Farmers and far-off markets

The existing situation is harming farmers as well as agricultural productivity

February 18, 2022

Farmers, especially small cultivators, face myriad issues. One important problem they face pertains to market access. At the national level, they have to travel about 22km on an average to obtain inputs like seeds, fertiliser and pesticides as well as agricultural services, according to a survey undertaken by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. This average distance from village to market is as high as 58km in Balochistan, 29km in K-P, and slightly less in Punjab and Sindh. The long distances between villages, the nub of farming, and markets also make it difficult for farmers to take their produce to grain markets to sell. This imposes additional burdens of cost and time, and reduces their competitiveness. Obviously, this is due to the lack of better roads that can facilitate farmers’ access to markets both for inputs and their produce.

The existing situation is harming farmers as well as agricultural productivity. In a country that has to import large quantities of food grains to feed its burgeoning population, the government needs to pay urgent attention towards providing farmers with improved means of access to markets, and at the same time take other necessary measures to encourage farmers by offering them incentives. If the growers get easy access to inputs and services and better opportunities to sell their produce at competitive and remunerative prices, this will increase agricultural productivity and ultimately help the country to attain self-reliance in food.

In Pakistan, around 45% of farmland is under the control of 2% of the population, and 55% is held by the remaining 98%. There are 20,000 big farmers and 1.75 million small cultivators. The average size of land holdings is 5.6 acres, which was 13.06 acres in 1972. Division of land among family members mainly accounts for the increasing fragmentation of land. This too is resulting in lowering farm productivity because demarcation boundaries eat up considerable chunks of land. Farmers also face shortage of irrigation water. Moreover, small farmers are underserved in bank credit due to their remoteness from banks.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2022.

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