The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the agricultural micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Sindh and Balochistan, which if not uplifted with the government’s timely support, may not survive, states a COVID-19 survey by the International Trade Centre (ITC). According to the Geneva-based ITC, Balochistan’s 29 per cent of agribusinesses and 34 per cent of farmers want a temporary wage subsidy from the government to help them bear payroll expenses during the pandemic. They also demand the creation of standards for safe and hygienic transport means to pick and drop workers besides the provision of a security net to protect the agri-food sector against falling commodity prices. The ITC, a joint agency of UN and World Trade Organisation (WTO), draws findings from its core field trips undertaken to execute a six-year ‘Growth for Rural Advancement and Sustainable project designed to reduce poverty in Pakistan by strengthening small-scale agribusinesses in Sindh and Balochistan. The six-year project began in 2019 with the funding of European Union. In the pandemic, communication has been hit hard and farmers and agribusinesses stated the fact they found it difficult to get right information and benefits on policy measures taken to help them. In such a situation, agribusinesses need such a strategy to foster the survival of their enterprises. They should be helped with input availability, market information dissemination, and support in accessing finance besides training in business and production management to improve their competitiveness. It is the high time agribusinesses and farmers be given credit guarantee schemes from the government so that they coped with the crisis. Given the fact that half of rural MSMEs in Sindh risk default on payments, the provincial administration had better announce a financial package for seeds, fertilisers, and feed.
No doubt MSMEs all over the world have been affected by the pandemic because of lower domestic sales, and difficulty in accessing inputs locally. Lockdown enforcements have forced them to shut down besides scaling down employees. Many concerns have depleted their savings, and, to a lesser extent, increased their marketing efforts to combat the pandemic challenges. It is, however, that no MSMEs have been closed down. They have tried hard to survive. But the government should address their concerns and help them to counter the pandemic’s challenges. Otherwise once their savings depleted and borrowings closed, their chances of being functional will be diminished. The projections indicating the likely closure of the agribusinesses cannot be ruled out.