By Dr A Q Khan
In my last column I emphasized the importance of agriculture. The topic is so important that I am referring to it again.
First of all, my sincere apology to Mr. Ahmad Rafay Alam. In my previous article I had spoken about the column of Mr. Asif Ali Abro on climate change, but forgot to mention Mr. Alam's many informative and excellent articles on environmental problems. I hope that the authorities concerned will pay attention and not advise us, like the Amir of Bukhara, Nasrullah Khan, did when the Russians were attacking, to recite Ayat-e-Karima a million times. The Russians occupied the Muslim states one by one. The Bukhara Emirate was, at the time, very important and Bukhara was a beautiful city, but a den of spies from all important countries of the world, who posed as tourists, traders, etc. In 1868 the Russians sent their army in with heavy guns and started pounding the city walls. Amir Nasrullah Khan then ordered the people to recite Ayat-e-Karima in all the mosques a hundred thousand times. While the people were reciting, the Russians breached the walls and occupied the city.
At present it seems that we are also merely reciting Ayat-e-Karima and forgetting to do anything about our agricultural problems. One can live without electricity, but one can't survive without food.
Mr Shafi Niaz, an expert in agricultural sciences, once explained some important aspects of agriculture to me, which are still valid today. Farmers rightly complain that they don't get enough money for their produce – expenses exceed income. This results in many leaving rural areas. A large part of the blame for this is due to the closing of the organization responsible for collecting important data on such things as crops and support prices. This organization had done a good job since 1981, but became ineffective after the coup by Gen Musharraf. The reason cited was that international agencies were against it. Wheat and sugar crises have always been a result of wrong estimates. The Musharraf regime, following the advice of these international agencies, played havoc with the country, totally misinterpreting ground realities and actual requirements.
We are all aware that there are three most essential requirements for good crops: 1) land, 2) water and 3) climate. We have no control over our climate, but we do have over the other two factors. Pakistan has about 80 million hectare of land, out of which about 22 million hectare is under cultivation and about eight million more can be cultivated. About 19.5 million hectares of this can be cultivated with the use of canals and tube wells. According to government statistics, there has been a reasonable increase in the availability of water from tube wells of which there are an estimated one million. The pumps of about 80 percent of these run on diesel. Over the last two or three years about 300,000 tube wells have been added. However, the increase in the cost of diesel has proved to many farmers to be the proverbial last straw on the camel's back.
To keep land fertile, fertilizers are needed. As the cost of fertilizers increased, many farmers were forced to reduce its use. Agriculturalists know that the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorous in fertilizers is 2:1. Due to high prices, this ratio has now been reduced to 4:1, resulting in low yield and bad quality of crops. If the government is to stop the looming catastrophe, quality fertilizers and insecticides need to be made available at affordable rates. If prison sentences were to be given without fear or favor, it should definitely be meted out to those selling fake/adulterated fertilizers, insecticides, medicines and edibles. Quick and exemplary punishment is required.
Raahon se be-khabar hain hamaare ye rehnuma
Hain manzilen kahan, ye kahan dhoondne lage.
Some suggestions that Mr Shafi Niaz mentioned to me at that time, but which still seem valid today, are: 1) the government must announce support prices of important crops well in time before their harvest, and this price must be paid out. 2) This policy should be enforced by the Agricultural Policy Institute and they should be given autonomy, wide powers and staffed with competent agriculturists. 3) Since the statistics provided by the government are not considered reliable, they must be made transparently reliable and acceptable. 4) All the materials and facilities that help farmers in obtaining good yields and healthy crops should be provided cheaply. This would be of much greater use to the country than writing off loans worth billions of dollars. Such a huge amount of money could make a big difference to our agricultural sector. 5) Strict rules and their enforcement are essential to control urbanization of fertile land and the uncontrolled spread of housing societies. 6) The Agricultural Policy Institute should have its experts prepare a concise report to advise the government which crops are needed in the short term, which for the future and what steps must be taken to ensure successful implementation. 7) Efforts must be made to grow crops which use less water, are resistant to salinity and give a relatively higher yield. 8) Since there is a constant and progressive shortage of water, experts should advise measures for the best use of this resource and the government should comply. Farmers should be educated on how to use flat, furrow and drip agriculture systems. The razor land-leveling system should be used.
Food prices have gone up by more than 25 percent and this trend is continuing at an alarming rate. The scarcity of flour and fertilizers at the present time must open the eyes of those responsible.
In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of acres of arable lands are in the possession of a handful of feudal lords who have politics as their full-time jobs and/or hobby, all the while making more than enough money through favors, written off loans. Traveling through the country, one sees hundreds of thousands of acres of uncultivated land which could easily be turned into farmlands. Nobody bothers; it is more interesting to indulge in political intrigues.
We are all aware that after petrol and diesel, most of our foreign exchange is spent on the import of palm oil, tea and similar things. Experiments with the cultivation of tea have been reasonably successful in the Hazara area. More support and incentives should be given to promote such cultivation. Similarly, palm trees should be planted on a massive scale in humid areas. The 4,000-mile-long canal system is ideal for the planting of three or four rows of small coconut trees along banks, similar to those in the Seychelles. These have an abundant yield and coconut oil is a healthy food. Sunflowers should be planted in large quantities in order to be used for edible oil. The government should help, support and provide incentives for these crops to encourage their cultivation in order to save hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable foreign exchange. Listen also to what Dr Zafar Altaf advises!
A few years ago Prof Mahmood Hasan Khan, published a detailed, informative and valuable article on "Agriculture Crisis in Pakistan" in which he pinpointed the causes of the dilemma. He also suggested remedial measures. However, true to our tradition, we ignored such advice. The budget for 2008-2009 did not contain any far-reaching measures for agriculture, totally ignoring its importance to our survival.
One of the main problems is that all our agricultural policies are dictated by the World Bank, the IMF, the ADB and the State Department. Their orders are followed with great enthusiasm to ensure future jobs and perks. This policy completely reflects the true picture of what is happening in our country.
Is ghar ka sab nizam hai ghairon ke haath men
Baahar hai mere naam ki takhti lagi hui
(Courtesy The News)