Pakistan’s economy might be heavily dependent on agriculture, but the sector has not made the giant strides expected of it and the effects of this are now being felt across the board. Hence, when news comes forth that a farmer is trying new methods and techniques to grow food, which normally would require a lot of effort and luck, one cannot help but wonder if these would be practised on a wider scale and in quick time. The Punjab Irrigated Agriculture Improvement Programme, which was funded by the World Bank with a loan of $250 million, has enabled one farmer to grow grapes in an area known for wheat, according to a recent report. The farmer, Mohammad Niaz, is employing drip irrigation — a method known to save water and fertiliser — to grow grapes across nine acres of land and is pleased with the results.
Lack of education and technical know-how, coupled with a tendency to stick to traditions and the motto ‘this is how our forefathers did it’, has meant that the agriculture sector is still stuck in the past. It has not been able to keep pace with population growth and increase in per-acre yield. Water shortage has made things worse for farmers in Punjab and Sindh. The World Bank-funded programme might be meant for Punjab, but nothing is stopping Sindh from getting in on the action. The sector keeps getting subsidised and Kisan packages keep getting offered, but these are not investments in human capital. These are meant to secure votes and do little for the uplift of the sector in meaningful terms. Prices of commodities continue to remain depressed and agricultural produce, for the time being, is not selling. Experts have long stressed the adoption of productive techniques to grow food crops. Why Pakistan chooses to stay in the Stone Age is beyond comprehension when all one hears is how the sector is crucial to the economy. The programme launched in Punjab is now bearing some fruit and we hope that farmers break the shackles of outdated tradition and focus on modern efficient methods.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2016.
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