PRIME Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on Monday, announced a comprehensive Kissan package involving a huge sum of Rs 1,800 billion and covering almost all aspects of support for the farmers.
Explaining salient features of the package at a news conference, which was also attended by his key cabinet colleagues, the Prime Minister said farmers would get four times more during the ongoing year as against what they were provided during the last year, adding that the progress of the country is directly proportional to the agricultural development.
The Government really deserves credit for sparing substantial amounts for the package despite financial constraints but the investment in the agriculture sector is worth-making.
Pakistan is an agrarian country but regrettably it has to import even the staple food (wheat) besides sugar, cotton and pulses mainly because of lack of due attention to the sector.
Such a comprehensive package was due as the agriculture sector suffered a lot in recent floods and rains, especially in Sindh and South Punjab and prices of agricultural commodities have shot up due to shortage and disruption of supplies.
No doubt, the Government took the timely decision to import essential items from Afghanistan and Iran but obviously this involves precious foreign exchange.
In this backdrop, the decision of the Government to waive off mark-up on loans taken by farmers in the flood affected areas and an allocation of Rs 11 billion has been made for the purpose.
Similarly the Centre and smaller provinces will also provide more than Rs8 billion to small farmers in flood-affected areas besides provision of loans worth Rs50 billion to youngsters living in rural areas and are willing to become professional farmers.
The loans to youngsters would be provided on a mark-up less than the market rate and the government will set aside nearly Rs 6.5 billion for this venture.
The package envisages measures including reducing the price of fertilizer and ensuring the availability of urea in sufficient quantities.
Launching the solarisation of tube wells and instalments in electricity bills are also part of the package.
Provision of agricultural inputs on an affordable price assumes greater significance for increasing productivity of the sector and with this in view one feels sorry to hear from the Prime Minister that the local tractor industry has refused to cooperate, forcing the Government to take a decision to import second hand tractors.
We hope quality second hand tractors would be imported so that the amount so incurred doesn’t go to waste.
It is encouraging that the government realizes that the import of the second hand tractors would badly affect the local industry and with this in view it has decided to give concession on the import duty of tractor parts in order to incentivise new players and investors planning to become a part of the tractor industry.
As part of this strategy, the duty on completely knocked down (CKD) parts has been brought down to 15% from 35%.
As against the behaviour of the tractor industry, it is heartening to note that the fertilizer plants have agreed to slash the price of urea by Rs.2,500 per bag, which would bring down the overall cost of input, increasing the profitability of the farmers.
The timely decision to import 1.6 million tons of wheat because of the devastation caused by floods would help augment its supply and stabilize the price of the commodity, which is on the rise, causing hardships for the inflation-ridden people.
While welcoming the package, it may be pointed out that this is a short-term solution of the problems confronting the agriculture sector and the Government will have to adopt a long-term strategy to reform and modernize the sector.
We have fertile land, congenial climate and a comprehensive irrigation system but despite all that we have not been able to exploit the optimum potential of the sector.
Factors hindering accelerated growth of the sector are fully known but there is no consistency and long-term planning to address the challenges.
The present Government is there for a limited period but despite all this it has taken due interest in addressing immediate concerns of the farmers but we hope the future Government would move firmly to tackle issues like poor crop yields, unfair distribution of irrigation water, lack of agricultural reforms, lack of post-harvest infrastructure and adoption of modern techniques.