Peach orchards on the rise in Swat

Peach replacing apple farms in Swat

By Tahir Ali

APPLE orchards in lower Swat, particularly in Matta, are losing space to peach farms, farmers say.

“Peach has become the centre of interest for fruit farmers. While apple trees are intact in upper Swat areas like Kalam, Bahrain etc, these are gradually disappearing in lower parts of the districts,” says Abdul Jabbar Khan, president of Anjuman-i-Tahaffuze Zamindaran wa Kashtkaran, Swat.

“Apple orchards, that require cool climate, have been hit by changes in climate and global warming. The trees are becoming susceptible to diseases and insects and are drying up. With decrease in the number of healthy plants, per tree yield of apple has decreased considerably with less profitability,” he said.

“Apple is losing to peaches for other factors also. A peach tree matures early and starts production in 4-5 years while an apple tree bears fruit in 7-10 years. Again, a peach tree bears fruit regularly every year whereas apple has ample yield every alternate year,” he added.

Both apple and peach trees can produce up to 30-40 crates each of 20 and 10 kg respectively if the trees are healthy. “An acre of apple/peach orchard could fetch its owner up to Rs0.4 million but apple production and profitability is coming down.

Earlier around 50-60 trucks load of apples with around 8-10 tons each used to leave the area for markets, now only 4-6 trucks are marketed. Against this, over 100 trucks loaded with peach now leave the area for markets in Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi,” Khan said.

According to another Swat farmer Saeed Alam, peach has eight varieties. “ Top 1-3 varieties fetch good prices as these are ready by May-June. Depending on size and quality of the fruit, these are sold at Rs500-600 per crate. These days, varieties 4-6 are being sold at Rs200-350 per crate. The next two varieties also usually fetch good prices in local and outside markets,” he said.

“The costs of transportation of a truck of fruits to Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi are Rs20,000, Rs40,000 and Rs70,000 respectively. Each truck can take a load of around 800 crates of peach and 400 crates of apples. The total cost per crate including transportation and harvesting, comes to around Rs80 per crate. Thus a crate usually fetches around Rs200-400 for the growers though it is sold at much higher prices by commission agents. Had there been big local markets in the area, the growers would have benefited more,” he added.

Orchards are commonly bought by fruit dealers before the start of the fruiting season. Farmers prefer this deal as they get risk-free cash payments in advance. But in this case, the rates are far less than the market price at the time of harvest.

Pre- and post-harvest losses are estimated at 30-40 per cent on account of windstorm, hailstorm, diseases and outdated harvesting techniques.

“While value-addition can be a thriving business in the area, it is regrettable that there are no processing plants, neither the people have the means to enter into such lucrative business. The government and private investors are needed to set up such plants in the area,” said Khan.

According to a fruit dealer in Mingora, peaches and apples in the past were packed in wooden crates but now these were being packaged in paper cartons. “Paper cartons may be good from environmental point of view but cannot save fruit against rain and sustain weight pressure during transportation. As a result, huge losses are suffered by farmers, he said.

The absence of cold storages in Matta and shortage elsewhere are also a problem, according to Khan. “There was only one peach specific cold storage in Mingora but it has been closed. The other is in the city which can only provide space to fruit dealers for a month. More such cold storages are needed in the area but they cannot be set up because of acute power shortage,” he added.

The period between June and September is the fruit season in Swat. The local fruit industry provides employment to 70 per cent of locals including females in spraying, pruning, packing and transportation at fruit orchards.

In 2007-08 together with Swat, Malakand division accounted for 30 per cent of provincial plums yield, eighty per cent of persimmon, 67 per cent of apricots and over 82 per cent of apple and peach yields.

A farmer said non-governmental-organisations should offer cash grants or soft loans and modern technology with training to farmers for saving their orchards from diseases. “Far-flung areas such as Kabal, Matta and other upper Swat areas need to be given proper attention to augment fruit production,” he said.

