Prime Minister yesterday announced development package worth Rs 2.5 billion for Lodhran district, besides distributing cheques among farmers under the Kissan Package. He also announced the establishment of an agriculture university and a commerce college in Lodhran and construction of two flyovers. He added a motorway would also be constructed to connect Lodhran to Karachi and Lahore.

Now, the package is a big one, but there are concerns over the strategy of the government. The farming community needs markets to sell to.

Unless they have those markets, government packages will not amount to anything. The agriculture package given by the government is basically focusing on the supply side, combined with payment of direct cash to the farmer. A much better alternative would have been a total focus on the marketing side that would have resulted in far greater reward to the farmer. There is no branding or marketing strategy, and no export promotion. At all costs the government has to avoid distress sales by the farmer, which have happened last year due to disease, as well as pushing to the limit their rotation of crops such that they cant easily transition from one crop to another when there is a bad harvest.

The farmers cannot take another shock, politicians cannot afford to look bad in front of the farmer, and, most importantly, for an agrarian country such as Pakistan, the farmers cannot stand to economically lose more. We cannot afford farmers exiting the market because of lower commodity prices, fuel shortages and bad policy. Pakistan will starve.

The PTI as usual has cried fowl and called the package “rigging”, and seems to have given up all ideas of reasonable debate over the issue.

Rather than lobbying for better farmer rights and the creation of international linkages to export to the PTI is acting like a spoiled one trick pony. As of now, no matter what they say, the PML-N has at least tried to help the farmer, whatever the agenda. We would like their strategy to better thought out, to be sustainable, so that when cash payments stop the farmer is not brought to his knees again. If the government can supplant their current policy with winning access to international markets, the farming community can not only survive but flourish.