As per the World Bank, agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity and feed a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050. In Pakistan, farm output contributes around 18.5 percent to the Country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Yet, despite their contribution, small farmers - who constitute 38.5 percent of the national labour force, remain marginalised and underserved.
“Small scale farmers constitute 60 percent of Pakistan’s rural population while their economic survival depends completely on agriculture. Following Pakistan’s law of inheritance, large land holdings have been getting divided into smaller portions while passed on to next generations. Thereby, decreasing per farmer land holding ratio as well as the average farm size in Pakistan which now stands at 5.6 acres, being less than half of what it was back in 1972. This cutting up of land into smaller pieces has also resulted in reducing the economic incentive to an already marginalised farmer” said Khalid Mehmood Khokhar, President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad.
The plight of small farmers of our country is visible everywhere — in landholding and in the form of bonded farm labour, in access to irrigation water and in access to inputs and markets to name a few. A World Bank study in 2010 revealed that only 2 percent of farm households control 45 percent of farmland while 98 percent control the remaining 55 percent. This pattern of landholding is unfairly skewed towards the big landlords and is responsible in many ways towards increasing the plight of small farmers, including their inability to get their due share in irrigation water and, to some extent, bank financing too.
Economic reforms and the opening of Pakistani agriculture to the global market over the past decades have made small farmers vulnerable to unusual changes and fluctuations. Small farmers have now to compete with larger ones, who are well endowed with capital, irrigation, and supplementary businesses to buffer them against any adverse shocks. As fallout, the farmers are facing what is driven by the rising cost of inputs without a commensurate increase in output price. A crop failure, an unexpected health expense, or the marriage of a daughter are perilous to the livelihood of these farmers. An adverse weather change, for example, can lead to a drastic decline in output, and the farmer may not be able to recoup input costs, leave alone repay loans. Sometimes farmers have to plant several batches of seeds because they may go to waste by delayed rains or even excess rains. The problem has dragged down yields and rural consumption nationwide — a heavy economic drag on a nation where almost two-thirds of people live in rural areas.
“The unfair injustice towards small scale farmers is discouraging them to pursue agriculture as a means of economic survival. This is evident from the fact that while cost of production has already doubled following a sharp rise in cost of electricity, fuel and other agriculture inputs, the selling rate of major crops remain stagnant since many years. This means that the small farmers are incurring a much higher cost of production while their profitability has dropped to a negative. Thus, pushing many residing within Pakistan’s rural communities to deep levels of poverty. Such a catastrophic increase in their state of deprivation puts these communities at a high risk of facing many other social evils such as illiteracy, poor health and social crimes. Such outcomes can be easily averted by paying attention to the needs of small farmers and guiding them towards financial growth and prosperity”, added Khalid Mehmood Khokhar, President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad.
On the face of such adversaries, the role of private sector support becomes ever more important, helping small farmers to increase their per acre yield and maximise profits. This is a win-win situation for both and especially crucial for the survival and growth of Pakistan’s declining agriculture sector. Trusted Pakistani agriculture experts like Fatima Group are leading the way to fulfil the dire need of transforming and modernising Pakistan’s age-old agriculture setup. Many interventions are underway to bring about this much needed change. This includes the use of latest communication technologies to reach out to small farmers across the Country for their technical assistance on adopting researched farming techniques using modern visual aids, as well as to provide digital micro loans on convenient terms for the timely procurement of most important farm inputs such as fertilizers, seeds, pesticides and agriculture machinery to increase their per acre yield.
“Companies like Fatima Group are working relentlessly to invoke a digital revolution to catalyse economic prosperity and growth of this sector. Such a support is serving as a lifeline towards the dire economic conditions of Pakistan’s ailing small scale farmers. By forming international and local collaborations, new products and services are being introduced for the technical assistance and financial independence of these farmers which will certainly improve the economic livelihoods of small farmers in Pakistan and transform their current challenges to growth opportunities” said Khalid Mehmood Khokhar, President of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad.
As famously quoted, in every adversity lies the perfect opportunity, hence Pakistan’s Government and private sector needs to work together and take a holistic view and collective responsibility of the issues faced by the agriculture sector. Collaborative planning and actions are required to protect the interest of small scale farmers and improve their overall productivity by treating this situation as an opportunity instead of an adversity.