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May 18, 2021

Ambitious project in agriculture sector planned

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved in principle to bring a paradigm shift in the neglected agriculture sector through doling out a package of Rs100 billion in the upcoming budget for improving milk production, grains productivity and providing Rs1,000 subsidy on fertilizer bags. In return, the government is aimed at doubling the income of farmers from the existing levels of Rs10,000 billion to Rs20,000 billion over the next seven years period. The results of incentivized package will start providing benefits to farmers within the stipulated time-frame of the incumbent regime.

The government is going to launch a special project for improving the breeds of milking animals through artificial insemination of cows and buffaloes for increasing herds at an estimated cost of Rs30 billion in the upcoming budget. The insemination will be provided to farmers at nominal cost and in return the milk production will be doubled within a few years and farmers income will be jacked up by Rs300 billion, the assessment done by the government shows.

This highly ambitious target for doubling the income of farmers through increasing productivity of grains such as wheat, rice and maize as well as livestock possessed a political angle as the incumbent regime wants to deliver in the rural areas to get voters vote in favor of PTI in the next general elections.

“Yes, the PM has approved a comprehensive package for the agriculture sector at an estimated cost of around Rs100 billion that will be unveiled along with upcoming budget for 2021-22. We are calculating the cost of this package for achieving objectives of increased productivity, efficiency, introducing management skills and achieving poverty alleviation,” Special Assistant to PM on Food Security Jamshed Iqbal Cheema told a select group of reporters here at the Punjab House on Sunday evening. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry was also present on the occasion.

Jamshed Iqbal Cheema seemed upbeat on introducing reforms in the farm sector and said that the government would give priority to increase production of fruits and vegetables, whose production would be jacked up by five times from 14 million tons to 70 million tons over next the seven years.

While replying to a query about distribution of work between him and Minister for Food Security Fakhar Imam, he stated that his boss was Prime Minister Imran Khan who had given him the mandate to bring a paradigm shift in agriculture and livestock sectors through devising short, medium- and long-term plans.

He said that Pakistan’s agriculture sector was hostage to subsistence agriculture and failed to transform itself into commercialization. For preparing the agriculture package, he said that they had done reserve calculation and found that Pakistan was deficient in meeting its food requirements. In the world, there is grain requirement of 370 kg per capita on annual basis but in Pakistan the total production of wheat, rice and maize stood at 44 million tons, so on an average the per capita consumption of grains stood at 170 kg per person. The calorie intake stood at 3,100 to 3,700 per day per person but in Pakistan it hovers around 2,150 calorie intake per day per person. While referring to the data, he said that 45 percent population was malnourished. There is a lack of understanding with regard to the agriculture sector as in order to fully understand it, it requires knowledge of science, health, economics, climate and culture, he added.

“The flow of surface water is the biggest constraint for the agriculture sector as per capita water availability is on decline at a rapid pace. It stood at 5,600 cusecs when Pakistan came into being but now it had dropped to 1,250 cusecs,” he said and added that the water availability on per capita basis stood at 2,500 cusecs in India and 2,600 cusecs in China.

Referring to the World Bank study, Cheema said that the best way for poverty alleviation was utilizing increased resources on farm and livestock sector. When one dollar was utilized for agriculture sector, it multiplied four times, he added.

He said that the government would facilitate the private sector for establishing cold storages at junction of rural areas as the government wanted to initiate such activities in the rural areas where the population preferred to stay there and avoid migrating to urban areas.

In order to enhance productivity of grains, he said that the per acre yield of wheat would be increased from 31 maunds to 50 maunds and overall production of wheat would be increased to 50 million tons. It could be achieved through mobilization of farmers by creating an awareness as long cold weather could increase productivity. He said that moong could be sowed between two major crops as it could be done within 70 to 80 days.

On rice, he said that the farmers will be educated to produce different varieties instead of producing only basmati. The maize production could be increased to 40 million tonnes against the existing level of 11 million tons.

For improving milk production, he said that there would be American insemination of cows and buffaloes and within years the milk production could be doubled. He said the government had prepared a project at estimated cost of Rs30 billion. He said that insemination was available in the market at Rs5,000 but the government will launch the project in the coming budget for providing at nominal charges. He said that milk testing facilities would be increased and a pilot project launched in Lahore for testing purity of milk at entry points would be replicated into Rawalpindi/ Islamabad, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Multan. The provincial food authorities would be strengthened, he added. This insemination project will be launched at cost sharing of 50:50 percent by both the Centre and the provinces.

He said that the government would provide Rs1,000 per bag subsidy on DAP fertilizer. In totality, he said the government was eyeing to increase wheat production by at least 25 percent from the existing levels, maize from 7-8 million tons to 25 million tons and hybrid rice from 8 million tons to 12 million tons over the next two years.

“It’s a doable plan and the agriculture sector can be transformed,” he said and added that the government would provide subsidy of Rs40 billion on fertilizers. This project will also be launched at 50:50 percent cost borne by the federal and provincial governments. He said that food processing sector would also be incentivized. He also claimed that the government had transferred an additional Rs1,100 billion into the rural economy. He also said that the production of wheat in Punjab had gone up from initial estimates of 19.6 million tons to 20.9 million tons for the current fiscal year.