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package for flood affected areas demanded

ISLAMABAD: Small farmers from across the country staged a rally and peaceful protest here on Friday, demanding immediate rehabilitation of agricultural sector in the flood-hit areas.They demanded that food must be provided to poor farming families for at least next six month and other urgent needs such as shelter and health facilities should also be ensured on emergency basis.
Women and men farmers from the flood affected areas in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh and representatives of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), Sustainable Agriculture Action Group (SAAG) asked the government for providing required rehabilitation services to poor farmers.

They demanded the Prime Minister and President to immediately activate state machinery to address human rights violations, increased poverty and hunger in the flood affected areas.
In majority of the flood affected areas poor farmers are unable to grow food due to lack of land and irrigation rehabilitation, unavailability of quality seeds and fertilizers, and absence of interest free loans.
Farmers strongly protested against distribution of poor quality seeds by the government and lamented the fact that in many areas banking tribunals have been set up to file cases against flood affected farmers for recovery of previous loans.
They expressed their dissatisfaction over agriculture relief package and demanded a long-term agriculture rehabilitation programme that should warrant waiving off of government agriculture loans for small land holders and exemption of the agricultural sector from proposed RGST.
They called for immediate steps to free poor tenants of the land lords’ loans and stressed the need for ‘cash for work’ and ‘kitchen gardening’ projects in the rehabilitation program.
They demanded that women and small farmers should be an integral part of the long term agriculture rehabilitation programme by making them responsible for its preparation, implementation and monitoring.
They also demanded computerization of land record in flood hit areas to avoid conflict of interest between tenants, small contractors and land lords.
Aftab Alam Khan, Action Aid’s international Food and Agriculture expert said “ Despite repeated protests and consultations in different provinces,  poor farmers’ voices have not been heard by the provincial or federal authorities.
The government should immediately start distribution of available reserves of millions of tons of wheat to the poor farming communities. When our own poor communities are suffering from hunger there is no point of exporting wheat stock.”
Highlighting the farmers’ concern, PKI Punjab representative Tariq Mehmood said that farmers at local level were not aware of agriculture relief package and that both federal and provincial governments were ineffective in resolving farmers’ concerns.
He expressed strong apprehensions of looming food insecurity threats. “More than 30% of the flood devastated land is already uncultivable due to presence of silt and sand, therefore it will have serious impact on food production”, he observed.
Noor Muhammad Baloch of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad Balochistan said “Already flood affected farmers have been served with notices to pay back previous loans. All loans should be waived off and new interest free loans should be given to poor famers to facilitate agriculture rehabilitation.”
Gulzar Khan, a small farmer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said “The losses of fruit orchards in KPK should be assessed and farmers should be compensated immediately”.
Mashooq Ali from Sindh said that “The late delivery of seed and fertilizer was of little use for wheat cultivation. Land and irrigation rehabilitation should be immediately started at all levels to facilitate agriculture rehabilitation.
Nasir Aziz food rights expert from ActionAid Pakistan said “Smallholder women and men farmers are the backbone of Pakistan’s agricultural sector yet their issues are being overlooked by the government. The government must ensure provision of sufficient food to farmers for at least 6 more months and women headed households and women peasants must be prioritized in relief, compensation and rehabilitation.”
The protesters resolved that if their demands were not met they would start a nation wide campaign including hunger strikes and sit-ins in front of all the provincial assemblies.—APP

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