Agriculture landscape 2004
By Zafar Samdani
The agriculture landscape was marked by two major
developments in 2004, one extremely negative as the wheat
crop remained below food needs of the populace and forced
the government to import the commodity to meet domestic
requirements while the other was equally positive with a
bumper cotton crop.
the scales ultimately weigh between benefits and losses from
the two crops cannot be assessed yet a lower last wheat
output could cast a dark shadow over the new crop now in the
The government has fixed a target of 20.8 million ton crop
but how that is met is a difficult proposition because wheat
is now at an early stage and much would depend on weather
conditions and availability of water, which continues to
remain in short supply.
Even worse, the management of water is beset by controversy,
infighting between the two main agriculture provinces of
Punjab and Sindh and inefficient handling by officials
presiding over distribution of water are hardly helpful.
The backlog from last year's wheat is still not clear. With
imports of 1.5 million tons already received or ordered,
there are reports of more imports. That could offset any
gains made by cotton or, for that matter rice that yielded
higher income from exports last year. But for cane falling
below target and expectations, the over all picture does
present attractive features.
There are wheels within wheels for wheat. Cotton crushing
was late in both Punjab and Sindh and that is bound to have
affected sowing. The Farmers Association of Pakistan (FAP)
has challenged the government's assertion of higher
cultivation with an argument that holds weight.
Can more acreage be brought under wheat after cane crushing
did not commence on time and picking of cotton still in
progress in some areas the answer is certainly not in the
Even if cultivation acreage is considered substantial, it
can be anything but an occasion for celebrations because the
situation implies delayed sowing in many areas. This acreage
has not been tabulated but there can be no denying that the
wheat crop was not sown all over at the right time and that
adds up to loss in product. But the government circles sound
enthusiastic and optimistic about at fair crop. They must
have a paradise of their own to expect the best when ground
conditions do not count for a highly productive crop.
A lot would depend on the water situation that is anything
but promising. It would be critical not merely for wheat but
other crops also, particularly rice and cane.
The latter crop seems to have lost its priority status with
the government but that may turn out to be only an
impression because many sugar mill owners are members of
elected houses and even though the uniformed President,
General Musharraf would not be looking towards them for
support and strength, their pressure would be unavoidable
for maintaining a democracy facade.
Another factor that could hamper high crops is fertilizer.
The managers of the sector have, in their immense,
unmatchable wisdom, imported urea and marketing it at
subsidized rate while a certain quantity, although quite
low, was exported.
The import of urea was hardly needed in the context of
domestic production and known crop needs. Further, while
urea nourishes crops, what the farmers should be applying
more than what they are using at present is DAP. But DAP is
expensive and beyond the financial resources of a large
number of farmers. Moreover, importers wait for lowering of
DAP's price in the international market and that restricts
its timely supply to a certain extent.
What the federal government needs is greater coordination
between Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) and
commerce ministry to ensure on schedule availability of
inputs for crops. It is not an insurmountable hurdle. Any
conclusion can be drawn when the two ministries work at
The government's policies and pledges of officials,
beginning with the President's package in June last year
have been positive but it is difficult to find much evidence
of their fulfilment on ground small farmers.
An important component of the sector is small farmers. They
seem to occupy the highest position in the priorities of
policy makers but concrete benefits for them continue to be
confined to words.
They remain on the wrong side when it comes to safeguarding
their interests, for inexpensive availability of inputs,
grant of loans and protecting them from exploitation of the
Their contribution is vital for better performance from the
sector. But lately, it appears that perhaps a way has been
found to tackle this problem through buying lands of small
landowners for house building projects.
Both the government and private sector entrepreneurs who
appear to enjoy the patronage of authorities that matter are
doing this. They are indeed involved in a big way. This is a
disastrous prescription for the agriculture sector, a
development bound to increase poverty, shift many of the
country's wretched to urban centres where unemployment is
already rising. The greed of a few is being translated in
ruination for many.
The impact of this land-buying spree, often with the help of
coercive methods, is shrinking of fertile land and in time,
certain to be reflected in lower produce and supply of
vegetables because lands being purchased for housing schemes
are mostly located on the periphery of major urban centres.
Citizens should prepare themselves for food with a minimum
of vegetable or for buying the commodity at extremely
The housing society phenomenon also reflects negatively on
the attitude of the government towards small crops. The
entire emphasis is on major cash crops while small crops and
vegetables are being ignored. The policies are lopsided, to
say the least and this does not augur well for the
The area that urgently needs the attention of the government
is reduced supply of water. Admittedly, the authorities are
neither rainmakers nor posses other means for enhancing
The President referred to the construction of major water
reservoirs in his address to the nation last Thursday but
every one realizes that the gulf between pious intentions
and practical difficulties is huge in this case.
One actually does not know if the reservoirs are being used
as a political card or the government is genuinely trying to
augment Pakistan's dwindling water resources. Whatever the
fact, it is difficult to envisage the building of dams at
this point in time in view of the known hard stance of many
segments in the country on reservoirs. The very mention of
the world Kalabagh triggers a controversy.
The regrettable thing is lack of planning for maximum
harnessing of resources. There are crops that are
economically no less beneficial to Pakistan than cane and
rice, potentially of greater worth indeed.
The most important and valuable of these crops are sunflower
and canola. The government should try to persuade farmers to
cultivate them and assure them of the right price for their
This would reduce the continuously escalating import bill
for edible oils. But that mean controlling the importers
lobby that has a vested interest in undermining edible's
It is a very strong lobby that has succeeded in getting such
officials transferred in the past that were unwilling to
subscribe to their views. All this means that the government
is powerless against vested interest groups.
Under the circumstances, the best one can do is hope that
the farming sector would continue fighting odds. But what we
have is not the ideal environment for obtaining the best
from the country's agriculture.