To address Pakistan’s food security woes and turn the country into a net food exporter, the government has earmarked Rs12 billion for the agriculture sector in next fiscal year 2021-22.
Presenting the federal budget for 2021-22 on Friday, Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin announced that the government was introducing revolutionary steps to ensure food security across the nation.
Out of the Rs12 billion, Rs1 billion has been allocated for tackling the locust threat while another Rs2 billion has been set aside to enhance the output of different crops such as rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane and pulses.
Apart from this, Rs1 billion will be utilised to increase commercial sowing of olives. In addition, the government will use Rs3 billion for the overhaul and improvement of waterways.
During the speech, the finance minister admitted that Pakistan went from a net food exporter to a net importer at present. “We purchase commodities like wheat and sugar from the international market now,” he said.
The federal government has also announced the National Agriculture Emergency Programme that envisages integration of information technology solutions and the agriculture sector.
“The country lacks cutting-edge technology and the National Agriculture Emergency Programme will help transform the agriculture and livestock sector on modern grounds,” said Tarin.
He also declared that the government would launch interest-free loans for farmers. Under the scheme, a loan of Rs150,000 can be secured to produce one crop while Rs200,000 can be borrowed to purchase tractors or other agricultural machinery.
“We have to make our country food sufficient and for this purpose, we have to pay special attention to the agriculture sector,” said Tarin.
He underscored the need for reintroducing administrative price control measures and constructing farm-to-market roads.
He also stressed the need for building commodity warehouses and cold storages to mitigate the role of middlemen in a bid to provide farmers with direct access to wholesale markets.
“Currently, the difference between farm prices of the produce and wholesale market prices is exorbitant,” he said.
“To promote the culture of warehousing to store commodities for a longer period of time, we are reducing the levy on locally established warehouses from 8% to 3%,” he said.
In its comments on the budget, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said that the whole country would benefit from the incentives offered to the agriculture sector because almost 70% of the population was linked to that crucial segment.
The chamber was of the opinion that these initiatives would also resolve some of the issues faced by farmers, which would steer the overall development of the sector and enhance agricultural production.
Although the farming community cheered the budget announcement, the agriculture sector stakeholders lamented that a few crucial points were overlooked.
“This budget failed to talk about the much-needed research in the field of agriculture,” remarked Pakistan Kissan Ittehad President Khalid Khokhar. “Moreover, initiatives to rein in the cost of production of different crops were also not introduced.”
Since agriculture is a provincial subject, the stakeholders now have to wait for provincial budgets, he said.
Khokhar added that the subject of electricity tariff was entirely missing from the budget.
“Farmers are not aware of the actual price of electricity as there are a lot of taxes included in their bills,” he said. “This is one of the biggest issues and its resolution can help us in reducing the overall cost of production.”