HYDERABAD: Sindh’s farmers have been unhappy with the provincial government’s agricultural policies for the last few years. They have been complaining and protesting time and time again about the shortage of water, inefficient irrigation system mainly in tail-end areas, expensive inputs, low crop prices, problems in public procurement of crops and lack of innovative planning.
But, with the change of stewardship in the power corridors of Sindh, two leading farmer lobbying groups, the Sindh Abadgar Board and Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, tried their luck with the new chief minister, Murad Ali Shah, during a meeting in Hyderabad on Wednesday.
The groups used the occasion to voice their problems, while separately submitting lists of recommendations. However, the first interaction fell short of rekindling any hope for an improvement in the existing state of affairs.
“The CM didn’t give any positive reply to our propositions,” Mehmood Nawaz Shah, the vice-president of Sindh Abadgar Board, told The Express Tribune. “We are sad … the only response we got was that a ministerial committee will be formed to meet us monthly.”
An official hand-out quoted the CM as assuring the delegations that ministers of agriculture, irrigation, livestock and revenue will meet them monthly and will submit minutes of the meetings to his office.
“We told the chief minister that the sugarcane growers and millers have been fighting court cases against each other for the last two years because the government doesn’t timely fix adequate price of the crop,” said Nabi Bux Sathio, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture. But, he lamented, he could not get a response from the CM on this concern.
The agriculture sector has been included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Abadgar board, while pointing out an absence of the provincial government’s strategy for production and export of crops oriented towards China and Central Asian countries, emphasised on preparing a long-term plan.
Dates, mangoes, guavas, bananas, green chillies, tomatoes and cauliflower, among other fruits and vegetables, can find a market in these countries. According to Mehmood, up to 35% of over five million tons of fruit and vegetables produced in Sindh are wasted.
The board also pointed out what it described as discrimination towards Sindh’s growers in the federal agricultural credit because of irregularities in the province’s land revenue records. It suggested that all land records should be computerised and made accessible to lending banks through the National Database and Registration Authority.
The lining of distributaries and water courses, taking measures to end pollution of the Indus River and canals and restoring Manchar Lake were some other suggestions submitted by the board.
Meanwhile, the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture called for fixing the official price of wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane crops in a timely manner, declaring the agriculture sector as an industry and granting access to agricultural loans. The chamber demanded the government reanimate the Sindh Seed Corporation to address shortage of crop seeds and end marketing of low quality seeds. “The corporation has been dysfunctional for many years. Had it been active, it would have met more than 50% seed requirement in the province,” advised the chamber.
According to it, the World Bank has sanctioned separate loans of $601 million since 2014 for agricultural, irrigation and livestock sectors. It called for constituting a committee of stakeholders for monitoring utilisation of the credit.