The Agri-sector, touted as ‘the lifeline of Pakistan’s economy’, accounts for 19.5 % of the gross domestic product, employs 42.3% of the labour force and provides raw material for value-added sectors. Yet for the past four years, the canals have been dry and crops have been failing. It remains a fact that not a single politician has brought up this issue and with the media focused on the election furore, neither is the average voter aware of the urgency or impact of the declining agriculture sector.
The manifestos of the three mainstream political parties boast a complete rejuvenation of the agri-sector; PML-N envisages crop diversification, water use efficiency and generous farmer-support packages. The PTI calls for an Agriculture Emergency, promising to rid sugarcane growers of the sugar mill mafia. PPP, in a testament to its party slogan promises all sorts of bells and whistles, from Benazir Kissan Cards, subsidising inputs, to initiating farmer’s rights.
Yet the farmers themselves do not ascribe value to the token manifestos in the face of the complete disavowal of the parties of the dire situation plaguing the farmers’ livelihoods. On paper, such frills and bows stand to present a very palatable platform to shore up support in the agriculture belt. However, such ambitious plans have rarely been fully realized once the out-bidding process of campaigning is over and office is assumed. Where small scale farmers and their practice suffers through the prevailing drought, the rising inflation and high costs of seeds further pilferages their meagre income. Increasingly, small-scale farmers unable to sustain their families have given up their practice to move to cities that cannot sustain them either.
Political parties have historically made hollow promises to support the agri-sector which have not been implemented. With the current faltering economic regime, it is imperative that the incoming government shifts its focus to revive the agri-sector to tackle food insecurity and reliance on agriculture imports- and the first imperative step will be initiating water management.