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Technology: The Missing Link in Pakistan’s Agriculture Sector

by Zahid Baig

The higher cost of production has continuously been haunting the farmer community in Pakistan. This, together with climate change impact, has been resulting in poor produce and negative growth rates at times. This article is an attempt to explore the possibilities of employing technology to achieve cost effectiveness and to help farmers to improve outcomes.

In Brief

  • Agriculture sector of Pakistan contributes one-fifth to the country’s overall GDP. In the world ranking, the country is number 4 in cotton production and number 9 in wheat production. There is a huge potential in the agriculture industry which is crying out for exploitation and investments. Experts suggest maximum measures including the use of technology to achieve ultimate boost for the benefit of all.
  • The cost of production remains a big challenge for growers in Pakistan. The need is to explore possibilities as to how technology could be used to overcome this and other related issues.
  • Climate change is now a global phenomenon. It is another threat to agriculture in Pakistan like many other countries. We have all the more reason to speed up our efforts to introduce climate change tolerant seeds. The efforts to devise plan to mitigate the damages by floods or drought also need to be accelerated.

Agriculture sector is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy as it contributes around 20 percent in the overall gross domestic product (GDP) – which stands for the total value of all final goods and services produced within the economy during a certain period-  and is also a big source of employment. It helps meet the food requirement of ever increasing population, providing raw materials to all the major industrial sectors including textiles, leather, sugar, flour milling etc., and has a significant role in decreasing rural poverty.

As per Economic Survey of Pakistan (ESP 2015-16), out of total contribution of agriculture to the GDP major crops contribute 4.67 percent to the GDP, other crops 2.25 percent, livestock 11.61 percent, fisheries 0.43 percent and forestry 0.41 percent each.

This sector also provides 65 percent of the total exports of Pakistan. Further breakdown shows 73.2 percent is cotton and cotton based products while fruit, rice, livestock and others contribute 26.8 percent.

As per the ESP 2015-16, the agriculture sector provides employment to 42.3 percent of the country’s total labor force while in Punjab it provides employment to 43.5 percent of the people in the province, and to more than 61 percent in the rural areas.

And when Pakistan is compared with the rest of the world on the basis of agriculture sector, the country ranks 9th in wheat production, 11th in rice production with an edge of having aromatic long grain basmati, 4th in cotton production, and 14th in sugarcane with comparative advantage in mango, citrus and dates. Similarly, in livestock it is 2nd in buffalo’s population, 13th in cattle, and 9th in sheep and 3rd in goat while in milk production Pakistan’s standing is at 4th place in the world. These figures are based on the report ‘Future Direction of Agricultural Diversification’ by Dr. Azeem Khan, Director General of National Agricultural Research Center (NARC), Islamabad.

global-ranking

SOURCE: REPORT – THE FUTURE DIRECTION OF AGRICULTURAL DIVERSIFICATION BY DR. AZEEM KHAN, NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH CENTRE (NARC) DG, ISLAMABAD.

Despite all of these amazing numbers, the agriculture sector, which has traditionally sustained a satisfactory growth to ensure food security for our growing population, presently faces a major challenge of low returns to farmers because of higher costs of production. The reasons behind, among many, are uncertified seeds, counterfeit or substandard pesticides and herbicides resulting in low yields of some crops especially cotton—which is the main cash crop and provides raw material for the biggest export sector of the country i.e., textiles.

The year 2015-16 saw dismal performance of the agriculture sector when it registered negative growth of 0.19 percent against 2.53 percent of the same period in last fiscal year. The last negative growth in agriculture was witnessed by the country in year 2000-01. (ESP 2015-16)

Read more: Pakistan at Risk

In recent times, many farmer organizations have staged protests on the roads time and again against the expensive inputs and have demanded decrease in the prices of fertilizers, fuel and electricity charges for agricultural purposes, provision of high quality disease-resistant seeds and a better per acre yield.

Declining international prices had hit hard the wheat growers, rice and cotton farmers while unfortunately our cotton sector witnessed a huge downward trend because of the poor cotton seed especially the so-called Bt cotton seed introduced to the growers through informal sectors. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that produces toxins harmful to a variety of insects, including bollworms that attack cotton. Bt cotton was created by introducing genes from the bacterium into the cotton seed, creating a crop resistant to this pest.

This calls for well-thought out interventions to improve agriculture products’ value addition at the farm levels and industrial linkages, especially under the existing situation, when the agricultural commodities’ returns do not equal the increasing cost of production. A vibrant industrial sector understanding of these challenges are required to support the farm sector.

