Crop yields can be increased by 50% through the use of new technology, seed varieties
Developing competitive agro-industries is crucial for generating employment and income opportunities, as it enhances the quality of farm products. Agro-industries have the potential to provide employment for the rural population not only in farming, but also in off-farm activities such as handling, packaging, processing, transporting and marketing of food and agricultural products.
There are clear indications that agro-industries are having a significant global impact on economic development and poverty reduction, in both urban and rural communities. However, the full potential of agro-industries as an engine for economic development has not yet been realized in Pakistan.
Though the agricultural sector is facing problems in Pakistan yet the major chunk of money comes from this sector.
One of major obstacles is that no mechanism has been adopted to eradicate the soil erosion and even after harvesting nothing is done to restore the soil energy. Therefore, the fertility of soil is decreasing day by day. The thickness of fertile layer of soil in Pakistan is more than 6 inches but the average yield is lower than other countries where the layer of fertile soil is only 4 inches, said agriculturists while talking to this scribe.
According to them, water in Pakistan’s rivers has gone down to perilously low levels. The reason for this is not just lack of rains. India is restricting water flow of rivers that originate from her and then flow into Pakistan, especially the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers that pass through Indian held Kashmir.
Despite energy crisis being faced by the country, there is much room available to accelerate growth of the agriculture and agro-based industry, provided the crop technologies recommended by experts are fully adopted, applied and maintained effectively, experts said.
In 1947, they said, Pakistan had a considerable agricultural potential. It inherited 31% of irrigated areas, 25% of area under cereals, 35% of area planned with wheat and 32% of rice-sowing area. Before independence, these areas were collectively known as the breadbasket of India.
According to experts, Pakistan is blessed with 38 million acres of land fit for agriculture and forestry. The soil largely comprises alluvial deposits and is fertile. It has a developed irrigation system with 40,000 miles of canals but they require maintenance due to the effect of age. Pakistan’s share of Indus River and its tributaries is estimated at 145 million acre feet of water. Of this, about 102 million acre feet is utilized while 43 million acre feet go into the sea annually – such a huge wastage is not acceptable by any standards.
Abundant sunlight, fertile soil, precious water and dry climate are the nature’s blessings for producing good crops in an entire year, but sadly, the country is a net importer of wheat for the past several decades.
Average wheat productivity is low at 2.6 tons a hectare, experts said, adding: “The need of the hour is give maximum incentives to small cultivators including interest free loans, water availability, fertilizer on subsidized rates so as to reap true potential of agriculture sector.”
In Pakistan, agriculturists said the government is still not fully committed to adopting the new technologies and educating the farmers.
Experts are of the view that the farmers can increase crop yields immediately by at least 50% through the use of new agri technology and new seed varieties. The current cropping pattern and land use for all major crops need to be reassessed. The area under wheat should preferably be reduced to accommodate pulses and oilseed crops to overcome the gap in supply and demand, they said.
Regarding falling cotton production in the country, they said cotton is falling globally due to preference for man-made fibers, which give more advantages than cotton. Farmers should be encouraged to plant a valuable cash crop known as white gold (guar gum) in arid and semi-arid areas.
Annual exports of guar products from India is $3.5 to $4 billion (80% of the world market), Pakistan is next with only 15% share.
Experts also noted that 43 million acre feet of fresh water go to waste annually, hence, proper water management is a must. The government must build or enhance the capacity of reservoirs and barrages for better management and to irrigate new areas, which are arid and semi-arid, especially in Thar and Cholistan, to increase crop production, alleviate poverty and provide farmers a better livelihood.
The agro-based industries in Pakistan have minimal direct linkages with small-scale farmers, and a paradigm shift in approach of the industrial sector has now become vital to cultivate relationship with the farming community which produce raw material for them.
Experts said that agro-based industries should be set up in major agricultural producing areas and the business and industry have to initiate formalized contractual arrangements with farmers to buy the commodities they grow.
The industrial sector should also develop linkages with the agricultural research and development and play a role in transfer of technology and knowledge to the farming community.
Pakistan has to make investment for setting up processing industries for commodities like potatoes, chilies and tomatoes to create opportunities for fair returns to the farm sector, experts said.
Under the Prime Minister’s loan program, areas like livestock, horticulture and fisheries as well as non-farm sector would benefit and this would result in overall economic betterment of rural masses, and generate raw material for the growing food industries. However, rural youth needs to be supported in acquiring the new skills for setting up agro-based businesses. Nevertheless, investment in agriculture sector would definitely reduce poverty.
“One dollar generated through agriculture income is more effective in eradication of poverty than $2 to $3 earned from other sectors,” said a leading expert.