Farm mechanisation at a snail’s pace

By Muzaffar Qureshi

DESPITE a huge subsidy on farm implements, and a vast network of extensive services employing thousands of field officers and workers, mechanised farming in Sindh remains largely a cherished dream.

According to anecdotal evidence, of the 50 big farms picked up randomly,only four or five are fully mechanised, accounting for 4-5 per cent of the total cultivated area. The rest rely on conventional method, that is gradually eroding per acre crop yield.

The reason behind slow pace of mechanisation of farms, as put by the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, is lack of funds with growers to purchase the costly implements as well as poor performance of the extensive services staff who have failed to make growers aware about the advantage of modern farm implements in raising productivity.

To promote mechanised farming, the Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah launched on Thursday last the computerised balloting for distribution of 6,000 tractors among growers with a maximum subsidy of Rs300,000 on each unit. Last year, only 4,000 tractors were distributed due to fund constraints caused by the devastating floods.

The scheme, initiated by thee provincial agriculture department, would cost the Sindh government Rs1,584 million. According to an official, the number of subsidised tractors has been increased this year to wipe out production losses suffered by growers owing to last year’s flood.

There is a major change in the tractors scheme this year. The responsibility to receive applications with Rs25,000 advance payment has been assigned to Habib Bank Limited against the past practice of authorising DCOs in this respect. It is felt that induction of a private sector bank would make the scheme more transparent and efficient. It would also be easier for the unsuccessful bidders to get their money back quickly from their bank branches.

Although claims have been made by officials about fair play in the distribution of subsidised tractors, an element of doubt has been created by making the scheme open for all which would make small/medium farmers compete with big landlords having plenty of money and resources. It is feared that big shots would get more than one subsidised tractors by putting application in different names and defeat the principle of one machine for one farmer.

However, chances of connivance between officials and tractor manufacturers have been eliminated by allowing successful bidders to buy a tractor of their own choice and submit the purchase vouchers with the department to get the subsidy. Like past years, women farmers have been given 20 per cent quota in such purchases. However, there is no data about their getting the machines and utilising them for the right purpose.

According to a senior official, the viability of the scheme has increased manifold this year after tractors played a role in shifting injured farmers to hospitals during floods and also saving farmers’ assets from damage in the floods as normal vehicles were not fit for plying on roads damaged by floods.

The Sindh Chamber of Agriculture described the subsidy as insufficient as the cost of farm implements has increased.

Cash-strapped small growers have no idea how to use modern farm implements like power tillers, drip irrigation, laser land leveling equipment etc. It is the duty of the staff of Extension Services to educate the growers about the use of modern implements to raise farm productivity. The extension staff and fieldworkers are never seen in the fields and prefer to remain indoors in their offices.

The chamber had recently offered to supervise the role of extension services staff but the offer was rejected by the department which fears that a large number of inefficient and ghost workers would be exposed.

 

Courtesy: BR

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