at the moment and it must be increased to meet the financial requirements for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-hit areas.

The country’s tax ratio is continuously dwindling owing to ineffective tax collection machinery and weak commitment on part of the government to raise new taxes and bring the untapped areas under the tax net. Direct taxes accounted for Rs520 bn as against the initial target of Rs544 bn last year. This year the desired target is Rs633 bn which also seems impossible to achieve given the dismal record of the tax collection machinery. Only 2.5 million of the total population of 170 million pays direct taxes which includes 1.8 million salaried taxpayers. If the salary class goes out, nothing is left.

A broadened but rational and balanced tax structure with minimal exemptions is needed direly but the question is who will bell the cat? The economic survey 2009-10 states that the mighty and influential sectors and individuals have managed to secure tax exemptions worth Rs147 bn. Higher tax-to-GDP ratio means greater socio-economic development as more money is there for developing different sectors of the economy and uplifting the living standards of the people.

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) wants to enhance the tax ratio to 15 per cent by 2015. This increase is a must in the wake of lacklustre response by the international community to provide Pakistan the needed money for rebuilding the country following shocks by floods, militancy and 2005 earthquake.

World leaders and US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton in particular, have been repeatedly saying that the international community would provide money for reconstruction after floods but Pakistan should raise its own tax-to-GDP ratio and its rich should contribute to the efforts at first. “The most important step Pakistan can take is to pass meaningful reforms to expand its tax base. The government must require that the economically affluent and elite support the government and people of Pakistan,” Hillary Clinton said.

According to an estimate, the government is losing around Rs500 bn a year in taxes, which is a matter of great concern. Each successive government has expressed its utmost concern over the issue, but the remedy often resorted to has proved to be defective. Rather than expanding the tax base by bringing more people under the tax net, the existing taxpayers, mainly the salaried class, have been subjected to increased tax ratio by successive regimes. This strategy has been adopted by all the public service departments like Wapda, Sui Southern/Northern Gas Pipeline and so on, as well as those who have augmented their tariffs but done little to curtail tax theft that has resulted into losses accounting to billions of rupees. This has resulted in an increased resort to theft in taxes and services by the people and entrepreneurs.

According to a report jointly released by FBR, Georgia State University and the World Bank last year, every man and woman in Pakistan is evading taxes worth Rs4,800 annually and the tax gap stood at 67 per cent of the actual tax receipts. “The narrow tax base, tax evasion, distrust of taxpayers and administrative weaknesses have taken a toll on tax collection system and some sectors are more heavily taxed than others. Agriculture contributes about one-fifth to GDP, and amounts to no more than one per cent of FBR revenue. Given the shortfall in agriculture and services, industry carries the brunt of the tax burden, and its tax share is three-times as high as its GDP share,” the report says.

Rulers and leaders lead from the front but Pakistani leadership has not created good precedents for the commoners. According to a report in The News, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his 25 ministers, in sworn affidavits submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan at the time of their elections, have admitted that they do not pay income taxes.

Extremely hesitant as the incumbent leadership is to cut down on their routine non-developmental expenditures, the lack of funds in light of fewer taxes leaves little capacity with the federal government other than to seek expensive foreign debts as has been witnessed so far in the country.

The national economy has received both internal and external shocks in the past. Prolonged load-shedding and shaky law and order situation have given severe blows to the industrial sector of the country. It need not be said that when productivity is affected by power cuts, how could the entrepreneurs be expected to pay huge taxes?

To get the country out of its current economic turmoil, a strong political will, urge to excel, and development as number one priority are required. Importance of a clear vision, sustained growth strategy and strong political will can not be overemphasised. To ensure industrial growth and full potential of the industries, the government should overcome energy shortages and build as many big and small hydro-power generation units as possible. More economic activities and development would yield more taxes.

For raising the tax ratio, smuggling to/from Afghanistan and Iran would have to be controlled. This informal economy, according to an estimate, is believed to be two times bigger than the formal economy of Rs16,000 bn. Corruption will have to be brought down, if not eliminated altogether.

Developing domestic farming

Developing household farming
By Tahir Ali
Monday, 22 Nov, 2010

DAWN.COM | Economic & Business | Developing household farming.

ESCALATING prices of kitchen items have greatly impacted household budgets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But the people can improve their livelihood by developing kitchen gardens and poultry farms on a small scale in the backyard of their houses.

Building a small poultry farm or animal-shed can do wonders to the household economies as it helps save money, raises income and has the potential to help meet the household poultry and meat needs..

“In villages where houses are spacious, there is always room for sowing seasonal vegetables. In urban areas, where there is no such space available, this can be done in pots, empty boxes etc,” a Peshawar-based teacher Farhad Ali said.