Most of the 0.3 million farmers in Swat are small and poor who cannot afford to buy agricultural inputs.

They should be offered agriculture inputs free or at subsidised rates to nurture their fruit plants.

Revival of tourism in Swat

Revival of tourism in Swat

Internally displaced persons return to Swat. – File photo by AP

Internally displaced persons return to Swat. – File photo by AP

WITH the restoration of public confidence in sustainable peace in Swat and improved road infrastructure in its upper parts, the picturesque valley drew multitudes of local tourists this year.

Swat, called the Switzerland of Asia, usually attracts a large number of tourists in this season of the year. The Kalam-Mahodand tourism festival held from July 12 to 16 attracted over one hundred tourists, according to Zahid Khan, president of All Swat Hotel Association (Asha).

“Hotel occupancy was 100 per cent and locals even rented their guest houses to accommodate those who could not find rooms in hotels. The festival provided the badly needed support to local handicraft-makers, transporters and other businesses dependent on tourism,” he said.

All this was made possible by Pakistan Army engineers by making the routes navigable after constructing bridges and repairing roads to Kalam and Mahodand, the scenic resort located some 35km northeast of Kalam.

Though the Bahrain-Kalam and Kalam-Mahodand roads are mostly Katcha, these can be used even by small cars. Some adventurers had also reached the valley on motorbikes in groups.

Colonel Arif, incharge Inter Services Public Relations in Swat, said the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) would construct proper road from Bahrain to Kalam by next season with the UAE assistance.

“In its bid to attract more and more tourists, Asha last year had announced free stay at hotels for three days and subsequently subsidised stay-packages for the visitors. This year, the hoteliers were so confident that they didn’t announce any special discount for their customers.

Public transport is now available to Kalam from Mingora. And what was an added advantage that per passenger fare from Bahrain to Kalam had come down to Rs120 from Rs300-500 last year.

At night during the festival dozens of tourists went up and down the Kalam bazaar dancing to the noisy beat of music played in cars or by drums beaters. However unlike the golden days of Swat tourism, foreigners were conspicuous by their absence, although there was no restriction on their visit.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and Swat in particular is suitable for tourism but it has been badly impacted by militancy, indifference of the government and raging poverty.

After the landmark 18th constitutional amendment, the tourism sector has been devolved to provinces but meagre budgetary allocations and failure to invest in upgradation of tourism resorts continue as in the past.

This sector was allocated just Rs0.67bn or one per cent of the provincial ADP in 2010. It was increased to Rs1.22bn or1.4 per cent in 2011 and Rs0.68bn or 0.7 per cent this year.

The 2010-17 strategy for the province’s development has allocated Rs14.3bn or 1.5 per cent of its total outlay of Rs960bn. Zahid Khan said some major steps were needed to fully revive tourism in the region.

“Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had promised that the Swat Express Way would be built/linked to the Peshawar Motorway but nothing has happened.

The Tourism Corporation of KP should construct roads or provide chairlift facilities to Deeshan and Boyu valleys, two picturesque valleys lying west and east of Kalam bazaar. Similarly ski resorts should be set up there. Walking tracks to several lakes such as Condol Lake in Uthror Kalam and Bishgram Lake in Madyan need to be constructed. The Malam Jabba chairlift also needs to be restored to facilitate tourists and skaters. Road to the beautiful Gabinajabba near Kabal is awaiting development,” he said.

The government should also construct an international cricket/sports stadium and an international wildlife park near the Kalam Bazaar. “The hotel industry should be provided donations or interest-free loans for repairing and upgrading their hotels from the $9 million and $12 million funds given to Smeda by the Multi Donor Trust Fund and the USAID respectively for rehabilitation of small and medium enterprises in the region,” he added.

