It has been 69 years since the Islamic Republic of Pakistan got independence with people aspiring to develop the country in all sectors. But, after nearly seven decades, the country’s agriculture sector is still plagued with myriad issues. Although this sector is considered to be the backbone of the economic growth of developing countries like Pakistan, yet no due heed is being paid to the development of this crucial sector. As per the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-16, this sector contributed 19.8 percent in GDP and was by far the largest employer absorbing 42.3 percent of the country’s total labour force.
The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-16 revealed that during FY 2016, the performance of agriculture sector as a whole remained dismal as it witnessed a negative growth of 0.19 percent — the lowest in the last 15 years. This was against a growth of 2.53 percent witnessed during the same period in the last year. In spite of the fact that the Prime Minister had announced a “Kissan Package” of Rs. 341 billion in 2015 with an avowed objective to uplift the agricultural growth, the sector could not perform well and a principal reason is that the package got politicized.
Agriculture isn’t all about growing crops for feeding the country’s population; its subsectors like livestock, horticulture, fisheries and poultry do also play a vital role in bringing huge amounts of foreign exchange in the country through export of commodities either in raw form or after value addition. Reportedly, about 27 percent of country’s total area is currently under cultivation. However, it is utterly unfortunate to observe that this sector is still crying for attention of our rulers and is still being disdained by them through an unending neglect. Provincial Assembly of Punjab presented a proof for it. The 10th of February 2016 was scheduled for discussions on agriculture but being aware of the fact that the province leads in agricultural production, only 20 legislators came to attend the session. Even more distressing was the fact that the opposition couldn’t persuade even its own members to be present during the debate — only 2 of its legislators were present in the session. Due to the lack of quorum, the honourable speaker adjourned the session.
During the past fiscal year i.e. 2015-16, no significant progress on the issue has been witnessed in other provinces too.
Instead of political wrangling and bickering over petty issues, the elected representatives must draw up prudent policies to uplift the agriculture of the country.
Here is an analysis of the factors that are impediments to the growth of agriculture in Pakistan.
Food security has emerged as the biggest threat to the world, and it is mainly due to the phenomenon of climate change that has direct bearing on the production of agricultural goods and livestock. As per the definition provided by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” But, unfortunately, more than 10 million people in Pakistan are living in want of food, shelter and livelihood and also of assistance to earn bread and butter for their families.
Another issue is related to non-certified seeds used for cultivation on a relatively larger scale. Currently, only 4-7 percent of rice-growers and 10-12 percent of wheat-growers use certified seeds. Non-certified seeds are of poor quality hence cause reduction in quality and quantity of the yield. Since poor quality seeds are more vulnerable to diseases and negative effects of climate change, sowing them results in lower output and thus financial losses for the growers.
Another technical problem is improper soil nutrients and disease management. Farmers must be educated and trained in this regard as applying recommended doses of pesticides and proper application of fertilizers can enhance their yields by 40-50 percent. Good agronomic operations can enhance production by 25-37 percent while better plant protection measures have ability to cause an increase of at least 15 percent.
Improper pricing policies also impede agricultural development and financial growth. Distressed by the lower incomes, farmers move to other professions or start migrating to cities thus causing rapid urbanization in the country. Farmers often moan of higher input costs as compared to the prices they get for their yield. The role of ‘middleman’ also adds fuel to the fire of miseries as they cause financial damages to the farmers through less and/or late payments. In Punjab, so often farmers take to roads to protest against the absence of pricing policies.
The ‘mill mafia’ also makes growers cry. Recently, the cotton belt in southern Punjab has been damaged by increasing number of sugar mills in that region due to which farmers switched to sugarcane crop as it would incur lower transportation costs. Sugar mills in Sindh usually commence crushing season in October but the growers assert that the prevailing trend causes serious, negative effects on the sowing of wheat crop. It is pertinent to mention here that according to an estimate, if sowing of wheat is delayed to 10th November, it may reduce the yield by 15kg per acre.
Now comes the flood factor; that is a recurring phenomenon in Pakistan. Floods damage huge swaths of cultivated land and cause displacement of people from one area to another. Floods take a heavy toll on livestock, poultry and horticultural products also. But it seems like that we haven’t learned anything yet.
Spurious fertilizers and pesticides are also damaging our crops but still no system of checks and balances is in place to monitor the products available in the market. Moreover, the net benefit of government subsidies too doesn’t reach the growers. Improper distribution of irrigation water is yet another issue.
To cut a long story of problems short, it is high time that those in corridors of power paid due heed to the development of this sector and took radical steps to safeguard the future of agriculture. It is not entirely a government responsibility; and considering it a national cause, we all should come forward to raise our voice. Our farmers are our heroes and we need to train them so that they may provide a much-needed boost to the agriculture. If we don’t do it now, we may have to face scarcity of food in near future.