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Future of Agriculture Policy Institute hangs in the balance

THE Ministry of National Food Security and Research is on the verge of losing one of its organs — the Agriculture Policy Institute (API) — as it has remained dormant over the past decade.

The institute came under fierce criticism at a recent meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research, but the food ministry had no answer to the committee’s objections.

Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, the committee’s chairman, asked the ministry to submit a detailed report on API’s functioning over the past 10 years. He argued that the API had been receiving allocations from the budget and therefore was supposed to report to the committee on its performance.

The prime objective of the institute is to analyse the impact of important agricultural policies on consumers, processors and exporters. But it remains inactive for years, apparently because of lack of interest by the food ministry

The prime objective of the institute is to analyse the impact of important agricultural policies on groups such as consumers, processors and exporters, and advise the food ministry on policy adjustments needed for greater efficiency and equity.

One major effort by the API was to produce annual policy analysis reports on cotton, sugarcane, rice, wheat and tobacco crops. However, no report has been produced in the recent past.

The institute — previously known as the Agricultural Prices Commission, which was created in 1981 — is being run by only four officials. It has no full-time director general, and a joint secretary of the food ministry is handling its affairs as an additional charge.

Ever since it was set up, the institute has no permanent office, and it has changed its location at least eight times so far. “We are in a confusion about API’s future,” an official of the ministry told this writer.

Sources close to the food ministry say the secretaries’ committee took up the issue of the API a few months ago and asked the ministry to submit proposals for restructuring the institute. Most committee members are in favour of keeping the API after its restructuring. However, it has been learnt that the food ministry has yet to take any decision in this regard.

The national food security policy — which was due in 2013 following the devolution of the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock — has not yet finalised. Its draft has seen several revisions and was said to be finalised recently by the director general of the National Agricultural Research Centre. However, it is still not known when the ministry will submit the policy to the cabinet for approval.

The API has failed to conduct studies on emerging policy issues. It was supposed to periodically examine, process, store and market the costs of agricultural commodities, to recommend policies and programmes to reduce these costs, and to make commodities more competitive.

With limited capacity, the API was supposed to conduct annual input-output field surveys in main producing areas of cotton, sugarcane, rice, wheat and tobacco crops.

It was also required to prepare papers on the most-favoured-nation (MFN) strategy, South Asian Free Trade Area and the ‘sensitive list’ referred from the Ministry of Commerce, in addition to analyse the Indian subsidies in the agriculture sector on fertiliser, power, irrigation water and food subsidy.

The institute came under fierce criticism in a recent meeting of the Senate’s Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research

Its special assignments included preparing summaries for the Economic Coordination Committee on the availability and pricing of pulses in the country.

The API has also been given the role of preparing annual papers for meetings of the food supplies committee of defence planning; however, the institute is facing growing challenges owing to its limited capacity.

In its last meeting, the Senate’s committee concerned sought a detailed justification report from the food ministry on the future of the API, Senator Muzaffar Shah said.

The presentation made by the food ministry was not substantive, and it was asked to submit a concrete report on the functioning of the API so that its future could be decided.

Mr Shah said that after the devolution, agriculture was transferred to provinces; however, provinces failed to make the required allocations for this sector, hence the vast potential in agriculture remains under-exploited.

There is a need for producing new varieties of crops and reaching out to farmers on their doorstep with benefits of research, he said.

Ahmed, Amin. Future of Agriculture Policy Institute hangs in the balance. Dawn, November 20, 2017.

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