Monday, October 18, 2010

Financing Rabi Sowing

By Saleem Shaikh
Monday, 18 Oct, 2010 | 01:14 AM PST |

THE Sindh government’s efforts to boost Rabi cultivation may receive a setback if banks do not fully cater to the credit needs of the flood-ravaged growers.

Farmers complain that banks are risk-averse facing financial squeeze, particularly due to the recent sharp increase in their non-performing loans in agriculture sector, which has been devastated by the floods.

While significant amount of standing Kharif crops, farming machines, seed stocks for Rabi crops and fertilisers have been washed away, the farmers are less likely to be able to undertake Rabi sowing on their own. And, therefore, “financial assistance for the flood-hit farmers is a must,” the agriculture economists believe.

Displaced by the ravaging floods, the financially-battered farmers are willing to go back to their fields and get engaged in Rabi sowing. But, they need seed, fertiliser, DAP, pesticides and farming tools for ploughing and land leveling, for which they should have an easy access to financial support.

Reports that growers are facing obstacles in obtaining credit loans from banks in flood-ravaged districts of the province have surfaced recently. Farmer leaders say, “when they visit banks for farm credit they are discouraged in different ways.”

“Bank officials tell farmers that they have been directed not to sanction any credit without valid guarantees,” said a farmer. “Other than government, who else can provide guarantees to such hapless farmers who have lost everything and are now penniless,” he questions.

“In this hour of need these farmers are looking towards the government to rescue them from the misery with financial support for raising their crops,” said Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

On September 24, following deliberation on reviving flood-hit agriculture in Sindh between the provincial government and the State Bank governor, banks were approached to provide agriculture loans to flood-hit farmers. But the banks, in a reply to the provincial planning and development department’s request, questioned the government’s proposal and said it did not meet (banks’) certain criteria for sanctioning loans.

“They ask for surety measures,” said an official in the economic planning section of the provincial P&DD.

Another official in the provincial finance department said that the provincial government had brought the matter of banks’ reluctance to farm credit to the notice of the SBP and asked it to help sort out the matter.

Meanwhile, the provincial government has also tried to know banks’ viewpoint through the SBP if they would provide loans to farmers against ‘Form VII’ (ownership deed) and possession certificates supported with guarantees and undertakings from the provincial revenue department; and that the farmers’ passbooks would be issued to them within specified time, a senior official in the provincial revenue department said.

But the banks, an official told this scribe, have declined to accept such proposals. Instead, they have demanded record of average sales value over three years, number of produce index units (PIUs) and credit history of borrowers, which would help the lending banks to evaluate value of farm land to be offered as collateral.

An official in a bank’s main branch in Karachi said the banks had refused to accept the ownership deed on the ground that it was not possible to verify it as the revenue record of the flood-hit farmers might have been destroyed.

He said that banks feared default on such risk-prone farm loans and subsequent litigations against the defaulting farmers. The proposed undertaking by the provincial Board of Revenue (BoR) would not have any legal validity in establishing their claim over a property in a court of law.

In the first week of October, an official in the central bank’s farm credit department conveyed to provincial P&DD secretary Naheed Durrani that the banks would sanction loans to farmers only if the government furnished a ‘provisional credit surety’ to banks up to the loan amount in conjunction with the markup till the time the charge was created on the passbook in favour of the banks in conformity with the Commercial and Industrial Purposes Act 1973.

One of the major reasons behind the banks’ evident wariness towards loaning the farming sector is that recent floods have raised the NPLs, said a senior bank official.

The central bank estimates these NPLs to be over Rs28 billion, according to the preliminary data of the SBP.

The bankers say that the flood-hit agriculture sector is in the worst shape, which needs a hefty amount for revival. “Not only have the infrastructure but also the land been ravaged by the deluge. It means preparation of the land for cultivation would be a difficult task and will not be possible without huge financial investments. However, it is not going to happen until the government ensures its increased and active participation,” they opined.

Officials in the provincial agriculture department state: “We have chalked out a plan for the revival of farmlands in the province from where over 60-65 farmers took refugee after the deluge battered their crops and villages. But, the ‘agriculture revival plan’ will be of no use if the farmers fail to get hassle-free access to farm credit on low markup.”

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