“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

–African proverb.

In Pakistan, it is worse. The elephants, PML-N and PTI are fighting in fields where farmers are harvesting their crops. The farmer is being trampled by the elephants and economically slaughtered by making distress sale of paddy.

Farmers are in deep distress. The morale of the farmer is at the lowest. He is suffering in silence. When will the silent volcano erupt I don’t know. The government hasn’t seen the real anger of the farmers yet, and is assuming they will never see. They may not always be right, as they feel, the farmer can be handled by the DPO, DCO, SDO, SHO.

The words that come out of farmers mouth after a bumper harvest, but miserable price for his paddy as that “The government has killed us”. Majority of the people in the rice farming and business were under the false impression that Iran rice market will open up, in a big way, in beginning of October. It did not happen.

In my last article dated September 18, 2015, in The Nation, I had pleaded, to both government and opposition to join hands to find a marketing solution to the paddy crisis. A joint delegation of government and opposition to Iran and China would have done the job. The farmer is the loser in the battle of the giants as focus is out of agriculture and totally on electioneering.

I am positive on Iran buying in large quantities, but not before January 2016. Farmers total paddy crop will be harvested by end of November. I talked to a lot of people in the rice business for the way out of the present rice crisis. All agreed on one point, buying of rice by the government. Pakistan has to fight back to recapture its lost markets to Indian trade. The whole rice chain is charged up to fight back.

I met a paddy supplier a few days back at Hafizabad. He informed me of the death of several rice dealers in the last couple of month most, probably because they could not take the shock of business loss. In this season the rice miller or dealer is buying paddy dirt cheap. He will definitely recover his past losses.

For the farmer this harvesting season is even worse than the last one. The only thing keeping the farmers alive is the courage of the heart, but for how long? The real loser in the rice fiasco is the rice farmer from the traditional rice belt of Punjab. He has no options but to grow rice as he sees no other financially viable crop option.

The crisis of paddy price collapse at harvest time did not happen overnight. It took years in the making. I wrote an article in The Nation dated August 23, 2004 titled: New Seeds of Hope. In that I gave my vision and forewarned of excess paddy production:

“Apparently it seems rice farmers never had it so good. No government support for the last couple of years and even then the prices the market has offered them has been rewarding for their hard work. In fact now rice farming is stretching out in nontraditional areas due to the high returns and cash payments received by the farmers. The above trend may end up in a collapse of prices at harvest time.

The above scenario has come about with a very heavy price, water tables have drastically fallen and soils have been degraded due to salts pumped out from ground water. Weeds have increased exponentially due to monotonous paddy/wheat rotation. Organic matter has further gone down as farmers are forced to grow same crops each year due to favorable returns of paddy/wheat as compared with multiple cropping with legumes-oilseeds and green manuring crops to increase the organic matter in the soils.

Acreage has to be taken out of paddy/wheat rotation to be replaced by alternate crops like pulses and oilseeds. Sugarcane like paddy is a water guzzler and the increase in acreage in them must be definitely discouraged. We are an arid country but not behaving like one. Any future planning has to keep this fundamental fact in mind before going for long term strategies.”

In short, our present dilemma is that, we are producing, in excess, water guzzling and soil exhausting crops with no place to export, or consume and importing crops that are water efficient and soil building.

The Kissan package given by the government is an outcome of bad agriculture policies, and not due to depressed commodity prices in the international market. For example, a policy that led to flooding of our market with subsidized cheap Indian vegetables and milk powder.

Pakistan has the lowest import duty on milk powder i.e. 20%. Turkey to safeguard its dairy industry increased duty to 180%. Iran our traditional rice market of more than 1.0 million tonnes a year was surrendered to India.

Well if Pakistan could import electricity from Iran during the sanctions and India could export Rice to Iran during this period, Pakistan could also have found a way to supply rice to Iran, during the sanctions.

The agriculture package given by the government is basically focusing on supply side and combining with payment of direct cash to the farmer. A much better alternative would have been total focus on the marketing side that would have resulted in far greater reward to the farmer.

A new agriculture policy with sustainable vision is what the agriculture sector needs. A policy, that will give the first right of domestic consumer to the local producer.

A policy that will focus, on export highways for our agriculture crops, especially meeting our friendly neighbor country requirements.

A policy, that will give handsome incentives to grow import substitution crops like oil seeds lentils and pulses which also fix nitrogen in soil and are water smart.

A policy that makes livestock and dairy farming viable on a smaller scale.

A policy that discourages import of agriculture commodities and milk powder.

A policy that scraps the sweet heart deals given to fertilizer units in form of low gas rate in the name of farmer support.

A policy that will discourage small and marginal farmer’s sons to sell their one or two acres of land to go to Europe or middle east, and work as laborers, if they survive the dangerous journey.

A policy that will prepare us to meet the challenge of climate change by giving numerous options to the farmer to grow crops depending on the forecast of weather.

A policy that will result in farmers financing agriculture research, as they see the positive impact of research on their farms.

A policy that will encourage family farms instead of corporate or cooperative farms.

A policy where courts do not form a committee to address climate change but government is pro active themselves.

A policy that will make agriculture sustainable practices mandatory to be taught in village schools with practical demonstration.

A policy that results in small and marginal farmers becoming a viable unit by making small dairy and soil building crops growing attractive financially.

A policy that finds avenues for work close to their farms, for small and marginal farmer’s sons and daughter

A policy that will result in agriculture policy becoming the corner stone of our foreign policy and not houbara bustard hunting.

A policy, that gives respect to the farmer.

One word for all the above policies is called food sovereignty. Food and food sovereignty for every citizen has to be incorporated in our constitution as recently done by Nepal.

Pakistan has no option but to practice good sustainable agriculture practices instead of unsustainable mono-cropping agriculture.

Our soils are sick. If we follow the traditional method of agriculture with crop rotation a must, it will result in our sick soils getting healthier.

Once soils get healthy, then it will take much less fertilizer, to get the same output as it does from a sick soil, resulting in cost of production going down .

I assure you it is doable, only political will and a change of vision is required.