After the Prime Minister’s speech about the agricultural package to small farmers, a ray of hope is seen, as the government seems well aware of the economic hardships and problems farmers are facing and felt a genuine effort from the government to reduce cost of production.

Focus on small farmers was well thought of. In short, the government tried whatever it could do on the supply side, relief etc. Rs 5000 per acre package for small farmers. I feel the package will definitely help as the situation is rather bleak. The package will get the farmer to sow wheat on time with hopefully proper dose of fertiliser.

The Government’s total focus was on supply side of farmers; the market side of farmer was not addressed. How will the market behave at harvest time of paddy, which is around the corner, the initial reports are not encouraging.

However after Federal Minister for Agriculture Mr. Bosan’s candid honest appraisal of the package I got worried. The government has accepted the fact that commodity prices will be low in the coming years. The Rs 5000 per acre contribution, by the government to the small farmer is to compensate, for not supporting the farmer, by buying his present crop, and not for the previous year losses.

The farmer is being treated as a sacrificial animal. A soother or tranquiliser worth Rs 5000 per acre is being given so that he does not feel the pain of market slaughter at harvest time.

Mr. Bosan I know you are a well wisher of farmers. Rice prices are down as Iran is not in the market. You and your government are trying to get it open but I feel more is required. The government can convince Iran to open market on urgent basis. It is not market forces but political forces and political will that are keeping the prices down.

Imran khan’s speech at Hafizabad, few days back at farmer’s convention made lot of sense. Again, in short, it managed to raise the hopes and spirits of the farming community.

My suggestion, request, plea - call it what you will - to Imran khan would be to join hands with the government in finding a solution for paddy farmers’ marketable produce. A joint political delegation of government and opposition to Iran and China to open up market for rice on fast forward basis in order to get a fair price for rice farmers in the coming crop that raises his spirits, income and safeguards his livelihood.

We have been losing export market share of basmati to India is our own fault. Iran, our traditional market, was gifted to India on a silver platter. Their rice trade made a killing by having a monopoly in the Iranian market. Last year, Iran stopped buying from India resulting in a price crash in other markets as Indian rice trade off-loaded their produce destined for Iranian market.

Government has given relief to rice millers very timely. Hopefully banks will give additional limits to the rice millers that will definitely help the farmer. It seems government is not going to procure rice or paddy so it becomes more urgent to focus on outside markets to open doors for Pakistani rice.

My humble request to all politicians, and movers and shakers, in the government, is to please focus on export highways for rice to Iran and China for the next month and put farm to market roads, and other highways on back burner.

Now, surprisingly, the smile on farmers’ face can be brought by friendly neighbors. China is a big buyer of non-basmati rice. The crop is going to be in the market soon in a big way. As a farmer, I would like to ask for our share in the promised economic corridor. If China or Chinese traders buy now, farmers’ paddy price will get a boost. This entire issue is political, and, for the sake of the farmers, everyone needs get together and ask China and Iran to be in the market now. Political delegation - not a trade delegation - is the answer.

Iran, for a fact, is going through a severe water crisis for the last decade. While climate change is accelerating, lakes are turning into barren land in Iran. Iran is discouraging water intensive crops like maize and rice. On the other hand, we are producing water guzzling crops and have no place to export them. The government should respect grain grown from valuable water, and the long, hard toil of farmers, which will end up being exported at bargain basement prices if the government does not intervene. Trade with Iran, China, and Afghanistan will commence, but by that time, the farmer would already have sold his crop at a total loss. This has to be avoided at all costs.

Iran and china will both buy and so will Afghanistan, for their local markets, as well as transit trade for Central Asian republics. The question is: When? I, as a farmer, want it now as my paddy price will get a boost. Thus the issue is of timing when the trade with our neighbors will begin.

It will require political will to find legal, diplomatic and banking solutions to trade with Iran; Legal: How to trade with Iran with the sanctions, Diplomatic: Convince Iran to open their market for Pakistani rice and reduce or waive duty, Banking: Banking channels to be opened for trade with Iran. I feel this crisis is so grave that it calls for an All-Parties Conference on how to address farmers’ issues.

November should be reserved for agriculture only.

The other point I want to make is that agriculture needs to be the prime focus in the next three months, and specifically, in November. During the next three months, harvest of paddy, cotton, and sugarcane will be in full swing, and simultaneously, the sowing of wheat will be taking place. This is absolutely critical for the farmer, agriculture, and obviously, for Pakistan.

I have been questioning the viability of holding elections in November since the 1980s. All these pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears, the logic being that general elections do not have any significant impact on agriculture as only a few people are involved in the electioneering process. The truth of the matter is somewhat different: In local bodies, everyone is fully involved. The similarity to hand-to-hand combat cannot be overstated: It becomes an “Izzat kaa saawal” for individuals and Biradaris. I cannot stress this enough: The elections HAVE to be postponed.

We simply cannot afford another disaster at harvest time. Our sovereignty is at stake. Wheat sowing is in full swing in November and even a single day’s delay affects the yield negatively. Timely sowing with farmer having inputs at his disposal is of the utmost importance. I personally know of farmers who didn’t have the resources to apply fertilizer to their rice crop.

I would not be exaggerating to say that in my lifetime, I have never seen such a bad year for the rice farmer in particular and farmers in general. Last year the Rice farmer was first hit by disease, followed by hailstorm at harvest time. Then, to add insult to injury, he got an abysmal rate for his crop. As if that were not enough, some farmers still have to get their dues of last year from the middlemen.

To recoup his rice losses, the farmer went all out for wheat sowing with full focus and vigor. Close to harvest time, hailstorms, combined with unseasonal rains, played havoc with his yield. Despite all this, the farmer persevered. However, what really hurt was the short period and target of wheat procurement, where wheat prices stayed low before and after government intervention.

On this rice crop his body language said it all: this was a reluctant rice plantation. To accurately judge the momentum of rice or wheat sowing, one can simply listen to the sound of folk music coming from the tractors when farmers plough their land at night. This was the season of silence. And yet acreage under rice is no less. There was lesser rain, but crops seem to be healthy and no disease issue has been found so far. Fingers crossed, I am hoping for a bumper harvest.

In summation, at all costs, we have to avoid distress sale of the farmer. 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. The entire livelihood of the farmers is at stake. In India, we hear of farmers’ suicides. In Pakistan, farmers are already under severe mental depression.

It is not yet all doom and gloom - this is a healthy problem to have: to export our surplus to neighbours. It does not take long for the tables to turn, with Pakistan having to import wheat with additional threats of blockade.

I will end with a quote from a famous Nobel Prize winner:

“The only thing greater than the power of the mind is the courage of the heart.”