Welcome to Swat

revival
Welcome to Swat
Thousands of tourists thronged the scenic valley of Kalam to attend the summer festival
By Tahir Ali

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/jul2012-weekly/nos-22-07-2012/foo.htm#1

The influx of thousands of tourists to the scenic valley of Kalam to attend the recently-held summer festival was a rather welcome sign for the tourism industry in Swat, the Switzerland of Pakistan.

The festival was organised in Kalam and Mahodand simultaneously by the Pakistan Army from July 12-16. Programmes were held in Mahodand during the day and at the grassy ground near the Kalam bazaar at night.

According to the Inter Services Public Relations Swat in-charge Colonel Arif, thousands of tourists visited the valley following the return of peace and construction of roads — and sent a message to the world that Swat is now open for tourism.

Mahodand is a scenic resort located some 35km north-east of Kalam. There is a big natural lake where boats and other water vehicles were available on rent.

On the way, a traveller came across stunning glaciers, waterfalls and hydropower stations, and could devour some delectable snacks. Emergency medical camp had been established too. Accommodation in tents was available but several tourists had brought their own tents. Horse riding, free-fall and other athletic activities were also arranged.

However speeding cars and vans created a lot of dust as the road has not been carpeted yet — though it was negotiable even by small Suzuki cars. Some adventurous youngsters had reached the valley on motorbikes in groups.

Unlike previous years, when the Bahrain-Kalam road was navigated only by 4-wheel drives, this year public transport was available to Kalam from Mingora. However, no public transport was available between Kalam and Mahodand. Tourists either travelled by their own vehicles or hired taxi from Kalam at Rs2000-2500 for two way journey to and from Mahodand.

“I have been to various tourists resorts round the world but Mahodand is simply wonderful… The area has all the potential to attract tourists,” said Muneeza Hashmi, a tourist from Sialkot.

In the grassy ground of Kalam, tourists enjoyed festivities at night. Hayatullah Khan, another tourist, recollected it was the same ground where a militant in April 2009 had openly challenged the state — “It is heartening to see that today a multitude of tourists are attending the festivities”.

At night, dozens of tourists went up and down the road dancing to the noisy beat of music played in cars or that of drums played by local men.

The presence of vast number of female tourists was encouraging in the Kalam bazaar.

Unfortunately, no foreigner was seen strolling in Kalam or Bahrain or Miandam or other attractive valleys in the area. Are they not allowed or do they prefer not to come here, one wondered. But Col Arif said foreign tourists are not barred from visiting the area.

Tourism in Swat has been badly impacted by militancy, indifference of government and raging poverty. Kalam, Bahrain and Madyan were devastated by floods. Of the total 136 hotels swept away by floods in 2010, 50 were in Kalam. It still wears a deserted look. But friends and couples were sitting besides the river on boulders, charpoys and standing in the crystal clear water of the river Swat, enjoying snacks and chatting endlessly.

Details about the identity of tourists are registered at several checkposts between Kalam and Mahodand, which most tourists found to be time consuming. Zulfiqar Ali, a tourist, said he counted 17 checkposts from Dargai to Mahodand. “The number of checkposts could be reduced without any compromise on security by opening a big registration camp at Landaki Swat where the visitors are registered and issued special passes,” he said.

Zahid Khan also said though these are meant for public safety, there should be no more than 5 checkposts from Dargai to Kalam.

Col Arif however said that the number of checkposts was reduced from 29 last year to 15 this year to facilitate tourists. “Some tourists’ information and facilitation centres may have been mistaken as checkposts,” he said.

Though the hoteliers haven’t announced any special discount for the tourists unlike last season, Iftikhar Ahmad, a hotel manager in Bahrain, said room fares were far cheaper than other tourist resorts in Murree or Kaghan.

He was all praise for the USAID which he said offered in-cash and in-kind support to the hotel industry in Swat.

“Earlier communication to Kalam and other upper Swat areas would remain suspended for days. But last winter, for the first time in history, traffic to Kalam didn’t stop even for a day. Hopefully, the coming season will be the best in terms of winter tourism,” Col Arif added.

