Farmers` case remains unheeded
By Ahmad Fraz Khan | 5/25/2015

AS the Punjab government presents its next budget two weeks from now, the farmers have many complaints, as well as expectations.

Over the last one year, they have protested against the crashing prices of their produce. The governments, both federal and provincial, however, kept deflecting the blame on international price trends.

Growers also lamented the rising cost of production, but the government only expressed its helplessness owing to IMF conditionalities.

Paying the cumulative cost of it all, farmers hope that Punjab would come up with some solution to these problems, or at least, ways to mitigate their impact. During the pre-budget debate in the Punjab Assembly last month almost all members belonging to rural areas pointed out these problems, along with many more, and suggested ways to deal with them.

The farmers` bodies think that the provincial government should, broadly speaking, concentrate on three areas; soil, water and air. The soil health has been deteriorating for a number of factors. The cropping intensity has increased over 150pc as population grows and food requirements surge.

Imbalanced use of fertiliser has hit the soil like never before. Culturable waste is expanding because of gross over usage.

Backed by reams of research papers, experts maintain that soil health can make a difference of 35 to 80pc in yields of various crops. The farmers bodies think that Punjab must come up with concrete plans to restore soil`s health, which, it has ignored far too long.

Similarly, water quality and quantity are declining fast. A recent official report, which examined 52 samples of vegetables collected from nine divisional headquarters, found the vegetables infected because they were irrigated with polluted water.

Punjab gets around 54m acres feet of water from the national pool against its total requirement of over 100maf.

The difference is pumped out of soil, and sub-soil level has gone dangerously low in most parts of the province. Punjab would do better to concentrate on water quality and conservation.

Climatic changes are hitting the province and its agricultural planning regularly. This year`s difference between wheat estimates and actual production should serve as an eye opener. Till March end, the province was expecting a record crop of around 20m tonnes.

Within eight weeks, it lost around 2m tonnes, if not more, because of extreme weather conditions in different parts of the province.

Central Punjab received over 300mm of rain, along with strong winds and hail storms, turning crop estimates upside down. Since the wheat shock is quite current, it might serve as a reminder for Punjab to do something to counter the effects of changing climate.

In order to tackle these issues, Punjab needs to spend extra money on its research and development. The history, however, is not on the side of R&D in Punjab. Last five years` development allocations show sharp fluctuations. In 2009-10, Punjab allocated Rs919m for the entire development of the sector.

Next year, the figure dropped to Rs136m. It went up to Rs295m in 201112 before peaking at Rs2,123m in 2012-13 but went down to a paltry Rs54m last year. As the figures show, there is hardly any consistency in allocations and project implementation. During this period, the province got additional Rs800bn under 7th National Finance Commission Award.

Another area that the farmers think should receive Punjab`s priority is updating its laws that provide enabling environment for new research and development.

If the fate of the seed act is still not clear since 2008, someone needs to look after it. If pesticides ordinance was issued in 1971, it has missed all chemical developments ever since and needs to be upgraded. If Punjab and the federation have been putting money on tractor subsidy, they also need to ascertain metallurgical realities of these machines. The fertiliser control order, though updated time to time, still leaves some loopholes causing problems for the sector and the farmers.

Published in Dawn