Opportunity: Agriculture, agro-based industry have room to grow rapidly

New technology, water management can help increase crop production

MUBASHIR AKHTAR March 15, 2015
New technology, water management can help increase crop production. PHOTO: APP

LAHORE: Keeping in view the multifarious problems including the energy crisis being faced by the country, not much can be done to improve the industrial sector for the time being.

However, 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.

In 1947, Pakistan had a considerable agricultural potential. It inherited 31% of irrigated areas, 25% of area under cereals, 35% of area planed with wheat and 32% of rice-sowing area. Before independence, these areas were collectively known as the breadbasket of India.

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 utilised while 43 million acre feet go into the sea annually – such a huge wastage is not acceptable by any standards.

Total storage capacity of Tarbela Dam is 7,000 million acre feet and the annual loss of water in terms of quantity is equal to the capacity of six Tarbela dams. Successive governments have failed to take cognisance of this fact.

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.

Learning lessons

On the other hand, prior to 1960s, India banked on imports and food aid to meet its domestic requirements. However, two years of severe drought in 1965-66 forced India to reform its agriculture policy and avoid total reliance on foreign aid and imports for food security. It then undertook significant policy reforms to achieve self-sufficiency in food grains.

It began with the application of high-yielding, disease-resistant wheat varieties in combination with better farming techniques to improve productivity. Both the farmers and government officials focused on farm productivity and transfer of knowledge.

Consequently, India’s food grain production soared. A hectare of wheat farm that produced an average of 0.8 tons in 1948 gave 4.7 tons in 1975. Such rapid growth led to self-sufficiency in the 1970s. By 2000, Indian farmers were sowing wheat varieties that were capable of giving 6 tons per hectare.

Cropping pattern

In Pakistan, 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 technology and new seed varieties.

It is important to revisit the current cropping pattern and land use for all major crops. The area under wheat should preferably be reduced to accommodate pulses and oilseed crops to overcome the gap in supply and demand. Some farmers in Punjab had last year preferred sowing maize and rice instead of cotton because of better market returns.

The demand for cotton is falling globally due to preference for man-made fibres which give more advantages than cotton. At present, the global demand for synthetic fibre is 60 million tons against 25.4 million tons for natural fibre, including cotton and wool.

Farmers must 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.

Most of the crop is produced with the help of rain water in Tharparkar district, Cholistan and Thal. This crop is produced also through irrigation with almost double the yield.

Water management

There is also a need for proper water management as 43 million acre feet of fresh water go to waste annually.

The government must build or enhance the capacity of reservoirs and barrages for better management and to irrigate new areas (may be seasonal), which are arid and semi-arid, especially in Thar and Cholistan, to increase crop production, alleviate poverty and provide farmers a better livelihood.

The writer is a banker, director of one of the four leading banks and a consultant to the ADB

Published in The Express Tribune, March  16th,  2015.

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Almost Hopeful | 6 years ago | Reply Why would someone (in power) with all the stakes abroad pay any attentione to the betterment of agriculture and farmers. Suggest something that can be accomplished in less than five (now three) years and uses lots of steal.
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