Zahid Khan, the president of Swat hotel association, said funds allocated for the roads should be released without delay. “Former Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani had promised he would release funds for the Swat expressway linked to Peshawar motorway but its fulfilment is still awaited. The Tourism Corporation KP should construct roads or provide chairlift facilities to far off valleys in Swat,” said Khan.

Though tourism is part of the productive sectors, the sector was allocated just Rs0.67billion or one per cent of the provincial annual development plan (ADP) in 2010. The next year, the sector’s budget was increased to Rs1.22bn or 1.4 per cent of ADP but has been slashed to Rs0.68billion this fiscal year.

There is however no foreign funded project in the ADP for the tourism sector in successive budgets.

Tourism has been devolved to the provinces, yet the PTDC hotels and motels are yet to be handed over to the province. If devolved, the resourceful PTDC would suffice the province to run the ministry from its own revenues.

KP expanding seeds processing industry

KP expanding seeds processing industry

A seed processing plant. – Dawn file photo

A seed processing plant. – Dawn file photo

THE Khyber Pakhtunkhwa agriculture department plans to install several seed processing and treating plants to augment its existing capacity of seeds preparation for various crops.

A senior official of said the department had purchased seed graders, four seed treating plants and three 20kv power generators.

The department has also imported machinery for measuring moisture contents in seeds of different crops.

“The machinery will be provided to the districts where wheat is procured in bulk from registered growers and is used for grading and treating seeds. The graded healthy and cleansed seed will be provided to growers by the provincial seeds industry,” said Ismail Jan, director seeds, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

To a question, the official said the seed grading technology was meant for processing and grading seeds of all crops like maize, rice, oilseeds, pulses and vegetables. Only the sifter was needed to be changed and affixed to the machine for grading different crop seeds, he said.

Bannu, Kohat, Swat, Charsadda, Mansehra and Timergara would get the processing plants while Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Mardan would receive the seed treating plants and generators.

“Peshawar, DIK and Mardan already possess seeds processing plants. The rest of the districts would transport their seeds to one of these plants for the grading of their seeds. This would however entail high transportation costs for the districts and consume a lot of time owing to work pressure and loadshedding.”

“Local processing plants in more districts along with generators would help prepare bulk seeds, save time, reduce transportation cost and make quality seeds available to the department for timely onward distribution to growers,” he added.

The DIK plant produced bulk of wheat seeds and majority of registered growers, who produce certified seeds for grading purposes, were located there. It used to process over 2,000 metric tons of wheat seeds.

According to the official, how economical this new technology would be is evident from the fact that last year the government had spent around Rs7.3mn on wheat transportation to distant seed processing plants. “Now the department has purchased processing plants with the same amount. The technology will recover its cost in one year and would help save millions in the years to come,” he added.

Even after setting up these seeds processing plants, only nine of the 25 districts in KP will have the seed grading plants and the rest would depend on them for these facilities.

When asked why the technology was not provided to the remaining districts like Abbotabad, Nowshera, Karak, Laki Marwat etc, the official attributed it to meagre funds. “The plant in Mansehra would process seeds from the adjoining districts of Abbotabad, Haripur etc and the plant at Kohat or Bannu would grade seeds for Karak and Laki Marwat,” he said.

According to the official, the KP seeds industry in the past used to treat the seeds to guard against diseases, pests and weeds but then the process was stopped. With the new seed treating plants, the department has once again entered in the era of seed treatment. This would produce hygienic seeds, he said.

The official said the seed industry had procured around 5,000 metric tons of certified seeds from growers this year which would produce around 4000 metric tons of graded seeds after processing. The seed is kept for one year in stocks and then sold to growers on discount through district offices of the agriculture departments.

The cultivable land in the province needs around 8,000 metric tons of certified wheat seeds. The KP seeds industry produces 5,000 tons and the rest is produced by the private sector or purchased by the department from Punjab.