“These kitchen gardens not only have health advantage as they require physical exertion and offer fresh nontoxic commodities, they also have great financial value as surplus produce can be sold in the market. It is also vital as almost half of the people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa live below poverty line,” he added.

“I myself have such a farm in the backyard of my house where vegetables like cabbage, turnip and spinach have been sown. We not only use these vegetables but also gift them to our neighbours and sell the surplus in the market. It has brought down our kitchen budget by about 50 per cent. It is a good hobby and income-generating activity. I intend to expand it further,” he said.

Government and NGOs can help this culture by providing people with quality vegetable seeds, pesticides, fertiliser and guidance, he added.

One Azmat Ali Khan from Mardan said he had developed a small poultry farm of local fowls in his home. “I built a medium size cage and started with five fowls. Now there are 30 hens and on an average 20 eggs are obtained daily. I have thus saved Rs1,500 which I used to spend on buying eggs per month. Apart from that, I sell the surplus eggs and earn up to Rs3,000 per month. I also sell and buy hens and earn Rs7000-10,000 from this business. Besides, my children have natural poultry meat to eat,” he added.

He said this domestic farming could easily be done even in small houses of urban areas- on rooftops and in garages but with arrangement for light, air and safeguard against harsh weather.

“With agriculture suffering from official negligent and meagre budgetary allocations, it is time for making a case for home-based agriculture. The poor can help themselves by domestic farming and developing poultry farms. It is the main source of living for the people in the hilly terrain of the province, especially in Malakand division and the tribal agencies. It needs to be expanded to the rest of the province,” he said.

“Before Eidul Fitr, I had gone to Thar and bought some goats there. I am earning a lot by selling them as sacrificial animals. I can earn a lot more with this domestic business than waiting for a government job,” says Naufil Shahrukh.

“The main objective of agriculture sector, according to KP’s agriculture policy, is to ensure food security and alleviation of poverty, but it is hardly possible, he said.

“Negligence by successive governments, insufficient budgetary allocations for agriculture and industry/profit-centred private sector has resulted in backwardness of the sector and poverty of farmers. Agriculture accounts for 21 per cent of provincial gross domestic product and about 70 per cent of KP’s population is dependent on it. But the sector’s budget makes up 1.9 per cent of this year’s total core ADP of Rs58 billion,” said Haji Naimat Shah, a farmers’ leader.

“It is this culture of domestic agriculture and business that has transformed China into an economic giant. One Nurul Islam from Mardan, who had been to China for over a year, said he was deeply impressed by the domestic agriculture there.

“I visited China last year. We travelled by road and train to several cities and countryside. I was surprised to see crops on all sides of the routes. In homes, offices and on roadsides there are mostly fruit trees and no non-fruit/toxic trees as mostly found in our country.

But what amazed me the most was the overwhelming domestic culture of agriculture there. Almost every household grows vegetables. In houses where there is no space for it, pots are used for the purpose. Old people with sickle and spades are seen working in their ‘fields’ and homes,” he said. “Pakistan should learn from these people and follow their model for developing domestic agriculture,” he added.

“The people should plant fruit trees in their homes and the government should provide free saplings to them. This indeed would be a long-term project but then the next generation would be indebted to us for this act,” Nurul Islam said.

Smuggling of animals to Afghanistan and Iran

Smuggling makes animals dearer
By Tahir Ali Khan
Monday, 15 Nov, 2010

DAWN.COM | Economic & Business | Smuggling makes animals dearer.


RAMPANT smuggling of animals to Afghanistan and Iran is causing a sharp rise in the prices of animals and meat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Reluctance of the federal government to ban export and failure to check smuggling of animals and meat to the neighbouring countries could aggravate meat crisis.

“Prices of cows and buffaloes have increased by about 30-40 per cent against their prices last year. The cow and buffalo that fetched Rs30,000 and 40,000 last year are now being sold at over Rs40,000 and Rs50,000 respectively. This is because of scarcity of animals in the local markets due to their export and smuggling,” says Bashir Ahmed Malik, a livestock dealer in Peshawar..

Director-General of Livestock, KP, Dr Sher Muhammad, said the government had issued export licenses for about 0.25 million animals and 25,000 of these were to pass through the Pak-Afghan border at Torkham. “All animals going through to Fata are not smuggled ones. Exporters are also issued licences to export livestock. Fata also needs meat which is to be met as a matter of its right,” he said.

According to Dr Sher, the government has made arrangements to export animals and check smuggling. “Check posts have been set up both in the settled and tribal areas to curb smuggling. Proper record is being maintained of all animals that pass therein. As far as our department is concerned, we only facilitate legal export and see that hurdles are removed and sick, pregnant and breed-endangered animals are not exported or sent to Fata,” he added.

However, Sharifullah from Bannu said officials only man roads while smugglers have many routes for the purpose. “Unless all these routes in the tribal belt are blocked, the problem will remain. There is a need to increase the number of check posts and officials to stop smuggling,” he added.

