Pakistan has to be extra vigilant this year in order to ensure that the agricultural sector does not falter and sufficient food and other crops are produced which will not only provide food security but will also keep the industrial wheel moving.
In summer last year, widespread floods affected livelihoods of millions of people in rural areas, particularly causing damage to crops of cotton and rice with total losses to agriculture estimated at $5.1 billion. The agricultural sector grew by only 1.2 per cent in fiscal year ended June this year` mainly due to the floods and impacted the overall economy, which rose 2.4 per cent compared to the target of 4.5 per cent.
Though the government and particularly the aid agencies have done significant work to rehabilitate the flood-hit people and prevent the possibility of floods in the current monsoon season, still much needs to be done.
In the words of relief agency Oxfam, Pakistan is vulnerable to another disaster this monsoon season and more needs to be spent on reconstruction, suitable housing and early warning systems. It warned that river embankments had not been rebuilt, leaving villages open to flooding. Many were planting fewer crops than usual as they were worried that their harvests would be destroyed in fresh floods, it said.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also said despite successes in rehabilitation efforts, much remained to be done to further restore rural livelihoods and to significantly reduce vulnerability, improve food production and income generation, and increase the resilience of rural communities to future shocks.
FAO said it required $96 million to support an additional 430,000 farming households in 14 severely flood-affected districts over the next two years.
Less sowing in areas close to river
Sindh Abadgar Board Information Secretary Nadeem Shah said in Kachcha areas – those which were situated close to the river – farmers cultivated less-than-expected area because of fear of fresh floods this monsoon as breaches in river embankments had not been properly repaired. “In Matiari, there has been 50 per cent sowing while in Thatta Sajawal area, there is very insignificant cultivation,” he said.
However, Pakka areas, which were far from river, had 100 per cent sowing of different crops, including key crops of cotton, rice and sugarcane. This year, cotton crop is expected to be more than 15 million bales compared to last year’s 11.5 million bales while rice crop yield is likely to be higher than previous year’s 5.5 to 6 million tons.
Discussing other issues, Shah said some areas faced water shortage which got supplies on rotational basis, meaning non-stop supply for some days and then a complete stoppage for an equal number of days.
Urea prices, which had doubled to around Rs1,700 per bag compared to Rs800 last year, are also a cause for worry for the farmers, and Shah pointed out that in India, urea prices stood at only Rs600 (Pakistani rupees).
Praising USAID, Australia and other countries for their assistance, Shah said sunflower was sown over an area of 1.5 million acres against 300,000 to 400,000 acres in previous years. The increase in this crop will reduce edible oil imports of more than $1 billion per annum.
Farmers Associate Pakistan Director Rabia Sultan said in Punjab water supply was satisfactory and cotton and sugarcane crops were doing well. However, she said cotton prices had dropped sharply, prompting panic selling by farmers.
Agriculture is the mainstay of national economy as it provides employment to 45 per cent of the country’s population and produces input for the agro-based industry. If sincere efforts are not made to revive the sector from last year’s devastation, it will affect performance of the manufacturing industry and restrict overall economic growth.
the writer is incharge Business desk for the Express tribune and can be contacted at [email protected]
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2011.
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