On a question that the department had claimed producing over 9,000 metric tons of certified seeds, how it had come down, the official said the province could produce even more but there were problems. “Lack of sufficient funds and storage facilities are the major handicaps, ” he said.

Growers say the seed research farms in the province have developed high yielding varieties of wheat, maize and fruit and vegetable seeds but their on time and easy availability has always remained a problem.

“The government has failed to streamline seed distribution. It has not been able to check and crackdown on the substandard seeds in the market. When quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are not available, farmers generally use substandard seeds which results in rampant low per acre yield,” said a grower Aslam Khan.

KP’s neglected economic roadmaps

Planning
KP’s neglected economic roadmaps
The Comprehensive Development Strategy (CDS) is an ambitious economic growth plan
By Tahir Ali

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/jul2012-weekly/nos-08-07-2012/pol1.htm#3

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has prepared quite a few documents which, if implemented, could originate unprecedented economic development in the province. However, these economic roadmaps are generally overlooked while setting development priorities for different sectors.

According to the Comprehensive Development Strategy (CDS 2010-17), the province has strong agricultural potentials, and offers a diverse climate and landscape for a variety of tourism activities. “Located at the crossroads of important international trading routes, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have long traditions of trade and travel. Hydroelectric power, forestry and minerals offer resources for a modern economy,” it states.

The Economic Growth Strategy (EGS) also envisions that acceleration of growth will be realized by concentrating on natural resource endowments of KP in hydel power, mining and minerals, Oil and Gas and agriculture value addition and agro-processing industries.

“With huge potential for development there is a necessity to focus on growth. Unfortunately, the resources’ investment strategy while following a much trodden path for decades remained captive to an antiquated thinking; to invest more and more in brick and mortar as a development solution to the problems of low and slow growth; high rates of unemployment and underemployment; a decadent infrastructure; inefficient, inadequate transportation facilities; a non-competitive industrial sector and last but not the least, stagnant human development indicators,” states the EGS.

According to the Whitepaper for this and last year, the previous ADPs were skewed towards brick and mortar projects and whereas the social sectors (education and health etc) have consumed a sizeable chunk of the development program, the socio-economic (food, agriculture, roads etc) and productive sectors (energy, minerals etc) remained low in priorities.

The growth policy will target the sectors with comparative advantages of indigenous raw materials and natural resources like minerals, tourisms and agriculture with a significant increase in total investment in productive sectors to attain higher rate of growth, states the EGS and stipulates that foreign loans would be sought for productive sectors if required and for the socio-economic and social sectors only grants would be utilised.

The EGS, the CDS and the budget whitepaper, said the KP finance minister Humayun Khan, have served as the bases of the annual development programme (ADP) this year.

But while in the Rs303bn budget, ADP, with an outlay of Rs97.4bn, including foreign component of Rs23bn, has a share of 35 per cent against 65 percent for current budget which is in line with the EGS recommendations, most of the budget targets and allocations don’t match with these official strategies.

While the EGS recommends 70 ADP funds for ongoing and 30 per cent for new schemes, they have been allocated 62.5 per cent (Rs46bn) and 37.5 per cent (Rs27.8bn) funds respectively in the core provincial ADP of Rs74.2bn.

The province has abundant potential in water, oil and gas and precious stones like marbles and other minerals. Around 6.76 per cent area of KP is under exploration for oil and gas reserves with a one billion barrel of oil and four trillion cubic feet of gas. Investment in these sectors can offer a base for developing a flourishing industry.

While the EGS says productive sectors and socio-economic sectors would be given top priority in funds allocation and the expenditure on social sectors would be capped at current level, allocations to the sectors speak otherwise.