“Smuggling is a regular and traditional phenomenon in the region. If it is regulated properly, business activities in the region can be boosted to earn foreign exchange for the national exchequer. The organised export of animals will develop the business into an industry which will boost meat and dairy farming in the area,” he added.

Minister for livestock Hidayatullah Khan said the government was trying to curb smuggling of animals to Afghanistan and Iran. But the long mountainous border and the law and order situation in the militant-infested tribal belt, is making the task difficult. Afghanistan shares around 2000km of border with Pakistan in the tribal belt adjacent to KP.

According to media reports, some influential people from Banuu are allegedly involved in animal smuggling and are minting money. According to an estimate, around a million animals worth billions of rupees are smuggled to the neighbouring states. This has to be stopped or regulated for the benefit of the people and the state.

Smuggling is not the only reason behind the ruminant shortage. Livestock losses in floods, increased levies, high transportation charges, high cost of breeding and raring animals, role of middlemen in their trade and bribes sought by police, have increased its prices. The Eid bazaar contractors in KP are also allegedly taking illegal levies from the sellers forcing them to increase prices of their animals.

“To check escalation in prices there should a complete ban on export of animals. Smuggling should also be curbed to prevent shortfall in local market. This is possible by making checks at borders efficient rather than restricting inter-provincial transportation of animals,” said Malik Taj Khan, a livestock farmer and dealer.

“The government should also import animals from Central Asian states in the short run. As a long-term measure, it should use the latest reproduction technology and breeding techniques to increase livestock population. Provision of fodder and feed to farmers at affordable rates, expansion of animal healthcare system and improvement in breed and animal-flattening programmes should also be ensured. It should also provide soft loans for at least one year to help improve animal health and production,” he added.

Bashir Ahmad Malik, a livestock dealer from Peshawar, said it was strange that the government had allowed export of animals despite the fact the local meat/mutton market was experiencing huge increase in prices. “The presence of adequate number of animals is imperative to stabilise and control prices.” he argued.

Sugar beet cultivation need of the hour

Encouraging sugar beet cultivation

By Tahir Ali
Monday, 08 Nov, 2010

DAWN.COM | Economic & Business | Encouraging sugar beet cultivation.

IN the wake of irrigation water shortage and declining cane yield, sugar beet cultivation offers a substitute as it requires less water, matures earlier, is less susceptible to diseases and gives higher per hectare sugar yield than cane, officials and farmers say.

Sugar beet is used as a vegetable and its pulp as animal fodder in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The crop also has helped run sugar mills that usually faced cane shortage when farmers preferred to make gur of the cane.

Sugar beet was an important cash crop in KP, especially in the districts of Mardan and Swabi in the past but the crop has suffered for lack of incentives.

There are no official figures available on sugar beet acreage and yield in KP, but sources say it has come down to around a few thousand acres as against hundreds of thousands in the past.

“In not so distant past, the sugar-mills in Khazana, Charsadda, Takht Bhai and Mardan were crushing sugar beet. But the first three mills have now stopped crushing beet. Only Mardan Sugar Mill is crushing the crop and providing sugar beet seeds to farmers,” said Haji Niamat Shah Roghani, senior vice-president of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran, KP.

With high cost of per acre yield, closure of beet-processing plants coupled with low returns by mills, farmers gradually lost interest in sowing beat. It is time the government encourages millers to increase beet price to attract farmers to grow the crop.

The sugar millers are reluctant to invest in beet processing plants because of non-availability of raw material, fuel shortage and lack of expertise and technology. There is a need for the government to offer incentives to the mills.

“The federal government must waive all duties and taxes on sugar made from beet. This would enable mills to pay lucrative prices to the farmers for their crop, said Shah.

“Agriculture research institute in KP should develop quality beet seeds for different climate areas of the province. Increase in acreage and per hectare yield of beat will result in more sugar yield and increase farmers’ income. It can also provide livelihood to thousands of daily wage earners who are laid off after cane crushing season is over as beet crushing soon starts after cane.

If billions of rupees can be spent on sugar imports, why not a few hundred millions on reviving the sugar beet crop,” he asked.

‘There is a need to devise a sugar beet development policy with incentives like duty-free import of both new and second hand sugar beet plants, provision of beet seeds, easy access to soft loans and tax exemptions.”

The government should encourage farmers to first sow beet on trial basis by offering them free farm-inputs and crop insurance to build their confidence in the crop,” he said.

The National Sugar Policy 2009 says sugar production from beet would be encouraged as a small and medium enterprise activity. “This shall be given incentive through fiscal measures under supervision of ministry of agriculture (Minfa).”

The provincial governments should encourage the requisite technology shift for the existing mills from cane to beet and consider setting up new sugar beet mills,” it reads.

