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EDITORIAL: It seems this nation is now condemned to just sitting and watching from the side as our once natural comparative agrarian advantage is completely lost. Once again wheat, the staple crop, is going to miss the production target and nothing the prime minister could, and indeed did, do about it will make many of the reasons for it go away.

Can nothing really be done about water shortage; especially since it has become an annual hindrance? At some point we will have to plan ahead, and it is pretty clear that there’s not much time left, so why not at least start thinking about taking the first steps now?

There can be no reasons for things like sudden fertliser shortage except gross mismanagement. To top it all, farmers driven mad by it had nowhere to turn to because there was no contingency plan either. There should be an immediate inquiry into this and very strict action should be taken against anybody and everybody who was asleep at the job all this time.

This didn’t turn out to be just another instance of typical departmental oversight it cut into wheat productivity and compromised the country’s food integrity. Now, the PM has had to order necessary arrangements, especially funds, for emergency imports if, rather when, the need arises.

It is best to get very accurate estimates and make the decision now rather than expose oneself to the wild volatility of the international commodity market unnecessarily. A prompt decision now could be attributed to timely damage control, if nothing else.

The biggest blunder, however, was delaying the announcement of the support price which had become an irritating habit of the previous administration.

Most farmers can take the uncertainty for only so long when seeding season is upon them, since their very livelihood depends on which crop they produce and how quickly and at what cost they can take it to market.

Delaying the announcement of the support price for one, therefore, forces them to go for others. And now there’s been a trend of delaying announcement of the support price for so long that even wheat production lost out because of it; as it did by sacrificing two percent production area this year.

The new PM has also had to order yet another investigation into reports of wheat smuggling into Afghanistan. Every year a similar report is presented, and every year such orders are given, yet here we stand.

Is the entire government machinery really so helpless that it can do nothing at all about such things; regardless of the hit to the budget? The slide from an agrarian economy to one that has to import part of its food, and also other crops that make for important inputs for the export industry, is unacceptable; even unforgivable.

Agriculture is the biggest sector and also the largest employer. It was supposed to form the backbone of the economy in uncertain times just like the present. Instead, it’s being needlessly allowed to become dead wood.

Since Pakistan also has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, and much of the overflowing periphery lives off agriculture, the speed with which this sector declines will also tell a lot about how quickly a lot of social problems, like a spike in the crime rate, begin presenting themselves.

It is precisely because we’ve overlooked such things for far too long that we’re staring into the abyss right now. Therefore, the sooner the government gives this matter its most serious attention the better.

Already the current account deficit is in deep red, nothing’s been able to stop the rupee’s collapse and there’s little chance of international commodity markets calming down anytime soon. So it’s not as if the odds favour us in any way.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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