Agricultural Institutional decay in Pakistan

Written by Ahmad Fraz Khan

ALL the federal and provincial institutions governing agriculture seem to be decaying and heading towards virtual disintegration.

Since no detailed studies were made before the 18th amendment none of the institutions transferred to the provinces has found feet at new places, leave alone start performing at their new venues. In the absence of ownership, they mostly have become parking lots for bureaucrats and hubs for political appointments.

This is a worrying situation, to say the least. The federal and provincial governments need to take some corrective measures; look at them afresh, determine their roles, check their performance and create new rules of accountability.

The thoughtless axing of federal institutions are best depicted by the demise of the Federal Committee on Agriculture. Ever since, it is total confusion about food security at the federal level. It was the FCA that used to calculate how much food would be required next year and which province would produce what. It was this forum where all provinces would furnish their input requirements to produce what they were assigned to.

Apart from the planning, it was this forum which coordinated among different ministries for timely placements of import (fertilisers, pesticides etc.) orders and arranging money for them. With its death, there is no one to work out projections for food and set corresponding targets for crops production.

In the absence of these calculations (read early warning system) the entire planning falls on the market indicators — which often come when the problem has already crossed the redemptive stage.

It is only after price of gram doubles up in the market, the government realises that the crop might have failed and scrambles for import.

By the time gram imports arrive, next sowing season is usually around the corner because imports and arranging money are a time-consuming job for governments. To the consumers’ bad luck, they suffer the consequences of crop or market system failure by the time government realises it and takes some corrective measures.

After axing the FCA, what the federation has kept are four institutions — the Agriculture Policy Institute, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, Federal Seed Certifications and National Agriculture Research Council. All of these institutions are in ashambles.

Three of them are headed by bureaucrats and the fourth one by a social scientist. The Pakistan Agriculture Research Council has recently re-inducted dozens of employees, which it had sacked two years ago when courts declared them ‘illegal appointees.’

Parc itself had blamed the former head for playing havoc with the organisation through illegal appointments. Now it has reinstated them all for political preferences; their orders came directly from the prime minister’s office.

These new inductions with retrospective effect would cost billions of rupees, taking away whatever the Parc had for some research activities.

All these organisations are now being headed by non-professionals. Agriculture research is lost in the self-inflicted administrative chaos at the federal level.

The Punjab government is not far behind. Its premier institution for research (Punjab Agriculture Research Board) can match any of the federal institute when it comes to messy affairs. For the last one-and-a-half-year, the board does not have the four most crucial members (admin & finance, planning & programming, monitoring & evaluation and coordination).

In the last 15 months, interviews were conducted thrice for these posts, but no ‘(politically) suitable person’ has been found yet.

The entire board is run by a chief executive officer.

Punjab has two dedicated universities for agriculture — University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, and the University of Arid Agriculture, Rawalpindi. Both of them are without a regular vice-chancellor for the last two years and are being run ‘on acting charge basis’ due to absences of ‘suitable candidates.’

For creating marketing connectivity, the provincial government rehashed the Punjab Agriculture Marketing Company (Pamco) into the Punjab Agriculture Meat Company (Pamco), without changing the acronym. Within a year, the government itself accused the newly-appointed chief executive of massive corruption, put him on the exit control list and renamed Pamco yet again — restoring the original mandate.

Another penchant of the provincial government is creating parallel institutions, with gross overlapping of mandate with agriculture department — Pamco, Parb, Diary Development Board etc. All these institutions are being run by independent boards, and the technical staff of the agriculture department has been turned into a workforce for the chief minister.

At present, this workforce (around 35,000) is conducting polio and malaria eradication campaigns.

Soon, it would be told to run the dengue campaign and arrange fast-breaking dinners during Ramazan. For this purposes, it is usually put under administrative control of the district coordination officers (DCOs), leaving the agriculture defenseless against pest attack on cotton and rice.

All these realities point to one direction: agriculture sector has become directionless, both at the federal and provincial levels.

It needs to be corrected. Punjab needs to take lead in this regard because national food security and cash crops depend largely on its policies and actions.

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