“Because of non-availability of bagasse, the processing of beet is economical together with sugarcane but not alone. It has high cost of sugar production that would further raise sugar prices by Rs5-6 per kg. The cost can be reduced if local coal is used for the purpose. Again, Pakistan would have to raise cultivation and productivity of sugar beet to ensure its consistent supply to mills and increase crushing capacity of sugar mills up to 2,000-2,500 tons. The costs can also be compensated through its by-products – beet pulp and molasses,” opined Shah.

“Minfa has already suggested that Pakistan should enter into the area of production of industrial alcohol and gasohol. Converting molasses into industrial alcohol is what needs to be done sooner rather than later” said the official.

Sugarcane is high delta crop that requires about 15 million acres feet of water. If it is replaced by sugar beet, it would save half of that water. Sugar beet is useful for being a low delta crop and occupies land for 4-5 months as against 10-14 months by sugarcane.

Dr Zahoor Ahmad Awan

Radical musings
DAWN November 7, 2010
By Tahir Ali

He may initially come across as a blunt and impolite sort but spending a little time talking to the man changes your first impression about Prof Dr Zahoor Ahmad Awan.
A proud recipient of the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, he has won many laurels as an academician, writer, critique, columnist, traveller and human rights activist. Having started his writing career as a freelancer during the 1970s, he contributed weekly literary columns and features to various newspapers and publications and has since then written thousands of columns while authoring over 70 books, travelogues and literary works in Urdu, English and Hindko.

Born in 1942 to a poor family, he is proud of how he shaped his life. “I have faced many hardships working at bicycle repair and bookbinding shops during my school days. But I knew how to avail the opportunities coming my way. Not everyone knows how to do that,” he tells.

“God gave me a pen and I tried to make good use of it. I was not a bright student but I did my PhD in Central Asian Studies from the Area Study Centre at Peshawar University. Other than serving as a university professor, I was also the senior-most member of the Public Service Commission, a life member of the Academy of Letters, a member of board of governors of National Language Authority, chairman of the Gandhara Hindko Board … you will require several pages to include all my achievements,” says the educationist who now after his retirement teaches at the Peshawar and Qurtaba universities for free.

Analysing the country’s education system, he says that the lack of planning and its rigorous implementation have spoiled many educational endeavours. “Our universities are producing a mass of good-for-nothing and half-baked educated persons without any purpose and planning. Our students seek degrees, not knowledge. The government may be increasing the number of colleges and universities but is neglectful of the worsening standard of education in the country. No Pakistani university is therefore seen in the top 1,000 universities of the world.

“Lack of funding is also a problem. Whereas the UNO standard requires allocation of at least four per cent of the GDP for education, our educational budget has never crossed two per cent,” he laments. “The educational budget should be brought at par with the international standard. I know this is a tough task but we should at least start our journey by taking the first step in the direction by allocating a minimum of Rs100 billion to education in the next fiscal year,” he says.

His other suggestions for improvement are: “English should be made a medium of instruction from day one. The colleges should have a PhD faculty. The student-teacher ratio should be brought down to 15:1 [right now it is over 40 or even higher]. Basic education should be made free and compulsory and parents should be punished in case of non-compliance. University professors should be limited to research endeavours.”

He adds: “Universities should be research centres only and must never be allowed to conduct graduate or post-graduate examinations. The teachers, too, should be given special packages. I think post-graduate primary teachers deserve better remuneration and should be given grade 17 as against the present grades of seven to 2. They should be offered refresher courses, too.”

The students he advises to study the text and supplementary books instead of making do with notes and guides prepared by teachers. Sports, too, need to be given their due status in educational institutions.

The professor has travelled all over the world to attend national and international seminars. He has also delivered lectures at the University of Germany. He ascribes the progress of the developed countries to their hard work, integrity, rule of law, education, equality, discipline and justice. “We, conversely, have no such values.

Pakistanis are a genius lot but we have mostly misused our intelligence,” he says.

He hates the existing style of governance in the country and points towards the lack of education and training of citizens, corruption, weak institutions, feudalism and hereditary system in parties to have hampered the development of the democratic norms here.

His solution for improvement: “Peace, development, education and financial freedom are the fundamental strategies for the purpose. Pakistan should get into dialogue with India to have the Kashmir problem solved once and for all. Both India and Pakistan just can’t afford to spend that much on security. A resolution of the problem would help transform Pakistan into a true welfare state from a police state which is what it is now. I think the state should not leave big income disparities and concentration of wealth in a few hands. I believe in nationalisation and am against ownerships and private property for everything here truly belongs to God.”

He has given everything to humanity as a common heritage, and not as a gift to few oligarchs or aristocrats. God forbids injustice, inequality and exploitation,” he concludes.

%d bloggers like this: