During the first half of the current fiscal year, agriculture has braved some challenges while a few more need to be tackled to meet this sector’s growth target of 3.5pc for this year. The target for FY17 was set following a 0.2pc contraction in FY16 thus providing a humble base for this year’s growth.
The key assumptions about the performance of various sub-sectors of agriculture are yet to be realised. One of them is a projected growth of 2.5pc in the output of ginned cotton. But that’s not going to happen because cotton production looks set to miss the original target of 14.1m bales by a wide margin. By end-December 10.36m bales (of 170kg) had arrived in ginneries. According to the latest estimate of the Cotton Crop Assessment Committee the total production this season would be around 10.542m bales.
Cotton output, though 11.7pc higher on YoY basis (till December 2016) and despite higher per hectare yield, remains far off from the original target chiefly due to a 20pc fall in the area under cultivation in Punjab as farmers there and elsewhere in the country had lost some of their interest in the crop after heavy pest attacks and low domestic prices in FY16.
Now pest management and prices both have improved but only after cotton growers switched over to maize, sugarcane and some other minor crops.
That is why sugarcane output this year has reached 71m tonnes against the target of 67.5m tonnes, according to the SBP data. Sugarcane’s long perceived edge in profitability over cotton led to an 8pc increase in the area under cane cultivation, also helped by adequate supply of irrigation water to cane fields that made up for shortage in rainfalls, officials and growers say.
The same is true for maize production that, according to the officials of Ministry of National Food Security and Research, could touch 5.2-5.4m tonnes, against the last year’s 5m tonnes.
Production of rice, however, is being estimated at 6.64m tonnes during this fiscal year, down 2.5pc from 6.81m tonnes a year ago due to a slight fall in the area under cultivation primarily in Punjab but also in Sindh. Per-hectare yields of non-Basmati rice varieties have reportedly enhanced rice output by 3.6pc in Sindh owing to increase in the cultivated area.
Output of wheat is expected to remain up to achieve the target of 26m tonnes, officials and growers say, citing reasons like usage of high-yielding varieties, improved farming practices and the modest increase in its cultivation area.
In the first half of FY17 (July-Jan 2016), pest attack on cotton and insufficient rainfall for sugarcane and other crops plus high input prices emerged as big challenges. Pest management was improved, through awareness campaigns and irrigation water supplies were higher (owing to newly built small dams), thus offsetting the impact of lesser rainfalls. Fertiliser subsidy was offered for kharif crops and has now been extended for rabi crops as well. Besides, more agricultural lending by banks in 1HFY17 also helped growers meet input costs. Growers will not be too tight on cash, officials claim.
However, such issues as mismanagement in supply of subsidised inputs and banks’ tendency to ignore smaller provinces in farm credit distribution still pose challenges. The agricultural sector’s targeted growth of 3.5pc for this fiscal year also relies on a 4pc rate growth in livestock. People associated with livestock point out that in the absence of proper animal census (that was due in 2016 but has so far not been completed), cattle breeders and animal farmers remain clueless in drawing up business strategies.
At a recent meeting with the Punjab authorities dealing with livestock, it was pointed out by animal breeders that 30-40pc of cattle in Punjab are found suffering from pox (Mata). They also referred to a decreasing trend in animal population that cannot be verified without animal census.
In the midst of these issues, some positive developments have also taken place in the same period. Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Board (PLDDB) got a breakthrough in its efforts to show ways of boosting milk production of weak cows and buffaloes by obtaining a higher (8.4 litres per day per animal result) from as low as 5 litres a day. Besides, PLDDB’s programme for helping small farmers in storing green fodder without first drying it, through 60kg silage bale models, got adequate response from livestock breeders, officials claim. They say a large number of small cattle owners in Punjab are now benefiting from it.
Officials argue that livestock sector’s performance reflects itself, partly in performance of food and milk processing companies and going by that, it seems that this sector did well in the first half of FY17. Unlike in the case of field crops where data collection is a regular affair, officials admit that even such key indices of livestock performance like, production of milk and meat are worked out on the basis of inter-census growth rate of animal census between 1996 and 2006.
Report. Agriculture sector and growth target. Observer, January 25, 2017.