Punjab is pursuing an aggressive growth agenda and agriculture is at the centre of this. The province not only provides food and nutrition, but also supplies the raw material for the agriculture-based industry. This industry caters to the domestic market and also generates goods for exports.
A large part of the country’s foreign exchange originates from agriculture, in which Punjab has a reasonable share. Livestock contributes 11.8 per cent to the GDP and 55 per cent in the overall agriculture sector, of which Punjab is home to almost 40-43 per cent of the livestock population. Punjab’s food industry is the second-biggest industry in terms of GDP in Pakistan. Suffice to say that Punjab’s agriculture is not only a source of livelihood for millions of people, but also serves as lubricant for our industry, especially textile, sugar, edible oil and rice husking, where millions of poor people find jobs.
The Punjab government has placed the rural economy central to its policy and implementation. Despite all domestic efforts, challenges to agriculture persist. There are a number of regional and global factors which have adversely affected the agriculture commodity prices.
For the past many decades, our agricultural yield per acre has been consistently decreasing due to old and outdated ways of cultivation and other problems. Our universities and agricultural research institutions have not paid enough attention to modern research in the agricultural field. I am convinced that we cannot unlock our full potential unless we couple agriculture with research and consequently transfer modern technology to farmers at the grass roots.
Consultation with stakeholders is a hallmark of my governance. It is with this in view that I organised the Punjab Agriculture Conference 2016 a week ago, which assembled all the key players in agriculture development. The working groups consisting of representatives of farmers, agriculture experts and government officials were formed to formulate concrete proposals and recommendations which will be included in the provincial Agriculture Policy.
On this occasion, I made the announcement of a support package of Rs100 billion to be spent on development of agriculture and welfare of the farmers over the next two years. This amount would be utilised on priority interventions that the conference has identified and recommended.
To keep a focused approach, I have decided to chair the Punjab Agriculture Commission, which would gather all the stakeholders and monitor the agriculture and farming sector on an on-going basis. Through this institutional mechanism, I want to ensure rigorous implementation.
The Punjab government is led by the vision to transform the agriculture sector into a science-based, vibrant and internationally linked sector that can not only meet food security challenges, but also compete in regional and international markets. The Punjab government is focusing on productivity enhancement, increasing input use efficiency and improving market connectivity with strong backward and forward linkages. For this purpose, the development budget for the agriculture sector is being increased consistently by the government.
My government is committed to facilitating farmers through the provision of technical input and services. To achieve this goal, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif announced a revolutionary and unprecedented Kissan package worth Rs341 billion, for small farmers, which included direct cash support and the provision of soft agriculture loans. The Kissan package was aimed at extending relief to the farming community, to encourage and promote progressive agriculture on scientific lines and reducing the input cost of crops.
The Punjab government is implementing Khadim-e-Punjab Rural Roads programme worth Rs150 billion, across the province, which aims to provide greater connectivity and accessibility between farms and markets. It will transform the rural economy by enabling the farmers to transport their goods to markets in a much more efficient manner.
The launch of the Land Records Management and Information System is a landmark initiative of the Punjab government, which has eliminated the age-old, corruption-ridden patwari culture across the province. With this system in place, the land record of 55.5 million landowners has been computerised after the correction and thorough cleansing of complex documents. Now you can go to any Arazi Centre, where you will be served on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. The ‘fard’ (land record) of your land will be delivered in 30 minutes and the mutation will be completed in 50 minutes.
Due to the vital importance of agriculture in the national economy, farmer friendly initiatives of the Punjab government have resulted in the achievement of a record production of major crops in Punjab, during the last few years. Production of wheat has touched 19.282 million tonnes, cotton 10.277 million bales, rice 3.648 million tonnes, sugarcane 41.074 million tonnes, maize 3.689 million tonnes, while production of potato was recorded at 3.839 million tonnes.
I would like to convey this message to our farmers, that the present government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, is committed to helping and facilitating them in every possible way. They are the linchpin of our economy. We recognise and acknowledge their services to the development of the country. It is because of their toil and hard work that the rest of the country gets to meet their food requirements. A prosperous and happy farmer is at the heart of our national development objectives. Together, we will sail through some of the problems that our agriculture sector has faced of late.
The Punjab Agriculture Conference brought together all the stakeholders whose input, provided during the consultative sessions, will be helpful in the implementation of the growth strategy in the agriculture sector of Punjab. I am certain that the deliberations and policy recommendations will lay the foundation for agriculture-led growth in the province. As the chairman of the Punjab Agriculture Commission, I would make sure that benefits of the support package are delivered to the farmers and that their welfare remains the central point of provincial Agricultural Policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2016.
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