Challenge of rural poverty By Meer M. Parihar - Thursday 21st April 2011

SUCCESSIVE governments in Pakistan have taken numerous policy initiatives to alleviate poverty, yet the latter has continued to increase.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Rural Poverty Report 2011 says that poverty is widespread in Pakistan and is predominant in the rural areas, holding that “nearly 80 per cent of the country’s poor people live in rural parts of the country”.
Agriculture is the heart of the rural economy. The sector is not just a source of food but also foreign exchange earnings and has done well in the past few years. Nevertheless, small landholders and landless peasants, whose work makes the country produce a surplus of grain, live in abject poverty, the basic reason being the unequal land distribution, particularly in Sindh.
Instead of the size of landholdings decreasing, in this province many feudal and neo-feudal families have been multiplying their acreages. In that race, they have not spared the riverine belts and common grazing grounds in arid areas. Whether in power or out of it, it is this class that benefits from governmental subsidy policies, extension of services and most importantly, has access to water. The powerful bring their entire holding under cultivation by usurping the water rights of small farmers and tail-enders.
Improving the lot of the rural poor would involve focusing on increasing yields per acre, generating self-employment activities and encouraging industrialisation. Additionally, there is a need to provide quality education and better health facilities, making potable water available and delivery services efficient. Yet in the interior of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, challenges include the declining fertility of arable lands, high input costs, shortage of water and vulnerability to natural disasters. Thus bringing about improvements in the agricultural farming sector alone will not bring about real change.
There is a need to search for alternate sources of income, preferably indigenous ones with which rural people are familiar. Of these, the most common is livestock farming. Animal rearing is traditional in rural societies.
Sindh alone has over 35 million milch and meat animals, including a number of breeds at par with international standards. It is rich in milk production and yet cannot meet even half the milk demands of big cities in the province. Balochistan has more that 50 per cent of Pakistan’s estimated total of 26.488 million sheep. During Eid, there is a surge in demand for camels both in the Gulf and local markets. Sindh and Balochistan possess more than two-thirds of the estimated one million camels in
Pakistan. Given their location, they could attract greater attention from milk and meat importers in Muslim countries, particularly the Gulf where fresh deliveries can be ensured at low carriage cost.
Despite all these positive indicators, the livestock sector has been neglected. Small farmers, who contribute about 80 per cent of the milk production, have never been a priority with successive governments. Assistance and the extension of services have remained restricted to big farmers. Small-scale farmers do not have unfettered access to grazing fields and fodder, let alone feed that is rich in protein.
Federally funded projects such as the Pakistan Dairy Development Company and the Livestock and Dairy Development Board have failed to reach small farmers. The same state of affairs applies to provincial livestock departments. The Sindh Dairy and Meat Development Company Ltd, a first of its kind, multi-million project for small farmers that was launched using savings made by abandoning duplicate schemes in 2008, is still in limbo. Similarly, USAID and Japan International Cooperation Agency projects related to the livestock sector have yet to take off. Neither can much be expected from the recently launched Rs3.539bn Poverty Reduction through Smallholder Livestock Development project since the stakeholders were not involved
at the decision-making and implementation stages.
Still, the livestock sector is performing relatively well, particularly in Punjab. While other development sectors experienced saturation and decline, there was a 17.8 per cent increase in livestock. The Economic Survey of Pakistan 2009-2010 reports that the “livestock sector contributed approximately 53.2 per cent of the agriculture value-added and 11.4 per cent to the national GDP”.
Clearly, there is massive potential to enhance milk and meat production by focusing on small livestock farmers. These people need better services, support in obtaining soft loans for purchasing animals and leases of land on which to grow fodder. Much could be achieved by making available breed bulls and scientific methods of cross-breeding. Conveniently located milk sale centres and awareness-raising programmes could help bring small livestock farmers into the cooperative farming net.
Meanwhile, there is the need to prioritise vulnerable populations at the tail end of the canal networks and in arid or flood-ravaged areas where poverty is on the increase.
The key to the success of any project depends on the judicious selection of those running it. Meanwhile, organisational austerity must be observed by avoiding extravagances such as purchasing large vehicles or furnishing offices. Projects must be effectively monitored and audited.
It is important to keep in mind the advice issued by the UK’s National Audit Office to its Department for International Development in terms of rural poverty reduction initiatives: “It should concentrate its efforts on what it knows works well and avoid what does not work well in practice.”
Livestock farming projects that focus on small farmers are sure to work well in rural Pakistan if undertaken with commitment and transparency.
The writer is a former secretary of Livestock & Fisheries, Sindh.

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