Modernisation of agriculture

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AT a time when the country was witnessing recurring shortage of even essential food items and persistent hike in their price, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin has held out an assurance to allocate necessary funds in the upcoming budget 2021-22 to develop high-yielding crops to meet growing domestic demand and reduce dependence on import of basic foodstuff.

Chairing a meeting of the National Price Monitoring Committee (NPMC) on Monday, he directed the relevant ministries to work out a lasting arrangement by exploring alternative options to reduce dependence on import of edible oil and other basic food items and also asked the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) to provide details of the inquiry that was underway with reference to some anti-competitive conduct leading to price hike in chicken feed that in turn increased prices of chicken.

We have been emphasizing in these columns that shortage of essential food items and their import is a matter of shame for an agrarian country having fertile land, all weathers and one of the best canal systems in the world.

In fact, Punjab was considered as the food basket of the subcontinent before coming into existence of Pakistan and experts say the country still has the potential to become the food basket of the region provided necessary investment is made for modernization of the agriculture sector.

There is also no dearth of institutions doing research in agriculture as about two hundred research institutions are engaged in research at federal and provincial levels and, in fact, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council has contributed a lot in enhancing crop productivity but it is handicapped due to lack of required funding for research and modernization.

Although per acre wheat yield has increased year after year due to introduction of high yielding varieties, it is still very low compared with advanced wheat-producing countries of the world and same is the case with cotton, rice and pulses.

Similarly, Pakistan has long been importing edible oil worth billions of dollars to meet 75% of its total needs but import substitution programmes launched during tenures of successive governments have not made any visible impact.

The present Government too has a plan to plant 50 million olive trees in different parts of the country but it is understood that the programme would take time to bear fruit even if the plan is implemented in letter and spirit.

Under these circumstances, the plan to allocate more resources for research and modernization in the agriculture sector is a step in the right direction.

As for non-stop increase in prices of chicken, one would beg to differ from the NPMC that it was due to a hike in the price of feed as three times increase in prices of live chicken and meat is disproportionate to the increase in price of feed.

There is price manipulation and an administrative action is long overdue.

 

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