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Strategies for sustainable future

Strategies for sustainable future

Many of the security experts are of the opinion that food security is the strongest defence against all sorts of aggressions, both internal and external. Availability of indigenously produced food not only keep their prices affordable for the people but also keep foreign exchange reserves of the country free from pressure.

Before going ahead it is necessary to have a quick review of the prevailing situation in Pakistan. Despite tall claims of the successive governments, the country has remained net importer of food items. Top of the list items are wheat and edible oil. The most regrettable point is that Pakistan after having attained the status of wheat exporting country has once again become a wheat importing country.

The prime reason for limited availability of food items, for domestic consumption as well as export is colossal postharvest losses. In case of staple food grains the losses are estimated around 20%, but in case of fruits the losses exceed 40%, lack of proper warehousing facilities is the primary reason. Over the years Pakistan has failed in constructing modern (grain storage silos and temperature controlled warehouses).

The most regrettable point is that the Government of Pakistan (GoP) initiated a scheme for financing of warehouses at a discounted interest rate. However, no significant storage facilities have been added under this scheme.

A little deeper probe indicates that even the electronic warehouse receipt (EWR) financing has not become a norm. At present the accredited warehousing capacity is around 120,000 tons and the number of warehouses accredited less than a dozen.

One is completely astonished to note that wheat, despite the most important staple food grain has not been included in this regime. It is on record that the banks had collectively lent around PKR1.8 trillion to the farmers during last financial year and only a minuscule amount of PKR one billion was disbursed under this scheme.

During the current financial year the GoP has planned to lend PRK2.2 trillion to farmers. Experts demand that the GoP must include wheat in EWR financing regime. And on top of all ensure construction of grain storage silos on war-footing. This year the GoP has fixed wheat production target of 33 million tons. It is apprehended that in the absence of grain storage silos, wheat will be stored in depleted warehouses and up to 25% will go stale before reaching the market.

The second option is to increase production either by improving yield or adding area under cultivation. According to experts bringing additional area under cultivation may not be possible, mainly because of limited availability of irrigation water. Therefore, the next best option is to improve production per acre, without increasing area under cultivation.

To achieve this, GoP has to ensure availability of superior quality seeds, improve water courses to facilitate smooth flow of irrigation water, keep fertilizer prices affordable and above all announce support prices of various crops well before sowing starts.

Farmers have to use varieties as per the recommendations of the GoP, make judicious use of water and apply balanced fertilizer.

The GoP also have to support/guide the entrepreneurs to go for higher value addition. This on one hand will improve the return to farmers and on the other hand improve the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

Increasing production of Maize can yield myriad of benefits. Pakistan has already started exporting Maize and now it is time to go for value addition. The added advantage is reduction in import of soybean.

Another crop which needs attention of both the federal and Sindh provincial government is Sunflower. Experts are of the consensus that a little of concerted efforts in Sindh alone can help in reducing edible oil import to half. The farmers don’t demand subsidy by ensuring availability seeds of high yielding varieties, fixation of minimum purchase price and above all availability of quality warehouses.

Lately, there have been complaints that fertilizer dealers were indulging in hoarding/ over pricing. It is believed that the government announcements regarding import of urea often results in hike in prices. It is necessary to reiterate that Pakistan has an aggregate annual urea production capacity of over 7 million tons but production hovers around 6 million tons. Ensuring a little extra gas supply can help in avoiding import of urea.

Last but not the least fixing an agri lending target of PKR2.25 trillion is not enough. It is obligatory for State Bank of Pakistan to ensure that small farmers get credit. The central bank do talks about financial inclusion but the pace is dismal. According to sector bulk of the credit goes to absentee landlord, who use this facility to buy urban properties and expensive cars.

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