A national crop dashboard to monitor supply chain - Newspaper

A national crop dashboard to monitor supply chain – Newspaper

Agriculture target fixing has been more of a perfunctory function — driven by political preferences rather than provincial performance and capacity – for the federation, especially after the Eighteenth Amendment that devolved the sector to provinces. The federation now decides goals and tells the provinces to achieve them, or get the flak. Every March and October, the federal committee on agriculture (FCA) meets to fix new, and higher targets, allocates them to provinces, regardless of their past performances, natural endowment and management skills exhibited by them during the previous years.

The federal government fixes mythical targets, shoves them down the provincial throat, without taking any responsibility

The last two October meetings explain the nature of mechanical decisions, set on auto-pilot. Last year, the FCA set a wheat target of 26.78 million tonnes from 9.16m hectares. This year, it increased to 28.9m tonnes from 9.20m hectares. Where would these additional more 2.12m tonnes come from, with the area almost static? No one knows!

This increase is despite the Indus River System Authority reporting a 28 per cent water shortage and the metrological officials predicting below normal rains. Another factor is Punjab being in the middle of a Urea availability and hoarding crisis.

The situation for other crops is not any different. Take the example of cotton, a main cash and export crop. It suffers its own blues as the gap between the targets and performance widens. This year, all government — provincial and federal — officials insist that the country has achieved 9.1m bales. The ginners, main consumers and first receivers of the crop, report arrival of 7.1m bales — a gap of a whopping 2m bales. Instead of investigating the missing part, the target for next year has been increased to 10.50m bales, without bothering to establish the credibility of 9.1m bales.

For other crops this year, the FCA fixed production targets for gram at 0.55m, potato 6m, tomato 2.4m and chillies 0.62m tonnes.

“Apart from fixing targets, the federal government needs to appreciate and improve variables that help achieve targets,” advises one of the senior officials of the Punjab government.

Crop planning is a matter of natural endowment, technology, marketing and finally policies. With most of them fully or partially missing, how can crops meet federal, or anyone’s, expectations? Right now, the federal government fixes mythical targets, pushes them down the provincial throat, without taking any responsibility. Either the federation has to provide them or the provincial government develops them or crops’ hopes have to be altered accordingly. Unless that is done, the gap between targets and field performance will continue to worsen and targets will lose their meanings, he feared.

The federation, on its part, thinks it is prepared for planning on more solid grounds. “With the creation of a national dashboard to track movements of the entire range of crops, the situation should improve in the next few years,” says Abid Qaiyum Suleri, convener of the National Coordination Committee on Agriculture Transformation Plan. The dashboard is fully operational and already tracking the production and sale of wheat. The information is coming directly from the district and compiled at the federal level.

It means the entire sale-purchase process will now be part of the official database, which would help assess production, sale, demand and hoarding. Similarly, sugar will now also be tracked and the law for it is already in place. Once production and sale figures are available, the country will be able to calculate the exact amount of national requirements and plan accordingly.

Explaining the protection and credibility of the dashboard, Mr Suleri says all provincial chief secretaries are part of it; they collect data from assistant and deputy commissioners (local markets) and publish it on the password-protected dashboard. Retracting any data has to be explained, giving sanctity to what is once entered there.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 3rd, 2022

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