Flight and plight of agri sector
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 – IN initial days of birth, Pakistan with 30 million people of West Pakistan was not able to feed itself and had to import most of its food requirements. Today, the farmers of Pakistan are able to fulfill the domestic needs of wheat, rice, sugar, milk of 180 million people at a much higher per capita consumption level, and also export wheat and rice to the rest of the world.
This shows the spectacular rise in productivity as the share of agriculture in national income has declined from 50% to 20%. Total land area of Pakistan is 96.9% and 3.1% is constituted of water bodies. Total cropped area of Pakistan is 23.04 million hectors. 90% of the land is irrigated and only remaining 10% is rain cultivated. In Pakistan, success of Farming is largely result of Use of fertilizers and pesticides and techniques of crop rotation which are practiced successfully in order to have larger yield. In this back drop Pakistan still survives as a sustainable Nation despite predictions of many researchers and intellectuals who said Pakistan will cease to exist due to its declining economic state and corruption. Hunger the mother of all evils was taken care of by the agriculture sector. An average Pakistani earns about $1,000 in 2013 compared to less than $100 in 1947 taking Pakistan out of Low Income Country to Lower Middle Income category. Poverty has declined significantly and living standards have improved with more emphasis on electricity for home based comforts.
Unfortunately the political leadership could not get a chance to institutionalize the evaluation and research process to make a long term policy for future generation of Pakistan. Every government coming to power inherits multi faceted problems which forces them to take decisions in a hurry without due deliberation. PML-N came to power with Electricity shortfall problems and a soft corner for the IPPs.
Electricity generated in 2013 is huge as compared to 57 MW in 1947 (3 percent of undivided India’s generating capacity) but the IPPs still remain well short of the out put required out of them. The fuel provided to them is being used in a unprofessional way with high wastage ratio. Circular debt and fuel requirement of petroleum and gas have become the main challenge for the government. The other main sector consuming gas is CNG which has been assessed by the federal minister for theft of more than 30 percent.
Moreover, fertilizer sector considered an efficient user with least losses and theft, the total gas allocation is just 818 MMCFD but they hardly get 600 MMCFD through MARI and SSGC network . The gas allocated at MARI Network is low MMBTU gas (inferior quality gas) which cannot be used for power generation or domestic consumption hence this low mmbtu gas field is being utilized by domestic fertilizer plants saving it from being wasted.
The second concern of the Agri sector is depleting water sources. The 90 percent of our cultivated land banks on water and construction of Dams on Indian side have serious repercussions. The government will have to keep this on their top agenda when they discuss business with India.
The intent of government once again seem to be poised for a short term easy solution not realizing long term fatal effects for the Nation. Diverting gas from fertilizer sector to IPPs would mean raising prices of fertilizer for the farmers. Reliance on imported fertilizer will increase the prices from existing Rs 1700 per bag to Rs 2400 per bag. Recently, Iran agreed with Pakistan to import wheat valued at $9 million in exchange for electricity. Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Mohammad Behzad said, “We agreed on barter of goods in exchange for electricity supplies to provide rice as well as the wheat for electricity”.
Such examples show strength of Agri sector but it is feared that any decision to further put more pressure on agriculture sector may prove harmful for future of the country. The experts say that the sector which has provided safe flight to Pakistan need delicate handling to take Pakistan out of existing economic crisis.
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Source: Pakistan Observer