KP reshaping agriculture policy

KP reshaping agriculture policy.

By Tahir Ali
(DAWN Monday, 24-01-11)

 

AS the year 2011 sets in, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is
reshaping its agriculture policy to increase farmers’ incomes in the province.

A senior agriculture ministry official said: “The agriculture policy enforced in 2005 needs to be revised and updated.”

“The objective is to assess our performance in the light of the policy and learn about our achievements and shortcomings and remove bottlenecks in its implementation.

“This review will enable us to reshape the agriculture policy, bring in improvements in it as per new challenges of the time and take remedial measures to develop agriculture, livestock and its other sub-sectors in the province,” said Gul Nawaz Khatak, the chief planning officer in the provincial department of agriculture.

According to him, the main problem confronting the agriculture sector in the province is the poverty and inability of small farmers to buy quality inputs. But they had been, to some extent, neglected in the 2005 policy. “They will have to be empowered now. The banks are already providing agriculture credit to these farmers at a mark up of eight per cent to buy inputs and services,” he disclosed.

“And good news is that the provincial cooperative bank and its cooperative societies have been revived. The government would provide Rs1 billion seed money to the bank to give easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers and rural women to increase their income.

“Another intervention is the start of Bacha Khan Poverty Alleviation Programme which would provide farm inputs, financial and technical support to thousands of farmers,” he added.

“ Easy availability of farm inputs easily at critical times of sowing of Kharif and Rabi crops are one of the pressing problems. “Prices are beyond our jurisdiction as these are determined by inflation and market forces. But we will ensure timely and easy availability of inputs to farmers. The farm services centres have been established for the purpose and their numbers would be increased in future,” he added.

But will their limited number (60 only), restricted membership and weaker financial position let that happen, one wonders.

To cope with the decreasing agriculture land owing to its unprecedented conversion into real estate, the government, he said, would focus on bringing vast cultivable wasteland under agriculture by leveling and developing it through bulldozers and tractors.

But increase in acreage demands more irrigation water, shortage of which is becoming a nightmare for farmers. “This will be done on two counts: by efficient management of available water for which schemes have been prepared, and through extension of irrigation infrastructure by building small dams which is being done by the irrigation department,” he added.

The official claimed that his department was also working out on how to cope with the new and bigger responsibilities following the devolution of some departments to the provinces.

Access to market and improved marketing is vital for increasing farmers’ income. “To address the problem, we intend to establish more regulator markets across the province. At present these markets function only in two districts. These markets will have committees comprising 6-10 farmers and one official who will weigh, assess and sell farmers’ produces. Farmers will get good price for their produce and hard work,” Khatak opined.

“Lack of coordination between farmers and government has harmed the growers a great deal. First, we are trying to remove glitches in inter/intra departmental coordination and then it will be strengthened with farmers and their representative bodies,” he said.

On financial help to flood-hit farmers, Khatak said Rs240 million had been earmarked for the purpose which would be distributed shortly among farmers through district coordination officers.

Seeds research farms in the province have developed high-yielding wheat, maize, fruit and vegetable seeds but their timely and easy availability has always been a problem. “When quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are not available, farmers have to use substandard and often spurious inputs and are looted by the profit hungry mafia. This explains the reason behind rampant low per acre yield in the province.”

The primary goal of the 2005 agriculture policy is to ensure food security and alleviation of poverty, but it seems a far cry if low per acre yield, poverty of farmers, outdated farming and lack of planning for any crash programme for uplift of agriculture is considered.

The culture of household farming can also bring positive changes.The growing role and impact of middlemen in agri-businesses has also gone unnoticed
The government has so far failed to streamline inputs distribution. The mass availability of fake, substandard and under-weight varieties are badly hampering farmers’ productivity and it would have to be stopped.

If expert advice, machinery and marketing support are provided to farmers, they will change farming from subsistence farming to commercial and modernised one.

The agriculture sector has been ignored so far despite the fact that it accounts for over 20 per cent of provincial gross domestic product and about 80 per cent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s population is dependent on it for survival.

The government will have to ensure especially increase in per acre yield, land development, and developing the livestock sector and horticulture and augment storage capacity for vegetables, grains and fruits. Preparation of better feed for animals, milk farming and meat-farming should also be given allocations.

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

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