Against the avowed 70 per cent, 30 per cent and 20 per cent share in the ADP for the productive, socio-economic and social sectors respectively as per the EGS, the 9 productive and 7 socio-economic sectors have been allocated just 12 per cent (Rs11.6bn) and 23 per cent (Rs22.6bn) respectively in the ADP while the social sectors have got 39 per cent (Rs37.9bn).

While education and roads have got over Rs22bn and over Rs14bn respectively, energy and mineral sectors got only Rs1.8bn and Rs0.5bn in that order. Allocations for minerals and minerals stand around only 0.9 per cent and at less than two per cent each for energy, power and agriculture sectors.

In the FY 2010/11 too, out of 972 projects funded through ADP, mines and minerals had only 11 projects with an allocation of Rs255mn at 0.42 percent of ADP.

By the end of 2012, the CDS stipulates an additional Rs14.6bn for the agriculture sector which obviously is far higher than the existing new ADP allocation of Rs1.4bn In the outgoing year too, the productive sectors were allocated Rs10.8billion, the socio-economic Rs21.3bn and the social sectors Rs36.8bn in the total core ADP of Rs69bn.

The CDS is a pretty ambitious economic growth roadmap. Its total seven years’ financial cost above the 2010 level expenditure is Rs960 of which Rs648bn would be for development expenditure and the rest for current expenditure. Rs516bn of these would be met through local resources and Rs444bn from external assistance.

It recognises increased insecurity, financial mismanagement, food inflation, inconsistency and duplication for increased donor funding, climatic hazards such as flooding etc as main risks to the implementation of CDS, and has suggested remedial measures.

But the CDS ironically has failed to point alternative resources in case the expectation of increased domestic revenue and foreign assistance fail to materialise while the current expenditure increases beyond the estimates.

Under the annual strategy review (ASR), a detailed analysis of the ADP 2010-11 and 2011-12 was carried out to know whether development allocations in different sectors matched the above strategies and with the short term allocations for those sectors in CDS. As per the ASR, Rs126bn out of the total ADP for 2010-12 were allocated against the CDS recommendations/allocations of 201bn.

“The province is far from eradicating poverty by 2015, and is unlikely to be able to effect a reduction in poverty incidence to 20 percent, as articulated in the CDS,” states the CDS paper. The white paper and EGS eye reduction in throw forward liability — the money required to complete all the ADP projects-by allocating more resources to ongoing project i.e. 70 percent of ADP.

But as the government usually misses the development targets for several departments come up with attractive projects that they could not execute, the throw forward liability is on the rise and is expected to be Rs343bn by end of this fiscal.

The government could utilise Rs79bn off Rs85bn last fiscal, Rs61bn off Rs69bn in 2010 and Rs46bn off Rs51 in 2009. If it cannot ensure full utilization of funds, what is the justification of increasing development outlays that results in throw forward liability for the
coming governments?

And if this government which, besides phenomenal increase in its federal receipts, has been getting Rs25bn in net hydro profit arrears could not bring down the number of in-complete development projects, how would the incoming governments do when the money would cease to come from 2013-14 onwards.

The foreign component projections at Rs23bn also seems unrealistic as the revised estimates for this head in last year stood at just Rs7.5 against Rs16bn of budget estimates.

KP has given top priority to energy and power sector. In this regard substantial amount of net hydel profit arrears has been transferred to Hydel Development Fund (with assets of Rs24bn) and various schemes are under pre-feasibility, feasibility and implementation stages in the province.

The KP government has prepared a 10-year hydro power generation action plan worth Rs330 billion according to which 24 projects would be initiated in KP to generate 2100 megawatts of electricity. But there is a perception that had this government started these projects when it was installed, the province would have no problem of loadshedding now.

According to a 2004 survey, industrialists and traders in KP identified policy uncertainty, tax administration, access to electricity supply, corruption, access to finance, insecurity and transportation as major hindrances to growth.

There is some good news in the budget too. While the foreign project assistance was just Rs4.61bn in 2008 with 83 per cent of it comprising loan component, it has increased to Rs23bn this year with 84 per cent of it to be in shape of grants and only 16 per cent as loans.

