The federal government launched the Kisaan Card Programme in April 2021 to provide agricultural subsidies on pesticides and fertilizers directly to up to 5 million farmers and provide quick relief during disasters.
It was announced as part of the Rs. 300 Billion Agriculture Emergency Programme providing Rs. 17 billion in direct subsidies.
Most farmer organizations and analysts hailed the initiative hoping it would finally fix the agriculture subsidy regime by eliminating bureaucratic hurdles and corruption.
According to government data, 1.28 million farmers have been registered across 36 districts with Rs. 10.8 billion provided to 970,882 farmers in subsidies on DAP fertilizer alone. Moreover, Rs. 219 million and Rs. 441 million have been delivered to farmers in subsidies on other phosphate fertilizers (SSP, NP) and Potash, respectively.
Subsidies, especially on fertilizers, were used to be given to fertilizer companies with farmers rarely enjoying the true benefits, but the problems started to emerge immediately after the launch.
For starters, farmers often had to get signatures from patwaris and visit the district office to register for the Kisaan Card though it later got fixed when the department started assigning its staff targets for Kisaan registrations.
Previously, farmers had to get subsidies from their nearest Konnect shop but Ksiaan card enabled the direct transfer of this money to their bank accounts. Tokens were provided in the fertilizer bag seals or the caps of the pesticide bottles. The token number was to be sent to 8070 and farmers would get a confirmation message.
When all just started going well, the government decided to provide biometric machines to big fertilizer dealers and route subsidies through them. Farmers who were already complaining about missing or getting used subsidy tokens in bags started reporting that dealers typically pocketed the subsidies despite the government’s claims that the system was corruption-proof.
Punjab Government’s Agriculture 2.0 Programme was a holistic approach with the Kisaan Card being one of many initiatives. It provided subsidies on fertilizers, seeds, and other agricultural inputs, as well as access to credit and insurance”, stated Dr. Ahmad Mahmood, Assistant Professor MNS-University of Agriculture, Multan (MNSUAM).
“However, there have been changes to the program since the change of government. The on-ground status is that farmers are not receiving any support currently and are uncertain about the future of the card”, he added.
He pointed out that funding has been slowed, the coverage was limited along with multiple instances of manipulation, but the biggest problem is the lack of awareness.
This Rabi Season, the government has only provided Kisaan Card subsidies on wheat seed but interestingly the farmers we talked to still haven’t received that. That’s another flaw with the programme that farmers often have to wait the whole crop season to receive the subsidies and these delays make the whole process pointless.
Furthermore, Kisaan Card failed to provide the broad coverage it promised, and the true transparency it envisioned, and even at its best, the financial assistance provided was clearly inadequate. There were tons of allegations of favoritism and corruption at lower tiers. It needs to do a lot more to win farmers’ trust and its long-term viability.
Kisaan Card is no doubt a great step in the right direction and has huge potential, but it needs significant tweaks. It needs to cover the provision of fixing and providing for the entire agricultural infrastructure. There is a dire need for easy access to credit, and smart irrigation systems, and Kisaan Card can potentially provide that.
“Kissan Card surely addresses a few of the issues, however, lack of support on mechanization, disaster preparedness, climate resilience, can also be included, “ said Mahmood.
He pointed out that soil and water conservation, solarization or renewable energy, climate change mitigation in relation to climate financing, and combating desertification are a few issues that also require attention.
He proposed continued funding regardless of government changes, ICT-based assessment to minimize corruption and exploitation, parallel loan schemes, and supporting integrated farming options through Kisaan Card Programme for its better efficacy.
The initiative also ignored the long-term sustainability and resilience of the farming communities by prioritizing major grain crops over the rest. The government must ensure incentivizing crop diversification through this programme, so farmers can cope with the looming threats of climate change.
There is literally no support from the government for post-harvest management at the moment. Post-harvest losses claim a significant portion of our agricultural productivity and farmers’ income every year.
This programme should facilitate farmers in storage, processing, and accessing high-value markets to provide value and bring a meaningful change.