Monday, January 24, 2011

Rise in urea price frustrates Rabi Growers in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh
January 6, 2011
Recent 23 per cent rise in prices of urea fertiliser, an important farm input and cause of good farm yield, its black marketing and hoarding hoarding have frustrated the Rabi growers, who are struggling to help flood-hit agriculture sector recover. The farmers have called for withdrawal of the undue increase in urea prices; otherwise, it would affect the farm production adversely.

The farmers’ leaders blame agriculture and district government officials are working hands in gloves with those traders involved in hoarding, black marketing of the urea and phosphate fertilisers.

Unavailability of the urea to the farmers in time and at the appropriate prices would only hurt yields of the Rabi crops and intensify food insecurity further in the province.

“The issue of rising urea prices, its black marketing and hoarding has been raised with the local agriculture officials and those sitting on the government benches in the Sindh Assembly. But, our complaints have gone unheeded and unaddressed,” said Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA).

The growers would be compelled to reduce use of urea in their fields, if recent rise was not withdrawn, he said.

Random conversations with growers point to the fact that they have significantly reduced application of fertilisers because their prices have been steadily spiraling, which has emerged to be, among others, a main cause of falling levels of yields of Rabi and Kharif crops.

Till October 30, the urea (Sona FFC brand) was selling between Rs850-Rs853 per bag of 50 kilogramme while another prominent urea brand (Urea Kissan of NFC) was at around Rs830 per bag of the same quantity across the province.

But, the manufacturers increased the urea prices to Rs1,040/per bag. But, traders in different parts of the province have further increased the urea price on their own and are selling between Rs1100-Rs1200.

So much so, the fertiliser traders have also induldged in artificial shortage of the key farm inputs at the time when the fields, on which the Rabi crops are being sown, direly need them (farm inputs).

Reports have also poured in that the fertiliser dealers are not keeping urea stocks in their godowns and instead allegedly hiding it elsewhere to earn huge profits.

“Despite provincial agriculture department’s clear instructions, the dealers have failed to maintain stocks of urea in their godowns and every time we visit their storage houses they tell us that they are out of stocks,” Said Nabi Khan Brohi, leader of Sindh Abadgar Board in Shahdadkot.

They growers have also slammed the district administrations, where black marketing and hoarding have become rampant despite escalation in its prices.

It is matter of disappointment that the role of agriculture deparment and DCOs is equal to nothing and they hardly visit the markets to contain the artificial shortage of the fertilisers and escalation in their prices. This has situation has rather encouraged the unscrupulous traders to exploite hapeless farmers, said disgruntled growers.

“We have brought the matter into notice of the district administrations and agriculture department officials to crack down on the hoarders, profiteers and unscrupulous traders, who are involved in unlawful price hike of the urea. But, the officials are reluctant to take action against them,” said Meher Ali Tunio, a prominent wheat grower in Larkana.

When contacted, some district coordination officers voiced their ignorance about the black marketing, hoarding and rise in their prices and refused to comment on the matter other than saying that they were trying to resolve the problems of the farmers.

Nevertheless, other district government officials of Shikarpur, Shahdadkot and Larkana districts said that if such was the situation then they would definitely bring such unscrupulous traders to book.

Meanwhile, the Sindh Abadgar Board has warned the Sindh government and the fertiliser manufacturers that it would move the Sindh High Court against them, if the unjust and arbitrary rise in urea prices was not withdrawn and its artificial shortage not brought to an end.

Abdul Majeed Nizamni, president Sindh Abadgar Board, said that recent hike in urea prices would force growers to cut the use of the urea, which could cause decline of some 2.72 million tons in overall production of Rabi crops.

“If the urea prices are not brought down to Rs850/ bag, then it would increase the food export bill to $6 billion for the FY 2010-11,” he forewarned.

The total food import bill has touched $2.15 billion in July-Nov, 2010 as compared to $1.3 billion in the same period of 2009.

Member of SCA, Anwar Bachani, said that the chamber had already informed the federal government about the unjust hike in the urea price but it discovered that it had no idea about the gravity of the situation and the prices have been hiked without seeking permission of the federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (Minfal).

Growers’ leaders believe that that repeated hikes in prices of fertilisers by the manufacturers without informing the relevant government departments was all happening due to absence of an effective regulatory body.

An official in the provincial agriculture department admits that some weeks back the fertiliser manufacturers had informed the federal government that there would be urea shortage of 250,000 tons and suggested its import to avoid the shortage or upsurge in prices.

“But, the Minfal ministry was hardly moved by the intimation and did not responded to the fast unfolding situation of urea shortage, which has led to the escalation of its prices,” said a senior official in the Sindh agriculture deparment, who preferred anonymity.

However, the farmers’ representatives have warned of steep fall in Rabi output, if the urea and phosphate was not available to the farmers in required quantity at the pre-November 2010 rates.

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