Numerous pro-poor schemes have been allocated Rs5.7bn against Rs4.5bn in last fiscal. Ranging from students’ related scholarship scheme to laptop distribution schemes to schemes in health, IT and agriculture sector etc, these also have a scheme for long term financing schemes for industrialists.

State of farming in Swat

State of farming in Swat

SWAT’S agricultural potential still remains unutilised for want of supporting infrastructure facilities.

Agriculture in general and the horticulture sector in particular has been hit by the high prices of agriculture inputs, lack of cold storages and food processing facilities.

Enormous crop yield losses, transportation as well as marketing blues and use of substandard pesticides/ fertiliser perpetuate subsistence farming and poverty in the area.

Most farmers, especially small ones, take advance loans from commission agents and enter into contracts with them before season. They have to sell their produce at pre-determined prices which are usually far lower than the market price at the harvesting stage.

The government needs to help growers find new markets by creating linkages and liaison between them and the local and multinational companies,” says Ihsanullah Khan, a farmer and social activist from Swat.

Swat is the natural hub of quality walnut, honey, soybean, delicious trout, and of both seasonal and off-season fruits and vegetables and a strong plant nursery production that ranks third in the country. But the government has not focused on these potential sectors, and the farmers remain deprived for lack of money, expertise and marketing linkages, substandard packaging, absence of value addition and processing plants.

Farmers and residents in the cooler/upper parts of Swat still go without wheat cultivation as the ordinary wheat seeds can’t mature there and the research scientists have so far failed to develop any specific early maturing/cold-resistant seed for the area, according to a grower.

Swat accounts for around 50 per cent of the KP’s walnut population but the lack of official support and continuous deforestation without fresh re-plantation, have badly affected the area.

“A family with 50 canals of land can grow around 250 walnut trees on its sides. And even if per tree yield is just 50kg, it would earn the family around Rs2.5million at the current market rate. The tree usually grows on mountain ridges and thus won’t impact on cereal crops,” said a farmer.

There is also vast potential for potato but lack of potato processing units that could produce potato chips or frozen French fries, is amazing, he says.

Large size, good taste and quality are the hallmarks of Swat potato. Average yield per hectare which is 12 and 17 metric tons in KP and the country respectively, is around 20MT in Swat, but farmers avoid the crop for flawed marketing. Before the 2010 floods, Swat produced approximately 60 tons of trout in its 22 fish farms that was mostly consumed locally. Last July’s floods ravaged most of these hatcheries.

However, the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority with the assistance of a USAID project worth $1.2 million is repairing these hatcheries.

The local farmers also need a robust crop insurance system, a subsidised easy-credit scheme, financial support for the expansion of agriculture extension and farm engineering networks in the area, promotion of off season vegetables through ‘tunnel farming’ and training and support for small household businesses-fruit drying, production of fruit jams and fruit juices and women-centred livestock projects.

 

Tussle over tobacco pricing

Tussle over tobacco pricing

THE two-member committee set up by the federal ministry of food security and research to look into tobacco prices, assess its present cost of production and recommend new rates if necessary, has presented its report.

But with the Pakistan Tobacco Board (PTB) terming the exercise  unauthorised, tobacco companies resisting increase in minimum price (MP), the federal ministry of commerce has yet to decide whether to approve a new rate or retain the earlier minimum price. And with the tobacco purchase season to start early in July, tobacco growers are losing hope and patience.

They have filed suits in the court, are planning agitation, and intend to besiege tobacco purchase centres if the recommendations of the committee are not implemented before the start of the purchasing season.

