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PROVINCES: PRE-BUDGET 2017-18: What’s in store for Balochistan’s agriculture?

PROVINCES: PRE-BUDGET 2017-18: What’s in store for Balochistan’s agriculture?

LIFTING up agriculture despite resource constraints while entering a new phase of economic expansion is quite challenging for Balochistan’s government.

Next provincial budget will show how well the authorities meet this challenge, more so because provincial agriculture growth has averaged at just 2.6pc in the last ten years.

“Development spending on provincial agriculture in FY18 would be most likely higher than in FY17 (Rs7.4bn), despite resource constraints,” a senior official told this writer. He gave no exact figures but hinted that agriculture development could get “as much as Rs8.5bn (against Rs7.4bn earmarked for FY17).”

Officials of the Balochistan government say the next year’s budget will envisage a number of new initiatives for provincial agriculture. But enough emphasis will be laid on completion of ongoing schemes and identification of the areas where inflows of foreign investment and public-private partnership can help revolutionise farming and livestock.

Banks meet only a fraction of agricultural lending target in Balochistan (less than 7pc as of FY16) that keeps the province’s total share in farm loans at below 1pc of the total

Lack of water is number one impediment to growth in agriculture and livestock sector. In the next budget, “two schemes for addressing this issue are likely to be announced,” an official told this writer. Development spending for irrigation is also expected to be enhanced from Rs1.8bn in FY17 to somewhere by Rs2-2.5bn.

One scheme will focus on water resources development and the other on integrated water resource information system for efficient use of water. Authorities expect to launch both schemes with financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank.

In FY17, both provincial revenue generation and transfer of funds to Balochistan from federal divisible pool have remained below the expectations of Balochistan government. “So, in FY18 budget we’ll come up with several initiatives that can get foreign funding.

But provincial planners say they feel encouraged by opportunities offered by the CPEC as well. “China is interested in our agriculture sector. Leasing of land for corporate farming, public-private partnerships projects for farm production and marketing and Chinese assistance in farm innovation and productivity all are on the table. We’ve been in touch with the federal government and hope inclusion of some of our agricultural development schemes in the federal annual development plan with the Chinese assistance,” says a senior provincial government official.

Officials say that the plan to digitalise Balochistan’s land record which is going to get adequate resources in the next year’s budget is one of the several initiatives would contribute significantly to development of farming and livestock. Official records of up to 85pc of Balochistan’s farmland are fraught with discrepancies.

“Their gradual digitalisation will not only enable us to sort out issues in land ownership titles, facilitating land users to get bank loans but will also help in developing analytical geo-economic models to guide people on how best they can benefit from a particular piece of land,” says an official of Balochistan agriculture department.

Without disclosing the specifics, officials say that the next year’s budget will introduce a number of initiatives to uplift agriculture. These initiatives will cover such priority areas like wider availability of solar-powered tube-wells for farmers, setting up of dates processing plants, exploiting full potential of wool production in the province (that is home to around 15m sheep), increasing productivity of cotton, wheat and fodder crops. Adequate allocations are expected to be made for schemes in the agricultural storage and farm-to-market transportation. Public-private partnership funding would also be sought in modern silos building, tunnel farming and in dairy and meat processing.

The much-talked-about plan for setting up Balochistan Bank on the pattern of the Punjab Bank and Sindh Bank could also be made part of the new budget, they say.

Banks meet only a fraction of agricultural lending target in Balochistan (less than 7pc as of FY16) that keeps the province’s total share in farm loans at below 1pc of the total. Whereas SBP is considering assigning district-wise lending targets to banks to ensure judicious distribution of loans across Pakistan, it has also encouraged the provincial government to establish Balochistan Bank to end financial woes of local farmers.

Officials and agriculturists in Balochistan say the province’s image of Pakistan’s fruit basket is gradually fading chiefly because of lack of modernisation of horticulture.

“In next year’s budget we’re going to introduce some schemes to boost fruit production with financial assistance from the federal government and technical expertise and project sharing agreements with foreigners,” one provincial official told this writer.

He said that special emphasis would be laid on production of apples adding that farmers would be provided help in seed selection, orchard management and technology for boosting per-hectare yields of fruits including apples.

The total output of fruits in Balochistan has shown a rising trend in the last four years, from 1.08m tonnes in FY12 to an estimated 1.21m tonnes in FY16, a cumulative 12pc growth Such ongoing and new research projects like those aimed at camel and sheep farming, development of new pest-resistant, seeds of cereals, crop-raising with least amount of water, promotion of olive plantation and sustainable fodder cultivation would also get budgetary allocations in the next year.

Officials say that an ongoing capacity enhancement scheme for provincial agricultural scientists would be further modified and would get additional funding.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 29th, 2017

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