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ISLAMABAD: The government is working on Rs110 billion three years’ agriculture plan – equal cost sharing of federal and provincial governments – whose implementation would begin from the coming budget to ensure food security, by increasing productivity of the sector by offering incentives to the farmers. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Food Security Jamshid Iqbal Cheema, who has replaced Jehangir Tareen as chairman of the Task Force on Agriculture told a group of media persons that the agriculture plan was being given final touches ahead of being made part of the upcoming budget would enable to increase the productivity of agriculture sector by 25 percent in two years. Rs110 billion three year plan would account for import of semen Rs40 billion, fertiliser subsidy Rs40 billion, and seeds Rs10 billion each for rice, maize, and vegetable seeds, and the government would make first allocation of Rs 35-40 billion in the budget for the next fiscal year. Premier's Special Assistant on Food Security said that the plan or package would be based on three pillars to alleviate poverty, cater for food, feed and fiber as well as to provide raw material to the industry, and a Chinese model would be followed in this regard.

Cheema said that the Task Force being headed by him would have representation of provincial, planning, finance, State Bank of Pakistan, and other relevant ministries, and contours of the package were to increase – wheat, rice, maize, vegetables, fruits and livestock – productivity.

The increase in agriculture productivity would be achieved by increasing numbers of crops from 1.5 to 2.5 crops as some crops would be ready in 90-day such as potatoes. Rs1,000 per bag subsidy on fertilisers would be provided to the farmers, he added.

The government would import semen of Rs40 billion in three years to provide to the farmers with the objective to increase milk production of cows to 5,000 liters from existing 1,100 liters.

At present, the price of semen in the local market is Rs5,000, and the government would offer it to the farmers at nominal cost as it believes increase in livestock especially in milk production would give a major boost to the economy.

Additionally, he said that the government would ensure testing of milk at all the entry points before its entrance in the market, and Lahore project would be replicated in five major cities, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, and Multan as role of food authority would increase in the coming months.

Cheema said that wheat production would be increased to 45 million tons in the medium term, whereas, three crops – rice, maize, and vegetables – are being hybrid and local companies are being supported to provide cheaper seeds to the farmers.

The output of rice, maize, and vegetables can be doubled in one-year time.

The government was also working to increase agriculture credit from Rs1,500 billion to Rs2,700 billion, and foreclosure law for the sector was also under consideration.

Pluses to increase agriculture GDP from Rs10,000 billion to Rs18,000 billion in seven years, maintained the prime minister's special assistant on food security.

He said that around 25 percent production of agriculture sector could be increased within two years; the government envisages increase in maize production from 7.8 million tons to 25 million tons, and rice 8.2 million tons to 11-12 million tons.

He said that rice, maize, and wheat production was decreased during the tenure of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), while it increased during the PML-N tenure and during the three years of the present government.

This year, wheat production would be Rs28 million tons, he said, according to the latest data collected from the provinces and acknowledged that urban consumers paid the cost of Rs1,100 billion transferred in the rural economy during the last one year, on account of increase in support price and production.

Cheema said in the next 12 to 13 months, the agriculture sector would be the focus of the government.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that the agriculture and education sectors suffered most subsequent to the 18th Constitutional amendment, and the Sindh government neither procured not released wheat last year, and consequently, there was a crisis of prices in the country. Cheema said that the plan, he presented to the prime minister, would be based on reverse calculation as agriculture in most thickly-populated countries is responsible for food feed and fiber, and at present, Pakistan is deficient in all the three needs.

He said that average per capita global requirement of wheat was 370 kg, while per capita wheat in Pakistan was 200 kg per capita, less by 170 kg compared to the average standard in the world.

As a result, average calories intake in Pakistan was 2,100 compared to 2,960, 800 less as opposed to what is needed.

Low calorie intake is a crime and is creating a liability because it had adverse impact in terms of their contribution to the GDP. He said that the present government wanted to reform the agriculture sector, and land is not an issue but water is a major challenge for the country because Pakistan faces water scarcity. He said that wheat crop was a weakness because it required long, cold weather, whereas, there are only four months of cold weather in Pakistan.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021