The committee, led by Dr Muhammad Sharif, DG National Agriculture Research Council, formed after the growers had rejected the PTB committee report on tobacco’s cost of production (CoP) and MP and demanded increasing the price to Rs200/kg citing the skyrocketing prices of inputs. The committee also ruled against the PTB’s cost of production report while assessing it at Rs159.5/kg and suggested raising tobacco MP to Rs183.4/kg from Rs117/kg, earlier recommended by the PTB for the year 2012-13.

Later, Federal Crop Commissioner Dr Muahmmad Aslam Gil, who had also signed/notified the earlier PTB’s committee report, signed the Sharif report and notified the new CoP and price.

The growers welcomed the decision but the tobacco companies and the PTB questioned the report and its recommendations, though on separate grounds.

Abbas Khan Afridi, Minister of State for MoC, convened a meeting of all stakeholders on June 18 to discuss the issue but it remained inconclusive as growers and tobacco companies stuck to their stands. Mr Afridi then decided to talk to stakeholders separately to reach consensus decision on tobacco CoP and prices.

The PTB opposed the Sharif committee COP assessment exercise as unauthorised. “The assessment of tobacco COP and fixation of MP is the sole prerogative of the PTB under the PTB Ordinance 1968 and the MLO 487.

These have already been announced by a recognised/notified committee comprising representatives of tobacco growers, PTB members, representatives of Agriculture Policy Institute and national and multinational companies and PTB officials,” said an official of the PTB on condition of anonymity.

When asked, the official said the MoC would handle and decide the issue of new tobacco price ultimately as it was authorised under the law but he said that as Dr Aslam had also notified the new and earlier price, one wondered which one of his orders would be implemented.

“The growers are emotional, they should have approached the PTB, which is the relevant forum and should have pointed out any flaws/mistakes in the process of COP assessment and calculation by the PTB notified committee. All the members of the committee would have satisfied them on oath that no irregularity whatsoever had been committed in the process,” added the official.

Farmers allege the PTB is hands in glove with powerful tobacco companies and is not safeguarding the interests of growers. The official, however, rejected the allegation and said the PTB had safeguarded the interest of growers but it was also duty bound to take care of the interests of other stakeholders –the tobacco companies and dealers.

“The PTB is an organisation which is widely criticised by all for nothing,” he said. The approval of new price could lead to another situation. “What if the tobacco companies decide tomorrow not to purchase tobacco from growers? Can they be forced to buy it,” the official asked.

A grower responded by saying tobacco companies would necessarily purchase the crop directly or indirectly through middlemen as they have done in the past.

Liaqat Yousafzai, the Kashtkar Coordination Council general secretary, said the MoC meeting on June 18 remained inconclusive as the PTB and tobacco companies, especially the multinational ones, resisted approval of the new price.

“However, in case tobacco companies started purchasing tobacco before the approval of the new price, they won’t allow that.
We would besiege the purchase centres until our demands are accepted. We have challenged the delay in approval of CoP and the price recommended by the Sharif committee through two petitions in the Peshawar High Court. We are also forming a farmers’ volunteer movement in Swabi for a long struggle and have so far enlisted 500 farmers’ volunteers. We are also mobilising political support,” he said.

“Growers have every right to be paid a price considering its prices last year, inflation and global tobacco price trends and increases in prices of other crops and agriculture inputs and our profit margin,” he added.

Around 80,000 families in KP are depend on tobacco production and tobacco-companies buy around 85 million kg of tobacco from growers in KP. At Rs104/kg price last year, the rural economy of the militancy-hit KP is estimated to have pocketed revenues of around Rs12 billion which may go up to Rs18bn this year if the new price is implemented.

However, according to industry, any big raise in price will render the local cigarettes uncompetitive; encourage cheaper illegal foreign brands and lead tax to evasion This will ultimately hit the farmers as foreign brands will crowd out the local products.

Farmers say tobacco production could be increased to 300mn/kg annually and KP could earn billions more if export of tobacco is allowed from the province, and growers are encouraged through subsidised inputs, soft loans and crop insurance facilities.

%d bloggers like this: