Snap­shot Sav­ing the bread bas­ket

Enterprise - - Contents -

The agri­cul­tural sec­tor in Pak­istan ap­pears to be un­der great scru­tiny for lack of ef­fi­ciency and global com­pet­i­tive­ness. As Asad Umar, for­mer CEO of En­gro Cor­po­ra­tion, as­serted in his re­cent pre­sen­ta­tion to mem­bers of the Agri­cul­tural Jour­nal­ists’ As­so­ci­a­tion, this loss of ef­fi­ciency is dent­ing the coun­try’s selfsuf­fi­ciency in pro­duc­tion of var­i­ous farm goods.

He claimed that pro­duc­tion of var­i­ous farm prod­ucts has been low by 90 per­cent, as com­pared to the global bench­mark. Sug­ar­cane yield is 40 per­cent lower, wheat yield is 20 per­cent lower, non-bas­mati rice yield is 40 per­cent lower, cot­ton yield is 20 per­cent lower and milk yield per an­i­mal is 90 per­cent lower than global stan­dards. Pak­istan, once dubbed the ‘food bas­ket’ of the sub­con­ti­nent, is now strug­gling due to these fac­tors and is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing an im­porter of a large num­ber of agri-com­modi­ties.

Econ­o­mists are stress­ing on the need to fo­cus on agri­cul­ture sec­tor in the forth­com­ing bud­get and the gov­ern­ment should en­hance the GDP growth rate tar­get through the agri­cul­ture sec­tor by in­creas­ing crop pro­duc­tion, thus mak­ing the coun­try an agri­cul­ture-ex­port­ing coun­try.

The gov­ern­ment is be­ing blamed for the in­abil­ity of the farm­ers to store sur­plus agri­cul­tural pro­duce due to in­ad­e­quate stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. There­fore the bud­get pro­pos­als re­quire that the gov­ern­ment should fo­cus on cold stor­age fa­cil­i­ties. Also, the up­com­ing bud­get should equally take into ac­count the power sec­tor, as farm­ers are un­able to op­er­ate tube wells on electricity due to 18-hour load shed­ding while per acre yield is also low. There are sug­ges­tions for so­lar en­ergy-op­er­ated tube wells and new projects for milk and meat pro­duc­tion en­hance­ment.

The de­mand for in­crease in bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions for the sec­tor are aimed at check­ing the qual­ity and stan­dard of agri­cul­ture pro­duce and re­search as per the nu­tri­tional value. In re­sponse to the pay­ment prob­lem of farm­ers who run from pil­lar to post to get re­turns on their agri­cul­ture pro­duce, econ­o­mists cite the ex­am­ple of the US and In­dia. The US pur­chased sur­plus wheat from its farm­ers to en­cour­age them to cul­ti­vate and en­hance pro­duc­tion. In­dia has also im­proved its pay­ments mech­a­nism to farm­ers by in­volv­ing the pri­vate sec­tor.

The man­u­fac­tur­ers of agri­cul­tural im­ple­ments and ma­chin­ery in Pak­istan have ap­pealed to the gov­ern­ment to with­draw 16 per­cent Gen­eral Sales Tax (GST) on agri­cul­ture tools and ma­chin­ery in the in­ter­est of the in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to Muhammad Iqbal Mughal, ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Pak­istan Agri­cul­tural Ma­chin­ery Im­ple­ments Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (PAMIMA), the gov­ern­ment has al­ready re­duced GST from 16 per­cent to 5 per­cent on trac­tors, but 16 per­cent GST on agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery and in­puts still stands. He re­gret­ted that the sale of agri-tools and ma­chin­ery dropped to 60 per­cent, adding that farm­ers pre­fer us­ing tra­di­tional modes of agri­cul­ture due to lower costs. Thus, there are ap­peals for ex­emp­tion of GST on agri­cul­ture ma­chin­ery for smooth growth of the in­dus­try and agri-sec­tor.

Sig­nif­i­cant con­sid­er­a­tion and ac­tion plans are re­quired in the up­com­ing bud­get for the sec­tor, as the in­dus­trial and trade sec­tors can­not per­form with­out the agri­cul­ture sec­tor. Im­por­tantly, the World Bank has fore­cast a food cri­sis in fu­ture and Pak­istan can pos­si­bly earn good for­eign ex­change by fo­cus­ing on this sec­tor.

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