IT was not even a ‘year as usual’ for agriculture. At least, that is what farmers think of 2012. The sectoral problems compounded manyfolds during these 12 months.
To begin with, the ownership of the sector continued to be a matter of debate, even dispute, between the federation and its federating units for second year running.
The most important crops (wheat, rice, cotton and gram) missed their production targets. Cost of crop production increased by another 20 to 25 per cent during this year with output prices dropping even below of what they were last year.
According to State Bank of Pakistan, rupee has lost another 7.8 per cent over this year, making farm inputs correspondingly expensive. The food security situation only worsened. That is how farmers and their representative bodies sum up agriculture performance in this calendar year.
To their credit or incompetence, the federal and provincial governments are not even contesting the farmers’ claim that it has been one of worst years for them. Both are simply trying to avoid responsibility for lacklustre performance of the most important sector in an election year.
After the 18th Amendment, an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty prevails. For the second consecutive year, the sector has suffered because of confusion over who needs to do what in certain areas of responsibility.
Adhocism ruled the sector. In the last one year, the country missed production targets of all major crops. Against a target of 25 million tonnes of wheat, 23.45 million tonnes were produced. This drop of 1.5 million tonnes cost the farmers around Rs45 billion.
Similarly, cotton also lost around 1.5 million bales — 13.58 million bales against a target of 15 million bales. This was another loss of Rs60bn to the farming community. Rice crop also lost half a million tonnes and caused a loss of Rs17bn to farmers.
Gram production came down to 250,000 tonnes from 550,000 tonnes. These 300,000 tonnes translate into a loss of Rs28 billion. Put together, these fours crops hit farmers by around Rs200 billion. The governments, especially that of Punjab, may not be having Rs200 billion development plan for the rural areas, where poverty and hunger reign supreme now.
One can look at the gram loss alone to measure the negative impact. The Rs28 billion loss has mainly hit four districts s— Bhakkar, Layyah, Khushab and Mianwali. They are already the most under-developed districts in the province and had to take a hit of Rs7 billion each on gram production alone in one year.
In a virtual policy and planning vacuum, the sector suffered immensely. For example, Pakistan needs around 900,000 tonnes of gram to feed its population on cheap protein. But, it produced only 250,000 tonnes. This is despite having ecology and soil potential.
In the past, Pakistan has produced close to 800,000 tonnes. Even in worst-weather years, the gram production never came down than five maunds per acre. This year, it was only 2.2 maunds. How and why did the production drop by more than 70 per cent within a matter of few years? No one knows.
Punjab has around 35,000 employees in its agriculture department and another 47,000 in irrigation. This huge manpower is looking after only 25,000 villages in the province. That makes more than three officers a village on the head of these two departments.
The employees of equally over-staffed departments of food, forestry, livestock and environment are in addition to those numbers. What these employees were doing during the year, no one knows.