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February 2, 2020

A bleak future for small farmers


February 2, 2020

LAHORE: Fixing a crop target without ensuring better extension services, making tall claims about livestock without improving the productivity of meat or milk, and promoting fish production in increasingly polluted water are the hallmark of all federal and provincial agricultural planning.

Agriculture sector is in more dire states than the manufacturing sector, but its deterioration has been ignored as the major stakeholders are small farmers having no voice in the society or power corridors. The various agriculture departments would have to move in tandem to ensure better productivity.

These include the agriculture extension, irrigation, livestock and the fisheries departments. The performance of all these departments is interrelated. Any slippage from one would hamper the overall growth of this sector.

Availability of adequate irrigation water has always been an issue as the shortage of canal water is on the rise with every passing year. Efficiency of irrigation department remains an issue for the last several years.

Canal system is not being maintained on an annual basis.

The de-silting throughout the country is either not done or is lopsided. Uneven desilting in all regions of the irrigation canals hampers optimum flow of water.

The canal lining project, started with great fervour, is flawed in many areas and might have contributed to the unequal distribution of water within the same region. But even that program has almost been shelved.

Monitoring and execution of canal lining is of great importance, as the concrete lining is a permanent structure. All flaws incorporated in canals that have been lined would stay till the infrastructure exists or is not upgraded.

Water availability in tail-end areas is still a problem, which needs strict monitoring based on transparent accountability of erring parties.

The rulers would have to take action against powerful large farmers who deprive small farmers of their rightful water share.

Federal and provincial agriculture departments fix crop targets without proper homework. In case of cotton, they ought to assess the availability of certified and high yielding seeds before setting targets.

Since everyone knows that cotton crop is susceptible to various pest attacks, planners should ensure that proper pesticides are available in the market if any pest attack occurs.

We arrogantly fixed a higher target of 12 million cotton bales last year, but ended up harvesting a little over eight million bales. Cotton production target always looks difficult in absence of new seed variety and incapability of the agricultural extension departments to apprehend those selling fake or unconfirmed BT cotton seed.

As far as wheat is concerned, no target can be fixed unless the government makes sure that the sugarcane crop would be harvested in time.

The ideal time for wheat harvest is the first week of November; by the start of December the productivity of wheat starts declining one percent each day sowing is delayed. Moreover, the country has not been able to develop new high yielding wheat varieties since 1960s.

Since livestock sector has grown appreciably in last few decades, it has been wrongly assumed that the government has played any significant role in the development of livestock sector.

Yes there has been some government facilitation in this regard, but it mostly benefited the large livestock forms. Small farmers are the ones who developed livestock in Punjab beyond the targets fixed by the government.

In fact, livestock has protected the farmers from the adverse impact of weather that harms their crop production.

They rear cattle, poultry and milking animals, goats and sheep besides tilling their small farms ranging from 3-12.5 acres. The income they get from livestock helps them withstand the low price they get for their crops.

These farmers could earn much more had the livestock department paid attention to improving the quality of livestock being reared at small farms.

Productivity of livestock in Pakistan is one of the lowest in the world. Pakistani farmers get only one seventh of the milk from a cow compared with milk obtained by European farmers.

Poultry industry of the country is one of the most fragmented poultry industries in the world.

The poultry and livestock farmers face problems in obtaining quality vaccines, whereas the livestock extension staff is not efficient and tends to ignore small farmers.

No additional budgetary measures would prove beneficial unless the department gets reformed.

There are few dedicated individuals whose performance is visible in the regions they serve.

No additional amount has been allocated in last few years to promote livestock in Cholistan that has the potential to provide animal protein to the whole country.

Freshwater fish from Punjab were once one of the best food sources in the province. Now, the pollution of rivers and canals has reduced the supplies to bare minimum.

We throw millions of tons of municipal and industrial waste in our sea making like unbearable for the marine animals in the sea. Ultimately, all the sewage and waste thrown in waters enters our food chain.