Provincial harmony must for healing agriculture

The PTI government had promised to declare an agriculture emergency and revise the National Water Policy, perhaps sparing little thought for the complications it involved.

The web portal developed to track the 100-day performance of the government claims that a national agriculture emergency working group has been set up. No information is provided about the constitution of the group and the work it has done so far. Imposing the emergency in agriculture requires constitutional backing and complete interprovincial harmony. With what magic wand the working group will achieve both remains unknown.

As for upgrading and implementing the existing National Water Policy, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) had set up an interprovincial committee. That committee’s first meeting remained inconclusive and its members will meet again in the first week of December, according to newspaper reports.

Water scarcity has hit Sindh and Balochistan badly and poor farmers are bearing an increased cost of inputs, such as gas, electricity, seeds and fertilisers

Sindh is demanding a key change in the formula for water distribution among provinces. Punjab fears the change might cut its present water share and affect agriculture badly.

Sindh says the current water sharing mechanism has already lowered agricultural output in the province.

The government claims that it has initiated engagement with lending institutions to fulfil one of its key agriculture manifesto points — to subsidise farmers and improve their access to finance through innovative lending products, such as warehouse receipt financing.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had launched warehouse receipt financing years ago. It is now looking into how banks have so far used this system to improve farmers’ access to formal finance. With banks’ collaboration, this system can be upgraded and other agri lending products introduced. Bankers are optimistic that this will happen soon.

For transforming farm produce markets and incentivising value addition in agriculture, the PTI government has so far drafted a piece of legislation. Once approved, it will allow private sector companies to enter the strategic food storage business currently under the aegis of the public sector. The competition thus created is expected to reduce the cost of storage.

Besides, the government and the central bank are working together to promote food processing in the SME sector with a focus on exports, officials claim. But senior bankers say they have so far not received any specific guidelines about lending to SMEs in the food sector, adding that the central bank’s old prudential regulations on SME lending continue to serve as the core regulatory framework for financing all types of companies in this segment.

The PTI had also promised to revamp the livestock sector with an aim to achieve self-sufficiency in milk and milk-based products, increase meat production massively and make millions of small livestock farmers more prosperous.

The 100-day performance tracker claims that a national livestock emergency working group has been set up. But its constitution and the terms of reference have not been shared with the public.

In Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the PTI is in power, work on fulfilling the party promises on the agriculture sector has already been initiated. At least, this is the impression the PTI wants to create through its 100-day performance tracker. But for reasons best known to the authorities, the details of the ‘initiated’ plans have not been shared with the general public or media.

Revolutionising agriculture is a serious business. The previous governments of both the PPP and the PML-N made some efforts to improve the state of agriculture. The incumbent PTI government can also contribute to this ongoing process. But it is naïve to expect that any government can revolutionise agriculture in just 100 days.

All pre-election PTI promises in this regard should be seen in the context of that time. And now the party’s claims of having done “this” or “that” without offering details should be viewed in today’s context. The relationship between the federation and Sindh, the second largest province and the second biggest contributor to agricultural economy, suffers from a lack of mutual trust. Water scarcity has hit Sindh and Balochistan badly and poor farmers are bearing an increased cost of inputs, including gas, electricity, seeds and fertilisers. The rupee is down and general inflation up. Besides, talks of deeper involvement of China and Saudi Arabia in our agriculture lack sufficient transparency, which is creating anxiety.

Some sweet talking on agriculture transformation makes a lot of sense, but only politically!

Mohiuddin Aazim: Dawn.com