Economic slump chops down Pakistan’s agricultural sector

In this undated file photo, a Pakistani farmer harvests wheat in a field on the outskirts of Lahore. (AFP)
Updated 06 November 2018

Economic slump chops down Pakistan’s agricultural sector

  • High cost of cultivation may decrease annual yields by 5-10 percent
  • Farmers say successful output has the potential to reverse the crisis

LAHORE: The dire straits of Pakistan’s economy could have a domino effect on the country’s agricultural sector too, with farmers saying that they feared a substantial decline in annual yields following a decrease in the use of agronomical inputs.
A sharp increase in the price of diesel from Rs 98.76 per liter to Rs 112.94 — after the previous government’s term ended on May 31 — is another factor that could contribute toward an increase in the cost incurred by agriculturists.
“The inflation has pushed farmers to reduce the use of agricultural inputs by 10 to 15 percent, which may cause a decline in annual crop production by 5 to 10 percent,” Ibrahim Mughal, Chairman Agri Forum Pakistan, told Arab News.
Endorsing farmers’ opinion that the annual production may decrease due to the impact of inflation and currency devaluation, Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan, Minister for National Food Security and Research, told Arab News: “The country is going through a critical phase with the economy under stress but the government is working to support the farmers and strengthen the agriculture sector.”
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), in its third quarterly report 2017-18, added: “Wheat production stood at 25.5 million in FY18, down 4.4 percent from last year and missing the target of 26.7 million tons set for FY18. The country was not able to match last year’s performance as both area and yield declined in FY18 by 2.7 and 1.8 percent respectively.”
“The cotton production stood at 11.9 million bales during FY18 missing the envisaged target of 13.6 million bales,” the central bank added.
The SBP also highlighted that the rupee’s more than 15 percent depreciation against the US dollar may push inflation to the targeted level of six percent in FY19.
However, Pakistan’s Finance Minister Asad Umer, while addressing the National Assembly on October 30, allayed the fears of farmers by saying that the “government supports the agriculture sector by reducing the electricity rates and provision of soft loans to help farmers”.
Lamenting the losses incurred sue to the current state of the economy, Ibrahim Mughal, a veteran farmer, said: “The currency devaluation has also increased farmers’ cost of agricultural inputs in the local market.”
He added that the economic disaster was a direct result of an agricultural crisis, Mughal added that “agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy and has the potential to turn it around”. “As agriculture largely contributes to Pakistan’s exports, the country’s trade deficit can be met by focusing on the sector by enhancing exports and curtailing imports,” he added.
The central bank states that the sector  contributes 18.9 percent to the country’s GDP, while employing 42.3 percent of its labor force.
Farooq Bajwa, President Farmers Associates of Pakistan, told Arab News: “The substandard inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are badly affecting the growth of the agriculture sector. The increasing price of diesel will badly hit the farmer’s interest as approximately 3 to 3.5 billion liters of diesel is used annually in tube-wells and tractors. No other source of energy like petrol, LNG, CNG or LPG
Sultan, on the other hand, blamed the previous governments for the current economic state of the country, adding that they turned a blind eye to the agricultural sector. He said that a revision of gas prices led to an increase in the rates of fertilizers. “There are no quick fix solutions,” he said, yet the government is giving subsidies on electricity and pesticides to help the farmers. “The government will gradually overcome the impact of diesel and currency devaluation,” he added.
Pakistan’s former Finance Minister Dr. Salman Shah, while talking to Arab News, said that the high cost of agricultural inputs may not decrease crop production but would definitely reduce farmers’ profits.
Shah, an expert in agricultural economy, highlighted that government was not supporting farmers in imparting knowledge and technology, farm and water management or extending services to improve productivity. “The Agriculture University didn’t impart knowledge or conduct research to help improve the sector,” he added.
Punjab Finance Minister Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht added that Pakistan’s annual agricultural yield is already low in the region, even as the government continues to work on a comprehensive policy to improve techniques in order to increase the per acre yield. “Interest-free loans and the reduced tariff on tube-wells to farmers are steps in that direction,” he told Arab News.

Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

Updated 19 January 2021

Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement urged the election commission to promptly announce its verdict in the case
  • The interior minister said the opposition alliance failed to attract large number of people to the protest demonstration 

ISLAMABAD: An alliance of Pakistani opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), held a protest rally today, Tuesday, outside the election commission which is hearing a case involving alleged illegal foreign funding for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. 

The case was filed in November 2014 by a founding PTI member, Akbar S Babar, who claimed massive financial irregularities in the handling of foreign funds by the party that amounted to about $3 million. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has still not adjudicated the matter, making the PDM leadership criticize it for “the inordinate delay.” 

“Neither is this government elected nor has it any right to rule the country,” the opposition alliance chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said while addressing the participants of the rally in Islamabad. 

He accused the prime minister of contesting the 2018 elections after taking “funds from Israel and India,” adding that the foreign funding case was pending for the last six years even after a revelation by the State Bank of Pakistan that the PTI had 23 “hidden accounts.” 

Rehman said the ECP had held about 150 hearings in the case, noting that the PTI filed 50 applications for its deferment and that the nation was still awaiting the judgment. 

“Some powerful institutions had occupied the election system and brought an incompetent person to power,” he said. “They are now running the government from behind the scenes.” 

Criticizing the ECP, he said: “If this weak election commission provides them [the ruling party] protection, we won’t be able to trust it in the next elections.” 

Rehman said that no country in the world, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was willing to trust Pakistan due to the government’s “poor foreign policy.” 

“We will continue our struggle [against the government] within the legal and constitutional ambit,” he added. 

The opposition alliance has frequently accused the PTI of coming into power by manipulating the 2018 elections and promised to dislodge through public support. The government denies the charge of election rigging. 

Addressing the protest demonstration, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Sharif also accused the prime minister of getting funds from India and Israel and using for his 2014 sit-in to overthrow an elected government. 

“Do you know who funded him from India? Bharatiya Janata Party member Inder Dosanjh. And the Israeli who funded him was Barry C. Schneps,” she claimed, adding that “countless” such people and companies from Israel and India had funded the PTI. 

Mocking the ruling party’s statement in the foreign funding case in which it blamed its agents in the US for any possible illegal funding, she asked the prime minister should also reveal the names of the “agents who brought you into power.” 

Lambasting the ECP, she said the election commission was “part of the crime of selecting an unqualified person and bringing him to power.” 

Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leader Faisal Karim Kundi said that the PTI had admitted that its agents accepted the funds from foreign countries and companies. 

“If the agents had done something wrong, it means that the PTI is involved in it,” he said, urging the ECP to give its judgment in the case. “The verdict will prove which enemy countries had funded the PTI,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s local administration had beefed up the federal capital’s security to avert any untoward incident during the opposition’s protest demonstration. It had deployed over 1,800 security personnel to maintain the law and order besides identifying alternate routes to ensure smooth flow of traffic. 

Responding to the opposition’s protest, Federal Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed termed it a “disappointing and poor” show and claimed that the opposition alliance had failed to attract a large number of protesters to its demonstration. 

“We welcome your long march [toward Islamabad] after this today’s show, and that will be your last show [of power],” the minister said, admitting that the opposition had all the right to address public gatherings. 

He also rejected the opposition’s accusations regarding Israel and India. 

“They [the opposition] were given a free hand [to protest outside the ECP], and they have been exposed,” he said. “We are waiting for their long march now.”