Sunday, December 26, 2010
Flood-hit growers in wilderness
By Saleem Shaikh
Daily Dawn, December 27, 2010
WHILE the Rabi season is drawing to a close, a vast majority of poor growers in all flood-hit districts of Sindh are yet to get the government`s promised farm inputs free of cost.
When contacted, provincial agriculture department officials said serious efforts were being made to provide the required farm inputs to affected growers free of cost as the government was well aware of the consequences of delayed sowing. Free distribution of fartilisers and seeds have started in some districts.
“As the recent floods had inundated standing crops on 2.2 million acres and caused losses to the tune of Rs102 billion to the agriculture sector, a hefty amount is needed to put things in place,” remarked a senior official in the finance department.
However, they said that delivery of farm inputs was being delayed for want of funds while a provincial minister said that the federal government has given the pledged sum of money.
Meanwhile, growers have cautioned the government that wheat acreage would shrink if the pledged free farm inputs were not distributed among the genuine and deserving farmers without further delay.
The wheat sowing season in Sindh begins from first week of November and ends on December 30.
The provincial government had recently announced to have drawn up Rs3.36 billion Rabi Assistance Plan (RAP) for the recovery of badly hit agriculture sector in flood inundated areas. But, delay in implementing the plan has been adding to the misery of the growers, who want to cultivate their land that remained unaffected or where the floodwater has receded at the earliest.
The growers of Kamber-Shahdadkot, Dadu, Khairpur Nathanshah, Naushero Feroz, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sukkur Ghotki and Jacobabad districts, who suffered heavy flood losses, badly need assistance. They have also fulfilled the necessary requirements and have completed all requisite paperwork.
“Yet, the government officials are making all sorts of excuses to avoid delivery of inputs to these farmers for reasons best known to them,” said Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.
“It is a `do or die` situation for the poor farmers, who have lost everything in the floods but the government officials are dragging their feet on the issue,” he remarked, urging them to have pity on the hapless farmers.
A senior finance department official said that the estimated cost of the Rabi Assistance Plan was Rs3.36 billion, to be equally funded by the federal and the Sindh governments.
“Though the federal government has released its share of fund for initiating RAP, the distribution of farm inputs has started only in some districts,” Sharmila Farooqui, Advisor to the Sindh Chief Minister, told this scribe.
Meanwhile, reports of mismanagement and embezzlement have started coming in from the districts where the disbursement of free seed and fertiliser has started.
Some growers of Rabi crops, waiting to obtain the farm input, have alleged that farm inputs were being distributed among undeserving growers.
Having failed to get the Rabi assistance from the Jacobabad district government, Rustam Khoso, a poor farmer from Ghulam Mustafa Khoso village, attempted self-immolation outside the Jacobabad Press Club, but was saved by a police personnel.
Khoso alleged that “instead of distributing farm inputs among flood-hit small landholders, the agriculture department officials are giving inputs to landholders and those with political clout.”
Members of the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) in Jacobabad told this scribe on phone that wheat seed and fertiliser were distributed among some affected farmers during the first two weeks of December, but the supply was later stopped by the district revenue officials for reasons best known to them. Nevertheless, the process of distribution of farm inputs among influential large landholders continues secretly during night hours, they alleged.
The alleged injustice on the part of the district government officials also led to highway blockades during the third week of this month.
Agha Jan Akhtar, provincial agriculture secretary, rejected the allegations of embezzlement in distribution of free farm inputs. “A few complaints have been received about enlisting of some fake farmers. The government has formed a committee to probe such cases and resolve such issues on a priority basis,” he said.
Meanwhile, reports of sporadic protests of farmers still continue to come from different parts of Sukkur, Ghotki, Kambar, Shikarpur, Shahdadkot, Larkana and Dadu, against delay in supply of promised relief.