Crisis in agriculture
Whereas the agriculture sector plunged into crisis some 30 years ago, it reached to crescendo when Agriculture Ministry was devolved to provinces under 18th Amendment as the provinces slashed its budget by 60 percent despite the transfer 57 percent resources from center to the federating units under 7th National Finance Commission Award. The financial resources are grossly misappropriated in Sindh and Baluchistan. The scandal of recovery of 600 million rupees from the house of Mushtaq Raisani, finance secretary of Baluchistan is only one example of misappropriation of government funds.
While giving briefing to the Speaker National Assembly, Secretary Ministry of National Food Security said that federal government is launching a programme agriculture emergency under which Rs. 287 will be spent in collaboration with provincial governments during next five years on increasing per acre yield of wheat, rice and sugarcane. The production of wheat shall be enhanced by 350 Kg per acre and rice by 500 kg.
Past history of agriculture sector tells that land owners of 12 acres to 50 acres have always contributed in a big way in increasing the production of cereal and non-cereal crops. But financial assistance under the agriculture package has always been doled out to big landlords. Serious efforts for the first time were made by President Ayub Khan Government by initiating modest scale but genuine agriculture reforms when 8.5 million acres of land was resumed for distribution among landless peasants. Big storage dams were built and agriculture inputs including high quality seeds were provided to farmers at cheaper rates. Agriculture Research Centers were tasked to evolve better variety of seeds. On the contrary, in farcical land reforms of Z.A Bhutto only half a million acres of land was resumed as majority of landlords were alerted well before announcement of land reforms to complete transfer of their lands to kith and kin and faithful servants. It was in his government that government lands were given to land lords on lease instead of landless peasants. Construction of big and small storage dams was abandoned. In Ayub Khan Government, priority was given to agriculture sector development in the first and second five year plans. In Z.A Bhutto Government five year planning was discarded.
The utter neglect of water conservation and wastage of available scarce water resources creates 40 percent shortfall of irrigation water for Kharif season every year. The most feasible hydro power project is Kalabagh dam which can provide irrigation water to millions of acres of agriculture land in Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. But the project has been made politically controversial.
The agriculture research centers have been made dysfunctional and focus has been shifted to the import of genealogically modified seeds which are very expensive. Other inputs like fertilizers insecticides and pesticides are no longer affordable for small farmers. Livestock activity on micro and macro level was a source of natural manure for agriculture which has declined. Moreover, farmers do not get reasonable price of their products at markets. The programme of agriculture emergency will succeed only when short term and long term solutions are in place for water conservation, significantly lowering the prices of better quality seeds and other inputs and removing inefficiencies in the marketing of agriculture products.