LAHORE - Pakistani farmers will march on Islamabad today to demand a ban on the import of Indian potatoes and other vegetables.

They say the government is putting Indian farmers before its own.

The farmers brought Lahore’s traffic to a standstill on Friday when they dumped potatoes on the road outside the Punjab Assembly in protest against heavy taxes on farm produce.

Khalid Mehmood Khokhar of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) has demanded direct talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the same support India gives to its farmers.

Khokhar told The Nation that farmers are facing losses in all major crops, including cotton, sugarcane and rice.

The average per acre cost for cotton is Rs85,000, while the market rate reaches Rs58,000 maximum, which means a loss of Rs27,000 per acre.

“Besides the havoc recent floods created, farmers are having hard times because of government policies,” he said.

“The government has been controlling and increasing the cost of inputs through heavy taxation. But it has abdicated the responsibility of output prices in markets which have been controlled by mafias.

“Every time we protested, the government promised that our issues would be resolved. But we are now hopeless and will bring the whole country to halt if our demands were not met this time,” Khokhar warned before sharing his plan of marching on the capital.

Earlier on Friday, a delegation of farmers led by Khokhar met PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah at Civil Secretariat, Lahore, where they were assured of full support. But the farmers were persistent to meet the Prime Minister of Pakistan, as Sanaullah is no authority on agriculture.

Khokhar also demanded an immediate suspension of government’s plan of turning the land of National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) into a housing society.

“Farmers across the border are given free electricity, tax-free seeds, well-researched fertilizers and huge subsidy. But, unfortunately, the government of Pakistan is not serious about promoting our agriculture and only focusing on industry,” Khokhar said.

“Our leaders have forgotten Pakistan is an agricultural country and farmers are its backbone,” he stated, regretting over the sharp rise in country’s imports from India.

He was quite sure the consumers would greatly benefit from the local and cheaper produce in country’s markets.

The farmers are fully supported by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML) whose leaders joined them on Friday.

PTI’s Punjab organiser Ch Muhammad Sarwar, after meeting the protesting farmers, demanded an immediate suspension of Pak-India trade. He says the government’s anti-farmer policies are more dangerous than Pakistan’s external enemies.

He called upon the government to resolve the issues of farmers and take back cases registered against them.

PML central leader Ch Parvez Elahi also supported the farmers’ protest against the PML-N government and pledged to stand with them on every front.

Calling it the “economic massacre of farmers”, he questioned the government if farmer was not prosperous how could Pakistan be progress.