Food insecurity if no agricultural reforms soon 

Lahore: The unseasonable rainfalls and hailstorms in Pakistan from April 15 to 17 devastated the standing crops of the Rabi season, especially in southern and central Punjab. Besides wheat, the primary contributor to the agriculture economy, various other standing crops such as maize, mustard, tomato, cotton, mango and citrus orchards were also affected.

Talking to the Truth Tracker the Agriculture Minister for Punjab Malik Nauman Ahmed Langrial said that 35,000 acres of wheat and corn crops have been devastated due to rainfalls. Following the damage, farmers demanded compensation and asked the government to purchase their crops mainly wheat on reasonable prices. Food Minister for Punjab Samiullah Chaudhry told the Truth Tracker, “The government is actively working to map out a strategy to compensate the loss of the growers.” On the other hand, a farmer from Sahiwal, Fayyaz and a landowner Sarkhail Ali Sarwar, said that the government did not reach them yet nor they have any high hopes of getting compensation from the state administration. Landowner Sarkhail added that from the last four years growers have been bearing the loss of pre-monsoon effects on the crops but till date the government has not devised any strategy to educate the farmer community on changing weather patterns and help them in acquiring and applying new technological techniques in securing their crops let alone per acre yield. The farmer community have long been demanding relief from the government.

Due to continuous delay in much needed agricultural reforms and lack of use of new technology the Indian Punjab’s per acre production is much higher than the per acre yield of Pakistan’s Punjab despite having the same land features and environmental patterns. Agricultural growth has contributed a lot to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India i.e. 15.4% of its GDP of 7.23% (2018-19) which is much higher than the world’s average of 6.4%, as India has become one of the major exporters and second largest producer of agricultural products in the world. On the contrary, Pakistan’s agriculture exports are far less than the agriculture potential of the country. Talking to the Truth tracker Professor of Economics at the University of the Central Punjab Dr Qais Aslam said, “Climate change affects the GDP by -2% generally”. He expressed no high hopes for an increase in agricultural exports since the country first needs to address the issue of food shortage.

While responding to the expert’s concerns for the need to import food especially wheat, Sami Ullah Chaudhry said, “As far as the need for the import of the wheat crop is concerned the PML-N government had spared 7.2 million hectares of wheat crops and to date, we have 1.5 million metric tonnes of stored wheat crops so there will be no need to import wheat.” Dr Qais, on the other hand, lamented, “The government says that there is no food insecurity. On the other hand, it is the continuously increasing food prices which clearly depicts that the ground reality is the opposite.” He also told the Truth Tracker that if they divided agricultural statistics of the economic survey of Pakistan (2017-18) on 208 million population we have stored food for only 33 days. Moreover, according to the reports, 40% of food is destroyed in the market due to unfeasible conditions.

Despite the fact that unseasoned rainfall spells started a month earlier, the government did not take any measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, especially on Rabi season crops. In this regard Fayyaz, a farmer said: “Small peasant is most affected by the climate changes”. He further told that the government do not have a proper mechanism to tell growers before time about the extreme weather events. Usually, a farmer gets to know a few days earlier and it is almost impossible to cut these crops within three-four days. “In one day only crop spread in 4 canals can be cut at maximum”, he said. He further told Truth Tracker, “35% of my wheat and 50% of my mustard crops have been destroyed. Now it is very difficult to cut them since the crops are turned sideward and in this way, no one claims tender to cut the crops since they do not get the required money for it.” In this regard, Dr Qais told that in the coming years the issue of food insecurity and undernutrition will exacerbate due to the devastation of the lands of 40% small farmer who eats what he grows. “At present, we are on thin ice,” says Dr Qais.

The situation in Balochistan and Sindh is even worse than in Punjab because of the devastation of fertile land due to droughts in these provinces. Moreover, heavy spells of rains in the country especially in Sindh earlier this year damaged wheat and mango crops, particularly in central and southern Sindh. Prolonged rainy winters also affected the date crops as they bloom well in a hot and dry climate. Dr Qais said that the food insecurity in Sindh and Balochistan is acute because the provincial governments do not inter-sell agricultural products. He says that this is irresponsibility on the part of the country’s agriculture department.

To make things worse, the excessive cutting of mangrove forests, no construction of reservoirs to store rapidly melting Himalayan glacier belt and rise in sea levels are also the reasons Pakistan has been experiencing an increase in extreme weather events i.e. floods and droughts especially in Sindh, Southern Punjab and Balochistan.

Dr Qais also said that the previous government left the agriculture sector entirely on the mercy of market prices. Secondly, it bought the periphery fertile land around big cities from the small growers and gave approval for the construction of housing schemes on this land. “The landlords (the political elite) are playing the role of slave owners for small peasants,” says he.

Experts suggest structural reforms in the agriculture sector not only to improve the condition of the farmers but also, to alleviate food scarcity in the country as well as for proactive contribution in country’s GDP and exports. Last year, the Punjab government took a number of fast track measures by launching the connected agriculture platform in which the farmers, through smartphones were supposed to access weather updates, including the provision of easy loans, direct transfer of subsidies and the provision of better seeds, crop diversification, promotion of high value and less water-intensive crops and the use of biotechnology etc. Dr Qais said that these were some frenetic reforms taken by the government which will have a meagre if no effect on the overall production of the agriculture sector. He suggested land and agriculture reforms are inevitable for revitalizing agriculture in Pakistan. “We need to minimize mismanagement of water supply on farming lands. Moreover, the division of agriculture resources and profit can be done according to the size and production of agriculture land, under the supervision of the government”, he said. Moreover, steps for boosting corporate farming to alleviate food insecurity, farmer supporting price policies, encouraging research and its application on the agriculture sector, intelligent farming by encouraging medium and small enterprises (SME’s) to venture in agriculture technologies are the much-needed reforms suggested by Dr Qais. Besides, the government also needs to restructure seed and subsidy provision mechanism, revise the size of the landholdings, eliminating the role of middleman in the sale and purchase of the crops including better infrastructure and telecommunication facilities to farmers for direct contact with the state.

Former ambassador to South Korea, Poland and Middle Eastern states Murad Ali brought home the need to introduce better preservation methods for harvested crops and climate change mitigation methods within agricultural reforms. He further stressed, “Water management and improved water taxation for saving the agriculture sector from devastation is also the need of the hour.”

Murad Ali further highlighted the importance of research and development in the agriculture sector. He said that back in 1970’s South Korea was going through agriculture crisis but it vigorously reformed its sector and toady, South Korea exports agriculture products including the water-intensive crop of rice. “Initiation of coordination between agriculture academicians and policymakers can help Pakistan revitalize its crumbling agriculture sector”, he said. The empirical study named Economic perspective of major field crops of Pakistan in 2015 stated that crops including wheat have a positive and significant relationship in increasing the agricultural GDP of Pakistan as depicted in the Fiscal year 2017-18 in which agricultural growth surpassed its target of 3.5% to 3.8 % of the total GDP of the country. Overall the agriculture contributes 18.9% to the country’s GDP which was 24 % a decade ago. If the required reforms are brought in the agriculture sector with the introduction of latest technologies and, climate change awareness and help to the cultivators, the agriculture sector has manifold potential to contribute much in foreign exchange earnings and in alleviating food insecurity of the country, thus improving the overall state of the economy. On the other hand, experts like Dr Qais and Policymakers like Murad Ali stresses more on the need to eliminate food insecurity then think of boosting the market economy by the contribution of the agriculture sector and earning foreign exchange through agriculture exports.

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