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ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan Monday came down hard on his own government for not having pro-agriculture policies, saying that the incumbent government has not given relief to this sector so far, but industries and services sectors were given relief due to a greater say of businessmen in the federal cabinet.

A meeting of the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Agricultural Products was held under the chairmanship of Speaker Asad Qaiser, here on Monday. The meeting reviewed measures to address the losses suffered by small farmers due to climate change across the country.

The minister for aviation regretted that the voice of farmers and pro-agriculture politicians was weak, and subsequently, the sector was ignored in successive budget programmes and relief packages. He stated that the support extended to the sector was not commensurate with the sector’s contributions. The minister further said wheat production was declining every year.

The current weather affects the wheat crop negatively. “I am helpless sitting in the cabinet,” said Khan, adding that the government had not been able to do anything for the agricultural sector so far.

The package of Rs52 billion that was announced recently should at least ensure its release, said the aviation minister, adding that non-agricultural class has a more influential voice than of the agricultural class.

“From where are we importing wheat? The government is not ready to give anything to our small farmers,” said Khan, adding that in the cabinet too, he had asked where the wheat was being imported from.

Khan said imported wheat is costing Rs 2,400 per 40kg, but our own farmers are being given Rs 1,800.

“Do not be so cruel to your farmers,” said Khan, adding that the rate set by the Sindh government at Rs 2,000 per 40kg is based on fact.

Last year, the DAP was at Rs2,800 and now it is at Rs5,000, said Khan, adding that he is in the cabinet but it is sad that he was not listened to even there.

“I want to know at what price imported wheat is falling”, asked Khan.

The secretary food said imported wheat comes at different prices.

Wheat price rises on December 16, 2019, said Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam, adding that at that time, Sindh did not procure wheat.

India has a minimum support price of 27 to 34 crops, whereas Pakistan has support price for only one crop. “We brought a summary for the support price of cotton but it was not accepted,” said Imam, adding that he asked for procuring 0.4 million bales of cotton but it was accepted and lamented that it the policy making.

Endorsing Aviation Minister’s views, the members of the committee highlighted that practically little relief and priority was given to agriculture sector in the policy planning, and that the sector was successively ignored.

It was stated that inordinate delays in decision making pertaining to incentives for the farmers took a heavy toll on declining productivity.

They stated that expensive wheat import was preferred over incentives to the domestic farmers to raise agro productivity of Pakistan.

The members underlined the need to expand the mandate of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank tailored to the welfare of the farmers.

The committee was urged to play a lead role to prevent decline of the agriculture sector and exploitation of the poor farmers.

The Federal Minister for Finance, Hammad Azhar, stated that agricultural revitalization was top priority of the prime minister, and assured that the Ministry of Finance would work closely with the committee to turn around the agriculture sector.

He stated that the reported sale of urea for this year was highest in the last 10 years and that wheat and sugarcane growers have comparatively received better prices under the current government.

The price of imported wheat includes shipment, loading and other expenses said Azhar, adding that Sindh has set a support price of 2,000, but they have to procure only one million tons while the federal government has to look at both farmers and the common man.

Referring to the hike in the price of DAP, he said that the DAP was imported, and the rise in international prices caused an upward surge in the prices of DAP.

The speaker urged the Committee to come up with proposals and mechanism for subsidy on DAP.

Unfortunately, due to climate change, there were problems, said the speaker of the National Assembly, while talking to the media. Our Agriculture Committee is looking at the policies and talking openly here, said Qaiser, adding that a special committee was formed to try to take farmer friendly steps in the next budget.

Federal Minister Ghulam Sarwar gave a personal stand on agriculture, said speaker National Assembly, adding that they have prepared a report on agriculture in collaboration with research institutes.

He further said their committee had proposed a support price of Rs1,800 for wheat which was approved. Legislation could also be passed to change the mandate of ZTBL, he added.

The Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser directed the sub-Committee to furnish concrete budget proposal for agriculture sector and urged the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Zarai Taraqiati Bank, and members of the committee to devise a mechanism for extending relief to the drought affected regions within two weeks.

The mover of the Calling Attention Notice MNA Ihan Ullah Tiwana briefed the Committee that farmers in Thal areas produce rain-fed organic chickpeas which account for 80 percent of Pakistan’s chickpea production.

The region was consistently hit by natural calamities (drought affected) and duly notified by the provincial government.

The calamities have affected the farmer crops and earnings resulting in loan default by the farmers in these areas.

He proposed that the accrued mark up should waived by ZTBL and that the COVID-19 could be used to partially repay the smallholder farmers’ outstanding principal loan amount in the calamity affected mouzas and villages as declared by the provincial government.

He also underlined the need for establishment of a state-of-the-art research center to assist the farmers to develop climate-resistant varieties and raise their incomes through high density plantation and vertical farming.

The Committee endorsed the proposals and recommended immediate action and relief.

The National Assembly Special Committee on Agricultural Products deliberated on the design of the “Kamyab Kisaan” program to promote youth engagement and employment in agriculture sector; took up the calling attention notice regarding relief for the drought and calamity affected regions across the country and discussed the forward for structural transformation of the agriculture sector.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs Usman Dar briefed the Committee on upcoming program for youth in agriculture and appreciated the support of the Committee for all out support.

He stated that low cost loans for agricultural equipments, inputs, capacity building and business development services constituted critical elements of the ‘Kamyab Kisan Program’.

The speaker informed the Committee that ‘Kamyab Kisan’ program was one of the proposed policy instruments of the Special Committee on Agricultural Products, and he urged the members of the National Assembly to assist in effective execution of the program on the ground.

The committee was urged to play a lead role to prevent decline of the agriculture sector and exploitation of the poor farmers.

The speaker urged the Committee to come up with proposals and mechanism for subsidy on DAP.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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