There are certain things in life which are neglected by default and not by design. Almost all the governments in Pakistan have tried to give a lot of incentives to the agricultural sector for ensuring self-sufficiency in food and optimum utilisation of the land resources of the country. However, proper marketing of agricultural produce, which could greatly help farmers, has invariably been missing from this strategy. Addressing the inaugural session of a three-day workshop on students’ professional development, Iqrar Ahmed, Vice Chancellor of University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, nonetheless, made it a point to highlight this issue by asserting that weak marketing of agriculture produce, both in the domestic and international markets, was hurting this sector. According to him, middlemen are fleecing the producers as well as consumers. Online shopping has, lately, gained an immense importance and “there is a dire need of getting benefit from information and communication technologies to compete with the rest of the world.” Iqrar Ahmed lamented that after completing their studies, most of the students were looking for government jobs but they could become self-employed; this will be possible only after they polish their entrepreneurial skills and generate innovative ideas. More than 90 percent of the products in the country are directly or indirectly related to the agriculture sector and information and communication technology is required to increase the profitability of the sector. The University of Agriculture Faisalabad established a Business Incubation Centre eight years ago to provide a platform and give an opportunity to the students to run a start-up company.
There is absolutely no doubt that Agriculture University of Faisalabad is the premier institution of the country. It was established in 1906 as the first major institution of higher education in the undivided Punjab to provide proper education in various fields of agriculture, undertake related research, provide professionals to the agricultural departments of the government and disseminate knowledge to the farming community to enhance their productivity. Again, there was no doubt that this top rated institution has done a commendable job and made the country proud in the international circles. The observations of the Vice Chancellor of the University are, in our view, on the spot and need to be accorded high priority in the policy formulation of agriculture sector. The grimness of situation demands that agricultural marketing should have been given due importance but the policymaking circles have not made the needed efforts with the result that the middlemen and some other manipulators have continued to exploit farmers with impunity. Farmers generally have to sell their produce at the harvest time at very cheap rates offered by the middlemen because of financial and capacity constraints to store the produce and wait for better times. In the process, not only the agriculturists and consumers get a highly raw deal but the economy of the country suffers due to low savings and investment in the agriculture sector and depressed demand from the agriculture sector for non-agriculture products and services. In fact, such a vicious circle continues to depress the economy and is highly exploitative. The sad aspect is that this distorted state of affairs is missing from the government’s strategy, and hardly finds any mention in the official documents and various packages offered by the government from time to time. We have now a number of agricultural universities in the public sector but these too lack the facilities of educating the farmers and consumers to form Cooperative societies and establish markets and sale points at their own to benefit society at large. The government has set up Sunday markets in certain cities to promote direct contact between producers and consumers but the scheme failed to make much headway. This needs to change with the help of latest technology and better education of farmers. Hopefully, banks would also be more liberal in offering credit for cold storage and proper transportation of agriculture produce. The aim should be to ensure a fair trade regime by compensating those who really deserve and depriving those who are exploiting the system up to the hilt. The University of Agriculture Faisalabad is, in our view, best suited to begin this effort and extend its knowledge and experience in this area to other institutions to set right an unhealthy practice that has been in vogue for a long time.
Source: Business Recorder
Byline: Recorder Report
December 5, 2016