Pre-budget 2012-12: Farmers’ expectations

Farmers’ expectations
By Tahir Ali
4th June, 2012
http://dawn.com/2012/06/04/farmers-expectations/

THE enormous food deficit in Khyber Pakthtunkhwa necessitates that agriculture should be at the centre of the provincial development strategy, but, according to indications, there is no move in the coming budget 2012-13 proposals to significantly increase investment in the farming sector.

Traditionally, in the planning process and budget allocations, the fact that a majority of the population of the province directly or indirectly depends on this sector is also not taken in to account.

And this is happening now in spite of the devolved responsibility under the 18th amendment, and financial autonomy given to the province under the 7th NFC Award, raising farmers’ expectations for a better treatment from the KP government.

While officials involved in formulation of annual development plan for agriculture are not revealing anything, there are indications that the budgeted amount for agriculture for fiscal 2012-13 may be very close to last year’s allocation, a little lower or a little higher..

Farmers in KP are seeking direct subsidies on farm inputs to reduce the rising cost of production saying other things are secondary in nature.

“Agriculture is fast becoming unaffordable and unattractive for majority of the farmers, and their meagre income is not enough to invest in modernisation of the farm economy,” said Muhammad Zahir Khan, vice- president of KP Chamber of Agriculture.

He said small and medium farmers are particularly hit by the rising cost of inputs. “The budget must focus on small farmers and ensure efficient marketing system for their produce. In a situation where cost of production has increased manifold, marketing system is flawed and farmers lack price support (getting less than official price), farming ceases to be profitable occupation for many,” he said.

“The farmers need easy loans for buying inputs. Also sufficient funds are needed by researchers to develop new seed varieties to stop import of costly seeds,” he added.

Improved marketing is vital for increasing farmers’ income. Regulated markets ensure good returns for farmers. These function only in two KP districts. The government needs to build cold storages in villages for perishable vegetables/fruits. Grain storage capacity also needs to be
raised. Soil testing laboratories should also be opened in all district and tehsils,” Mr Khan urged.

Murad Ali Khan, president of the Kissan Board KP, said the rising cost of production was resulting in fall of agriculture output. He complained that almost all lands destroyed by the 2010 floods were yet to be rehabilitated despite government promises.

“Till quality seeds are developed locally, high yielding seed varieties must be imported and their easy and timely availability to farmers should be ensured by improving the distribution network. Coordination between farmers and government and inter-departmental liaison should be improved,” said another farmer.

The government needs to invest in water harvesting, water/soil conservation, land development, mechanised farming, hybrid technology, water management and agriculture and livestock research and extension, capacity building of farmers and agriculture scientists. But all these sectors are still a low priority.

According to official sources, KP is faced with a revenue deficit of about Rs25bn because of reduced income both from provincial and different federal receipts while the provincial government is determined to raise perks and allowances of its employees that may further strain its kitty. It would not be surprising if the core provincial ADP may have to be curtailed by about 10-15 per cent next year.

It is feared that the agriculture budget outlay would either be retained at or slashed from the current outlay of Rs1.35bn this fiscal. Top officials, however, are satisfied with the prepared budget proposals.

“We have tried hard to prepare the best possible ADP within the available resources. Projects for research, development of maize hybrid seeds (and their provision to farmers), edible oil, especially olive oil, water courses lining, and efficient irrigation system such as sprinkler irrigation technology are there in the ADP Projects for rehabilitation of flood-ravaged fish hatcheries, development of new fish/trout hatcheries and capacity building of the existing ones has also been included.

Mini dams for water harvesting/conservation in rain-fed areas together with bio-engineering projects are also on the agenda. Besides projects on milk, meat and poultry farming, there are schemes on fermenting technology and food security/capacity building by training farmers in these technology,” said an official.

However, the use of modern laser technology for land levelling and development of miniature engineering machinery that could help cope with the problem of small landholdings, have been traditionally ignored.

Proposals for public/private partnership for setting up agriculture machinery pools at grass root level has not yet been conceived. It is not known whether there is any allocation for reducing loss of irrigation water.

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

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