FINALLY there is some good news for the farmers. Talking to a
delegation of MNAs on Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government will soon announce a special package for the farmers as a subcommittee of the cabinet is formulating proposals on the subject.
Indeed the agriculture sector cannot be uplifted without extending all out support to the farmers. The package should be such that caters to all their requirements, for which the subcommittee should also hold consultations with different associations of the farmers. It should also envisage a complete implementation mechanism so that its benefits reach all the farmers without any discrimination. In the wake of Covid-19 breakout, Rs 56.6 agriculture relief package was announced but in our view it failed to serve the cause for the flawed mechanism adopted to extend relief to the farmers on fertilizers. Instead of extending subsidy, though tokens, the subsidy should be direct and the fertilizers and other inputs be provided to the farmers on discounted rates. The agriculture sector contributes 18.5 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides 38.5 percent employment to the national labour force, though it has always remained a low priority for successive governments. Over the last decade, the performance of the agriculture sector has fallen short of desirable level, mainly because of stagnant productivity of all important crops. This really warrants a serious course correction and the new package should be such that transforms our agriculture sector as per the modern day requirements. This is important to ensure our food security gives impetus to the economy. As part of the package, the government should give interest-free loans to small farmers. In case their crops get damaged due to some calamity such as floods, there should be a proper mechanism such as that of insurance to compensate for the losses. Farmers are using decades-old bt2 cotton seed which is highly susceptible to pests and other diseases. We need to invest heavily in seed research and come up with such climate resilient varieties that could help protect crop yields from changing weather patterns.