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The disaster in food security

The scenes were unbelievable as farmers rolled their potatoes on the roads of the Mall Lahore and in front of the provincial assembly building. The political system has failed the farmers once again and every time this happens it is the ‘N’ League’s insensitivity that is responsible for the farmers’ debacle. Last year the farmers did not receive any income from rice yields whereas basmati used to fetch anything between $500 to $720 per ton. Last year they lost out and those that traded internationally went not only broke but also went under heavy debt. The person most cued up was Mohammad Hussain of Sukheki (near Sheikhupura) whose life time efforts were not only wiped out but he also lost out on life. Wheat was again in difficulties as the farmers never received any of the promised support price. The farmers that I met were discouraged by the lack of understanding of the agriculture sector by the politicians. To cap is all they have opened free trade with India. Now India finds one reason or another not to allow agriculture products in to India but Pakistan is doing everything to dislodge Pakistani farmers. The so-called experts sitting in the MoC and Ministry of Food security (The samosa eating ministry) do not seem to understand the concepts of free trade. If they would they would have referred to the WTO minutes of the various meetings. The WTO has not successfully implemented the concepts of free trade in agriculture. The Indian farmer is heavily subsidised and the policy fields between the farmers of the two countries are widely different.

There are a number of consequences of inefficient agriculture policies. First the farmer’s income is lost and he has to survive a full year of adequate income from two crops. If these crops are cereal crops then the outcome is more disastrous. If sugarcane is added then he is at the mercy of the sugar mill owners and they do not pay for two or three years. The farmer then gets into debt to the informal credit lender and that takes care of the pauperisation affect. Go back to Justice Chotto Ram and see how he saved the Muslim agriculturist from debt. The second is that since income is not enough the employment generated in the rural areas (roughly 50%) then there is a likelihood of a loss to the daily wage earners. I had been trying to get them to salaries rather than daily wages. I have also maintained that a singleton mind is not in play and I follow what Gardener has stated that there are multiple minds at work. In other words there are different substantive functions that a mind plays out in public policy.

Food security in different countries means different things. In Latin America they have got rid of rural poverty and converted all that into urban slums. Successful you would say. China is by far the most disciplined of all the forces. They have registers of rural-urban inflow and they determine the reason so that they could address those issues that these migrants bring in. Second, they provide accommodation to them and then they also seek jobs for them. Here you can only have a job if you belong to one ethnic community. The people that come to see me are so frustrated that despite standing first in the examination they were not given the job. They suggested what would be more appropriate for them if they were to add a Mir, a Butt, or a Khawaja to their name. Rana came in as second preference. The way this sector is being ignored despite the fact that all our industry is based on agro products is really astonishing. It is as if the enemies of Pakistan are in charge of this country.

Since the economics has all gone haywire there is little hope for salvation for the farmers. They have been vilified and the police brought in when they tried to protest. This is a funny democracy. Every one should say ‘well done PM’ (or whoever) and cry out “three cheers for you sir.” The undisciplined mind that we have is strongly illustrated in the case of the judge of the election tribunal. How embarrassing. What idiots do we have that they can make such moronic statements?

Who will invest in Pakistan? The local textile industry has gone over to Bangladesh and what little is left is doing wonders with all the incentives that the government is giving them. There foreign exchange earnings have dropped substantially. Our defunct economists give reason after reason for what has happened. No one ever talks of the subsidies and benefits that have been given to this sector. During the Benazir government we used to say that the only way to make them competitive is to allow some of them to die if they do not operate in the world markets. In fact we let the raw cotton market float according to the world prices. The textile mill owners then started a campaign to do away with the international marketing system. These industrialists are not entrepreneurs and even the PM used the word without due understanding. I do not blame the PM as he is very busy in other matters like make and break politics.

So where do we go from here? Is support price required? I was already on the brink of refusing any price support for the farmers. They were visibly upset but when I explained to them the logic and how they would gain they were really appreciative. During the 30 odd years that I have been working on agriculture I have never had farmers protesting for they knew that they had a representative in the ministers of agriculture (General Majid or Mohammad Yousaf Talpur).

The solution is site specific. But then the minister and the secretary have never tried to ascertain any issue that the farmer may have on first hand basis. All that they do is stay in Islamabad in air conditioned facilities. What did they do in flood systems? Have they any idea what to do to curtail this disaster that is more man-made than it is natural.

Life is always for a public official a tight rope walk. It is nothing to do with conceit. Agriculture can provide protection against earthquakes and it can provide for better living outside the dam area. Build KB and Bhasha and see what happens to your economy and fiscal space. I was astonished by Imran’s statement on KB and Bhasha and he seems to be playing popular Punjabi politics. The farmer does not need more water. He needs better use of that water. At the moment, the farm-efficient use of water is only 11%. But I will be speaking more on this and how we were hoodwinked by engineers. Meanwhile if anyone wants to see their track record then all that they have to do is to see what has happened in the dam construction costs and their personal assets over the building period. The other aspect is that engineers have never stayed with their time line. I have with me the studies of all the dams and what a mess these studies are.

Intellect is more subtle in agriculture than in indu

Dr. Zafar Altaf, "The disaster in food security," Business recorder. 2015-08-29.
Keywords: Economics , Economic policy , Agriculture products , Agriculture policy , Political participation , Textile industry , Foreign exchange , Subsidies , Democracy , Economists , Agriculture , Farmers , Rice , Wheat , Priceses , India , Pakistan , America , Bangladesh , WTO