Agriculture sector in Pakistan: An orphaned child of the government

In the pandemic period while the Pakistan government is providing temporary relief to many sectors in the country why is this key area of agriculture being ignored, writes Muhammad Abbas Khaskheli for South Asia Monitor 

Muhammad Abbas Khaskheli Aug 14, 2020
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It’s Seerani, a small rural settlement situated around 18 km away from Badin city in southern Sindh province of Pakistan, bordering the Arabian Sea. Arif Chang, a famous local grower of wheat and sugarcane has quit irrigating his land a few months ago. Now, he is about to sell his 30 acres ancestral agriculture land in just 30,000 PKR per acre, which is the only source for his family’s survival.

“I will migrate from here, buy a plot in Badin and a rickshaw to earn for my family’s survival,” he said gloomily when asked how he will survive if he sells his land. 

He is not the only one. Last year, one of the biggest growers of this region, Haji Rehman Khaskheli, also sold his 150 acres agriculture land and migrated to Badin where he along with his two sons are now working as daily wage labourers.

When asked why he took such a step, Rehman Khaskheli said, “We would have died if I had continued to rely on that unproductive land. The crop production had become almost next to nil. So I had no other option except to sell the land."

Problems of Sindh farmers 

The farmers in Sindh is facing several problems, not excluding the typical concerns like water scarcity, sea intrusion, soil infertility, use of fake pesticides, and centuries-old methods of cultivation, etc.

Since April 2019, crop on more than 100,000 acres of land has been devoured by swarms of locusts in Sindh. Moreover, the lockdown due to COVID-19 has also put a heavy monetary burden on the farmers, who are already facing such a dire situation. The question now remains: Who would continue to cultivate their lands?

Since the dams and barrages have been building upwards in the country, the availability of water in many areas is a rare sight. The areas facing acute water shortages in Sindh include Tharparkar, Badin, Sujawal, Thatta, Tando Muhammad Khan, Umerkot, Khairpur, Dadu, and many others. This has also badly disturbed crop production. But the worst tragedy is that many such 'rich' farmers have given up their lands and taking up menial jobs in other cities and towns to survive. It has also led to a number of agricultural lands in this area lying barren.        

Blind eye to agriculture 

It is not that authorities and people are not aware of the importance of the agricultural sector in Pakistan as the majority of the country’s population is associated with it for centuries; but sadly owing to constant political, social, environmental, and climatic changes a big question has been put on the future of this previously rich sector. However, despite all this, it is still the second biggest sector in the country.

Economically, it contributes with more than 21 percent to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 45 percent of the country’s labour force is linked with it. According to the recent census, 63 percent population of the country lives in rural areas hence they directly or indirectly are connected with this sector. 

This is the sector, which has been playing a pivotal role in bestowing life to the dying industries of the country, by providing them with raw material and enhancing the exports of the country. Cotton is a very important agricultural production which is also a major export of Pakistan. It is used as a raw material in textile industries. The production of these textile industries is exported to various countries against foreign exchange. In other words, one can say that both (agriculture and industrial) sectors are inter-connected with each other because, in return to its contribution as raw material providers, the agriculture sector gets machinery like tractors and thrashers, etc.

It’s very easy to estimate the importance of this sector in Pakistan because it fulfills the needs of food of the country’s more than 22 crore population. Not only this but cotton which is a non-food crop and used as raw material for the textile sector has made Pakistan the fourth largest cotton producing country in the world.   

Despite living in an agricultural country and contributing so extraordinarily in the country’s progress, the issues local farmers have been facing here is not a priority in the government’s eyes. Nobody could forget the number of protests carried out by cotton, sugarcane, and wheat growers against the government's anti-agriculture policies. Whether its flood, pandemic, or locust attacks, the government has always turned a blind eye. 

Long-standing issues

- Tractor is the most modern technology being used in Pakistan which is an invention of 1892. China comes on top of the countries which are using modern-day technologies in the agriculture sector in order to increase per acre crop production. Our farmers are facing a dearth of such modern-day agriculture machinery and this is one of the major hurdles in the development of this sector.

 - Pakistan use traditional crops, while all over the world every year new seeds of cotton, wheat, and sugarcane are introduced by researchers for increasing crop production.

- Shortage of water in many areas of the country is also the main reason for low crop production in the country. While another reason related to water is the availability of more water in the upper areas of the country, which makes lands saline thus impacting the production. 

- Moreover, unavailability of agricultural research centers, fewer irrigation facilities, invasions of different diseases on crops, the occurrence of natural calamities, and making and using fake pesticides have caused a great loss to this sector.

In the pandemic period while the Pakistan government is providing temporary relief to many sectors in the country why is this key area of agriculture being ignored? The farmers are not asking for any financial help but at least they should be given relief on taxes/collections.  

Each government after taking charge of the country always talks about bringing in agricultural reforms, but such promises have never been fulfilled by anyone and the sector has never been considered as the priority for any political party. The main reason behind such an approach by the government is that they focus more on the industrial sector rather than the agricultural sector.

(The writer is a Pakistan-based columnist on environmental and social issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at abbaskhaskheli110@gmail.com)

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