Needless to emphasize that Pakistan is an agricultural country and its economic progress on sustainable basis is inconceivable without giving boost to the agriculture sector by providing adequate incentives to the farmers. The development of the agriculture sector is imperative not only to ensure food security for the masses but also to run the agro-based industries including the textile sector; the biggest foreign exchange earner for Pakistan. It is also extremely desirable from other perspectives. Agriculture contributes one-fifth of the GDP and provides livelihood for 3/5th labour force. In view of its importance in our situation and its impact on the overall economic development of the country, it would not be wrong to infer that agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and the country cannot move forward without agriculture-led growth model.

Food Security was defined by the World Food Summit in 1996 as “A situation which exists when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Ever since known history food security has been the concern of all the governments and the central authorities designed to prevent famines and the consequent starvation of the people. The FAO has identified four pillars of food security as availability, access, utilization and stability. In the modern times even in the countries where agriculture is not the main stay of the economies, the governments give top priority to attaining food security which is a basic ingredient in ensuring peace and tranquility in the country. Food insecurity promotes hunger, diseases and social crimes with disastrous consequences for the country.

In Pakistan also food security has remained a major concern of the successive governments and the growth process has invariably been spearheaded by the agriculture sector. However the percentage of growth in this sector has not been as impressive as is desirable for a variety of reasons including floods, defective policy initiatives and above all lack of adequate incentives for the farmers, who are the lynchpin and the actual propellers of the agricultural growth. Most of the policies adopted in this arena have worked in the benefit of the big land holders with the result that they did not have the trickle down impact. They failed to improve economic situations of the small farmers who constitute a bigger chunk of the agricultural community.

Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that the PML-N government, in line with the manifesto of the party did bring a paradigm shift in regards to the small farmers when through the budget for 2015-16 it allocated Rs.600 billion for agricultural credit, representing an increase of Rs.100 billion over the last year with the commitment to continue with the credit guarantee scheme for the farmers introduced in the budget for 2014-15. The government also announced interest-free loans for setting up new solar tube well numbering 30,000 over the next three years. The measure clearly targeted the small farmers with a view to providing adequate incentives to them to boost agricultural production.

Now again, the government has shown a responsive attitude towards the difficulties of the farmers in the wake of the reduction of prices of agricultural products at the global level which affected the incomes of the Pakistani farmers as well as increase in prices of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides which had enhanced cost of production. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a relief package of Rs.341 billion on 15th September out of which Rs.147 have been set aside for direct benefit to the small farmers and Rs.194 billion have been allocated for agricultural loans. The measures specifically designed to benefit the small farmers include cash support of Rs.5000 per acre to small farmers cultivating rice and cotton with 12.5 land holding, setting up of a fund of Rs.20 billion rupees to reduce prices of fertilizers in addition to persuading the local fertilizer manufacturers and gas companies to reverse the increase in prices of the fertilizers, bearing premium on agriculture insurance to the tune of Rs 2.5 billion to benefit 0.7 million small farmers, reduction in the electricity prices for running tube wells at peak hours, reduction on customs duty, sales tax and withholding tax on import of agricultural machinery from 45% to 9% and 50% guarantee to banks on agricultural loans.

The Prime Minister told the farmers that the government and the state bank were also considering reducing the mark up on agricultural loans by 2% which would accrue a benefit of Rs11 billion to the small farmers annually. He also announced to double the price of the production unit from the present Rs.2000 to Rs.4000 which would enable the farmer to procure double amount of loans against their land value. He also promised to announce a separate package for the sugar cane farmers later.

On the face of it, the package announced by the Prime Minister looks very impressive, a well thought out strategy to benefit the small farmers and a perfect recipe for revitalizing the agriculture sector. But much however would depend on its implementation in letter and spirit. It is therefore desirable that a proper monitoring mechanism is set up on permanent basis to watch progress and taking measures to rectify the aberrations if any in the implementation of the scheme.

It was really reassuring to hear that the Pakistani farmers were producing not only enough food for 200 million people of Pakistan but also a surplus which was being exported to other countries. That trend needs to be maintained in the best interest of the country and providing food security to the people besides nudging the industrial growth.

There is no doubt that the government despite the egregious challenges facing the country and the resource constraints has acquitted itself well in tiding over the crisis and reviving the economy; a fact which has been duly endorsed international lending and rating agencies. No mega corruption scandal has cropped up during the last two years. Rather the graph of corruption is going down. According to the Transparency International the corruption index in Pakistan during 2015 was the lowest ever since the agency has started monitoring corruption around the world. It is a great compliment and reinforces the credentials of the government as an honest entity dedicated to promoting the well being of the masses. That however does not give any cause for complacency. There are no two opinions about the fact that our progress and development has been seriously hamstrung by the all permeating corruption not only within the echelons of the government but also within the entire society. There is a dire need to eradicate corruption from the society, beginning with ruthless and across the board accountability at the government and institutional level.

ashpak10@gmail.com