LAHORE - Pakistani farmers Saturday called off their march to the Capital after Punjab chief minister pledged to address their concerns.

Their three-day protest came to an end following the separate meetings of farmers’ delegation with CM Shahbaz Sharif.

A period of 15 days has been set by the farmers as a deadline for the government to introduce reforms in its agricultural policies, Khalid Mehmood Khokhar of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) told The Nation.

Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will also join in the next parlays.

An agriculture conference will also be arranged in Punjab by the end next month, in which all stake-holders will be invited.

The CM, during the meeting, announced 12-15 billion rupees subsidy on fertilizers for Punjab farmers.

Shahbaz Sharif assured the delegation that their interests will be protected. He said he will not allow anyone to exploit the farmers.

“The genuine problems of country’s cultivators will be resolved and their matters relating to federal government will also be settled along with them. Negotiations will soon be held with federal authorities in this context,” read a handout released from CM Secretariat.

In past, the Punjab government gave a subsidy of Rs13 billion on agri tube-wells in 2013-14 while 30 thousand tractors were distributed among small cultivators within a few years. A subsidy of two lakh rupees per tractor was also given to the farmers.

This year, the government will give subsidy to small farmers of 12.5 acre on fertilizer to facilitate the farmers, especially the rice and cotton growers.

The handout quoted Shahbaz Sharif saying that despite immense pressure from mill owners, the price of sugarcane was not reduced at all and was purchased at a rate of Rs180 per maund from cultivators in Punjab. He also assured the farmers that strict action will be taken against the sugar mills which are not making timely payment to sugarcane growers.

Provincial Ministers Rana Sanaullah, Farrukh Javed, Yawar Zaman, Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, Chief Secretary, Special Assistant Livestock Arshad Jutt, Parliamentary Secretary Mian Naveed Ali, Inspector General Police and many other senior officials were present in the meeting with office-bearers of Pakistan Kisan Ittehad. Although their representatives are thankful to Chief Minister for assuring them full support, many of the farmers fear “their miseries will never end”. They have warned of countrywide protests if ditched by the government.

During their three days protest, farmers had demanded a ban on the import of Indian potatoes and other vegetables. They said the government was putting Indian farmers before its own.

They brought Lahore’s traffic to a standstill on Friday when they dumped potatoes on the road outside the Punjab Assembly in protest against heavy taxes on farm produce.

Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) demanded direct talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the same support India gives to its farmers.

Khokhar told The Nation that farmers are facing losses in all major crops, including cotton, sugarcane and rice.

“Besides the havoc recent floods created, farmers are having hard times because of government policies,” he said.

“The government has been controlling and increasing the cost of inputs through heavy taxation. But it has abdicated the responsibility of output prices in markets which have been controlled by mafias.

Khokhar had also demanded an immediate suspension of government’s plan of turning the land of National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) into a housing society.

He will raise this issue in next meeting with Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

The farmers were fully supported by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML) whose leaders joined them on Friday.

PTI’s Punjab organiser Ch Muhammad Sarwar, after meeting the protesting farmers, demanded an immediate suspension of Pak-India trade. He said the government’s anti-farmer policies were more dangerous than Pakistan’s external enemies.

He called upon the government to resolve the issues of farmers and take back cases registered against them.

PML central leader Ch Parvez Elahi also supported the farmers’ protest against the PML-N government and pledged to stand with them on every front.

Calling it the “economic massacre of farmers”, he questioned the government if farmers were not prosperous how could Pakistan progress.