Lahore: Punjab farmers have threatened to strike, demanding the government provide them with level playing field and provide subsidies for input products as well as creating a mechanism to intervene the market by announcing support price of traditional crops otherwise they will opt for strikes and will disrupt the routine government machinery with excessive manpower.

“ The per acre input cost has now exceeded the market price of the crops, and it is becoming unviable for farmers to continue with this profession”, said Khalid Mahmood Khokhar, Central President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (Pakistan Farmers Alliance) while talking to News Lens Pakistan.

“We, the frustrated farmers of Punjab province, which is touted as Bread Basket of the country, have demanded the government to follow footsteps of neighboring countries and abolish undue taxes on farm inputs and provide them subsidies on various heads in a bid to give some relief to loss-bearing farmers huge because of abnormally high input costs,” said Khokhar.

He also lamented that the raw milk being produced in the country have gradually been substituted by imported milk powder by major dairy producers, loose milk sellers and other users, badly hurting the livelihood of the rural population. This alarming trend has gradually hit hard dairy farmers and resulted in a decrease in overall number of dairy farms from 11.5 million in 1996 to under 8.0 million farms.

Like India where 65% duty is levied on import of milk powder, Pakistan should also increase import duty to protect and support the local dairy farm from total devastation, he added.

As per different lobbies, the farmers are facing losses in all major crops including cotton, sugarcane and Rice. The average per acre cost of for cotton including all inputs/operations comes around Rs 84,100, however the market rate per mound (40 kg) for cotton is at Rs 57,200, which means a farmer who sows the cotton will bear a loss of Rs 26,900 per acre, which is huge.

Similarly, Sugarcane average production cost per acre comes at around Rs151,700 and the market rate is around Rs 1,35,000 per mounds and a farmer in sugarcane crop has to bear a loss of Rs 16,700 per acre.

Rice growers are facing the maximum loss per acre. The average cost of rice per acre comes in at RS 67,200, whereas the market price currently is at Rs36,000, depicting a loss of Rs 31,200 per mound.

“The government should also gift a ‘Metro’ to the agriculture sector, to retract the most important sector of rural economy”, said Faisal Cheema, a rice miller, while talking with News Lens Pakistan.

Like other traditional crop farmers, rice processors from last two years are facing the crisis, the supply is more than the demand due to drop in international prices and we are struggling for some potential market to export the existing stocks, he said, adding that the interest of farmers in harvesting the paddy is diminishing and for the 2015-16, only 3.7 million acres of land has been sowed against 4.64 million acres then the corresponding period, simply because growers are facing 50% loss in paddy, Chemma said. This is the time for government to intervene via Trading Corporation of Pakistan or through Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Services Corporation to announce support price for rice and buy the existing stocks, else the rice processors and millers are about to face the bankruptcy, he added.

The province of Punjab, also known as food basket once was feeding the entire region but today it is unable to feed even Pakistan and is importing different essential items primarily Tomatoes and potatoes from neighboring country India. The share of agriculture and livestock sector towards national GDP which after independence was in 40’s has dropped down to 21% out of which half is the contribution of the livestock sector. Over 60% of the population still lives in villages and majority of them are affiliated with farming. The uneven policies of different governments have nearly crushed this most important sector. In addition, the Pak-India trade mantra has proved to be the last nail in their coffin as agricultural product imports from India has resulted in the further crisis for farmers’ community. The low subsidies, high input costs, different taxes, low market prices, role of middleman and their black marketing are adding woes for farmers and their associations and they now are on roads threatening to halt government operations as they have a huge manpower to follow them.

“Pakistan is rapidly converting to a services economy from agriculture economy and governments both provincial and federal are not paying much attention to this crucial sector”, noted economist Doctor Qais Aslam while talking with News Lens Pakistan.

From past 35 years no government had invested in this sector and as a result its share to GDP has been dropped to nearly 21%, it is also resulting in expansion of urban land and the farmers associated with this field in urban surroundings now are doing some other businesses or jobs, Aslam said.

He further said that majority of farmers are using same old technologies and seeds for their crops which have resulted in the lowest per acre yield for Pakistani agriculture if compared globally. “Only 12% of farmers are capitalist farmers and are using modern techniques in increasing per acre yields and they actually are trying to feed the whole nation, rest are fighting for their own bread and butter”, Aslam added.

The concerns of farmers are quite right and we are trying our best to facilitate the farmers’ community, said Punjab Agriculture minister Doctor Farrukh Javed, while talking with News Lens Pakistan.

However, he said that farmers should know that Pakistan is linked with international market under World Trade Organization regime and we cannot control the international price fluctuations.

“India is giving huge subsidies on agriculture inputs. In neighboring India, the Urea is available at Rs 490, whereas in Pakistan it cost Rs1900, a difference of 288%. Similarly, he said, DAP price in India is Rs 1913, whereas in Pakistan it costs Rs 3800 to farmers a difference of 97%. The diesel price for farmer sector in India is Rs 55.5 per liter and in Pakistan it is Rs 94.4 per liter a difference of 70%, Khokhar said.

In total India is giving $37 billion subsidies to its agriculture sector whereas Pakistan is merely giving $1 billion subsidies to agriculture, according to experts.

However, Aslam said that the farmers should know that being as a member of WTO, we are bound to follow some rules in which the discouraging of subsidies is prominent. “Pakistan cannot give subsidy at each item, however, India which is giving huge subsidy is also violating the rules but they have established themselves as a growing economy in the world”, Aslam added.

The federal government is also giving subsidy on electricity for tube wells and it is available for Rs10.35 per unit both at peak and off-peak hours. The total amount of subsidy for tube wells alone is Rs 22 nationwide, Javed added.

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