During the last fiscal year, the performance of agriculture sector has remained dismal as it witnessed a negative growth of 0.19 per cent against 2.53 per cent growth during the same period last year. Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16 points out that major crops failed while wheat and sugarcane production witnessed a positive growth of 1.58 per cent and 4.22 per cent respectively.
The biggest hit has been faced by the cotton crop — the production of which plummeted by around 28 per cent this year. This, according to government sources, had a negative impact on overall growth, to the tune of at least 0.5 per cent. The farmers faced huge losses and many of them could not recover their expenses.
As the government has announced plans to revive this sector, there is a need to look into the causes that have led to the crisis. There is also a need to determine whether the Kissan packages announced by the federal and provincial governments from time to time did any good to the farmers.
Khalid Mahmood Khokhar, president, Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) says high input cost was the major reason why agriculture has suffered in Pakistan. The yield, he says, “plummeted due to changing weather patterns, diseases, pest attacks, use of bad quality and smuggled seed, making it impossible for the farmer to survive,” he says. “Farmers also faced tough competition in the field of exports. India that heavily subsidises its agriculture was in a better position to market its crops in the international market due to the price advantage its farmer enjoys.”
Kokhar says it is no secret that revenue department officials, irrigation officers, power distribution company staff and agriculture department officials add to the problems of farmers. He says PKI was formed with the main object to unite farmers and counter these exploitative practices.
Khokhar compares some of the input costs incurred by Pakistani and Indian farmers and states that a urea bag costs Rs450 in India but Rs2050 in Pakistan, DAP fertilizer costs Rs1600 in India and Rs4000 in Pakistan, subsidised green diesel is available in India as compared to that available on commercial rates in Pakistan.
In many areas of Indian Punjab, electricity is available free of cost whereas in Pakistan it is available for a few hours and farmers have to depend on expensive diesel. “This is the way countries facilitate their farmers and ensure food security whereas our rulers have also minted taxes from the sector,” he comments.
While these perennial issues have been there for long, changing weather patterns and pest attacks in the absence of quality high-yielding hybrid seed worsened the situation. Anis ul Haq, Secretary, All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) says that “the pink boll worm attack damaged standing cotton crop over a huge area. The pink boll worm has developed immunity against Bt cotton crop as the hybrid seed has not undergone progressive development in the country.” The changing rain pattern also destroyed cotton crop in areas where there was excessive rainfall and the cotton plant got exposed to more than required water at that particular time.
“The pink boll worm transfers to the next crop and is very hard to decimate. There are suggestions that a crop season should be missed altogether in the affected area to get rid of this worm,” he adds.
He stresses the need for developing Bt cotton seed according to the local needs and controlling smuggled Bt cotton seed in Pakistan. Bt cotton seed boost yield and develop resistance against pests and diseases.
The development of high quality and high yielding seed is imperative as the average crop yield in Pakistan is very low as compared to the production levels of the advanced countries of the world. Research at advanced level should also be carried out to boost agricultural production. Therefore, it is high time that research should be the focus of agricultural universities and colleges spread all over the country.
Plant Breeders Rights Bill, 2016 has been approved by the National Assembly as well as the Senate. Pakistan being a member of World Trade Organisation (WTO) has the obligation to provide rights to the breeders of new plant varieties under Article 27.3 (b) of Trade Related Aspects for Intellectual Property Rights (TRIP’s) Agreement.
Under this article, each member country has to “provide protection of plant varieties either by patents or by an effective system or by any combination thereof.” The passage of this bill and its implementation would attract investment in seed research and development in Pakistan at the one hand and, on the other; it would give protection of rights to the developers and breeders of new technologies and crop varieties. At the moment, research is limited due to the fear of piracy.
Muhammad Mushtaq, a trader in Lahore’s wholesale vegetable market, says the uncontrolled and uncalculated supply and demand mechanism also makes farmers suffer. State intervention, he says, is nowhere. “The agriculture department people do not guide the farmers on what to do.”
This happened with the potato crop that was grown in abundance but the surplus could not be exported in time. This forced many to throw away their crop. “The government could have averted this situation by offering freight subsidy to farmers so that they could offer a good rate in the international market,” he says.
The issues faced by agriculture sector are perennial but the overall fall in commodity prices over the last couple of years has adversely hit the farmers. They are more concerned about immediate recovery of their input costs than anything else. Is there a solution? “Yes,” says Khokhar. “The government must announce support price of crops others than wheat as well. Rice and cotton growers desperately need this. This is not a far-fetched idea; India offers support price on 26 crops.”