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EDITORIAL: It makes not just economic sense but also basic common sense for farmers to get agriculture inputs right at their doorstep, or at least close by, in order to reduce cost of production and increase output. A traditionally agri-based economy that is reduced to importing part of its food, and exposing itself to international price shocks in the process, ought to be that much more careful about such things.

Yet a survey by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), an arm of the federal government, has revealed that rural people of all provinces have to travel many kilometers just to get access to necessary inputs and services. It’s 58km for farmers in Balochistan and 29km in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), while the number is smaller in Punjab and Sindh.

The Mouza Census 2020 also says that most outlets for seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are at an average distance of 22-23km from rural mouzas across the country. This is very troubling, and the fact that this distance has come down only marginally, from 26km in 2008, does not give much hope at all.

There’s also the fact that the distance to livestock markets is 58km in KP, 57km in Balochistan, 21km in Punjab and 19km in Sindh. This means that the entire sector is put at an inherent disadvantage even before the beginning of each year’s agri cycle since farmers, hardly the most affluent members of society, have to waste precious time and money to get access to the most basic resources.

Of course a number of previous administrations are to blame for ignoring this phenomenon even as the fortunes of the agri sector dwindled before their eyes. But considering how compromised the economy is at this point in time, and how imperative it is to regain agri self-sufficiency, it is incumbent on the present government to begin solving unnecessary logistical problems for the farming community.

Hopefully, it will do more than just point the finger at its predecessor and get on with business as usual. In such cases even targeted subsidies don’t do the job because they do nothing to reduce leakages at different stages. The only practical solution is to reduce these distances and ensure that farmers’ requirements are taken care of in areas where they live and work.

The country’s food import bill widened by over 50 percent in the first two months of the ongoing fiscal alone, from $0.98 billion to $1.473 billion, to bridge the gap in local production. And this was before the government decided to import 0.6 million tons of sugar and 4 million tons of wheat to build strategic reserves.

But such things are bound to happen when you squander away your traditional comparative advantage for no other reason than not giving basic logistical planning the attention it deserves; among a whole lot of other things, of course. Now we’re forced to worry not just about an out-of-control trade deficit, and increasingly difficult-to-get debt to keep financing it, but also the nation’s food security.

Granted, such problems are not solved overnight. But it’s also true that once they’ve been identified it should not take long to at least begin planning to address them. That farmers should continue to face logistical nightmares in an agrarian economy in this day and age is inconceivable.

Therefore, the sooner the government brings this matter under the microscope, the better for the farmers, the nation and especially for the ruling party itself. Agriculture is supposed to be the strongest link in the economic chain, and it must not only be protected but also constantly upgraded if we are to have half a chance of coming out strong from the economic headwinds we currently face.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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