Farmers in parts of Punjab have geared up their campaign to knock on the door of Lahore once again in favour of their longstanding demands as Pakistan is celebrating National Kissan Day on Saturday.
Irked by the artificial shortages of fertilizers and inflated agriculture bills, scores of growers in Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalnagar, Multan, Khanewal and other cities have expressed anger over government’s “anti-farmer policies”.
They have termed the National Kissan Day merely a tactic to deceive the community which is considered as the backbone of the country’s economy.
“We will hold protest demonstration in Lahore on Monday against cold response of the government to addressing our demands,” Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) President Umair Masood told the Minute Mirror on Saturday.
He claimed police were raiding the residences of farmer leaders in Vehari, Khanewal, Sahiwal and other cities to arrest them ahead of the agitation, and vowed to reach the provincial capital at any cost on the protest day.
Long queues of peasants are being reported in different cities to get bags of Diammonium phosphate (DAP) and urea for their crops as their prices have gone up by around 400 percent in last couple of years.
A day before, the growers in Balochistan held a rally in Quetta against inflated bills and smuggling of apples from Iran.
Balochistan’s farmers produce 85 percent of country’s apples but are concerned about the fruit smuggling occurring through the Afghanistan border for avoidance of import taxes. They say Iranian origin apples harm local business and make it hard for them to even meet their costs.
“The Pakistan Kissan Ittehad organized the protest in Quetta on Friday and we are ready to raise our voice in Lahore,” says Umair, the Mian Channu based farmer leader.
The PKI, he said, organized the protest in Hyderabad on Saturday under ‘Save Farmer Movement’ and will march on Islamabad on December 22.
Farmers say various fertilizer retailers sell a urea bag for Rs2,500 against the official prices of Rs1,768. The DAP bag is reportedly being sold at Rs9,200 against the controlled rate of Rs8400.
The DAP price, Umair said, went up from Rs2400 to Rs8400 in last two and a half years.
He believed artificial shortage of fertilisers would badly disturb the per acre yield of wheat in the ongoing season, ultimately affecting the national production target.
The Federal Committee on Agriculture had fixed the wheat target at 28.9 million tonnes from a sowing area of 9.2 million hectares for the rabi season 2021-22. Punjab is expected to produce 21.94 million tonnes, almost 75 per cent of the total wheat target, followed by 4,200,000 tonnes by Sindh, 1,525,000 tonnes by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1,215,000 tonnes by Balochistan.
Captain (r) Muhammad Hussain, a Sahiwal based grower and the PKI leader told the Minute Mirror that farmers were being charged Rs18 per unit (including different taxes) as against the government announcement of Rs5.35 per unit for agriculture connections.
Thousands of farmers were unable to pay the bills, he said, demanding the government end taxes on electricity bills and charge as per committed rate of Rs5.35 per unit.
The pesticide prices went up by 300 percent in two years, he said, asking the ruling party to bring down the prices of all agriculture inputs if it was sincere in its claims of being a farmer-friendly government.
The National Farmers’ Day (National Kissan Day) was celebrated for the first time in the country’s history on December 18, 2019 and was also acknowledged by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Saturday is being celebrated as the third Kissan Day across the country.