Rice

­Rice is the second largest staple food crop of Pakistan and is also one of the major export earning commodities for the country.  As per official statistics, it accounts for 3.1 percent in the value added in agriculture and 0.6 percent of GDP. In the year 2014-15, rice export earned foreign exchange of $1.53 billion.

As far as production and area under cultivation is concerned, during the year 2015-2016, rice was cultivated on an area of 2,748 thousand hectares showing a decrease of 4.9 percent over last year’s area of 2,891. It was slightly lower than the area brought under cultivation during the year 2013-14 when it was planted over 2,789 thousand hectares. Rice production remained at 6,811 thousand tons, showing a decline of 2.7 percent over corresponding period of last year’s record production of 7,003 thousand tons.

Reduction in rice production and area under cultivation is the result of less economic returns to the farmers on account of decline in rice prices both domestically and internationally. According to the official sources, the growers opted to turn to fodder and maize instead of sowing rice which was not bringing them good returns for the last two to three years.

According to Basmati Growers Association (BGA) Chairman Chaudhry Hamid Malhi major area of concern for rice growers in Pakistan is the falling prices. “Cost of production is continuing to rise from last seven to eight years while prices of the commodity is consecutively coming down,” he says and adds international prices of the Basmati rice, the aromatic long grain rice variety, came down to $800 per tons from $1,400 per ton some two years back.

Malhi is of the view that yield, as far as rice is concerned, is not an issue for Pakistan rather enhancing its production would cause more glut in the market. Nevertheless, he suggests that the government should make ‘ensuring income to farmer’ as cornerstone of its policy. According to him, input cost of rice has doubled during last couple of years while cost of fertilizer, water, pesticide and other expenses are also on the rise. He also suggests the government should also try to create new windows of exports for rice and help the exporters in this regard.

­­­ “On our part, we have recently met the Indian Rice Exporters Association and also the growers to ensure and maintain some reasonable price level of aromatic basmati rice for the international buyers,” he adds.

Gujranwala Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President, Rice Miller and former Vice President of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan Sami Ullah Chaudhry says the government should strive to provide high quality certified rice seeds with more per acre yield to the growers. He is for making research institutions more effective and active so that they provide seeds which have the capacity to produce more. He also stresses the need for creating linkages between academia, research institutes and other stakeholders. “If we have better seeds from our local research institutes then farmers will not go for any imported hybrid seeds,” he remarks.

rice-productuion

SOURCE: PAKISTAN ECONOMIC SURVEY 2015-16

About maintaining the long grain aromatic basmati rice export, Sami Ullah Chaudhry says the government should take advantage of Iran market in this regard. According to him Iran is the biggest importer of long grain aromatic rice while India has taken it away from Pakistani exporters. “We need to have a currency exchange mechanism between both the countries to capture this market,” he stresses.

Wheat

Wheat is the most favorite staple food crop of Pakistan as it dominates all other crops in terms of area under cultivation and production. It alone accounts for 2 percent of the GDP. During the season 2015-16 its area under plantation increased to 9,260,000 hectares from the corresponding period of 9,204,000 hectares showing an increase of 0.6 percent. While the production of the grain registered an increase of 1.6 percent as total harvest was recorded at 25.482 million tons in 2015-16 against 25.086 million tons of the corresponding period.

The issue for the growers of this crop always remains that they do not get due return of their labor. Though the government announces support price every year but every season remains full of complaint from all quarters representing growers who claim they are not being entertained on procurement centers like ‘influential landlords.’

Farooq Bajwa, an agronomist and representative of one of the most powerful growers’ organization—the Farmers Associates of Pakistan (FAP) says out of the total production in Punjab, which produces 80 percent of the total wheat grains, growers keep almost 8 million tons for their domestic use and as seed for the next crop while remaining 10 million tons is available to the buyers. The major buyer of the wheat in Pakistan is the Punjab Food Department and other government procurement agencies like Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (PASSCO).

Farooq further said even this year the growers could not get the announced PKR 1,300 per 40 KGs wheat support price because of the delayed entrance of the government procurement agencies and on average growers could earn PKR 1,150 per 40 KGs of their produce—depriving the growers from estimated PKR 40 to 45 billion. According to him now growers have only one recourse, i.e., to reduce area under its cultivation to control the production. Or government should export the surplus wheat, he adds.

“However, we should make it clear to the international market that our produce has the highest ratio of protein in the world (i.e., 12 percent while U.S. wheat has only 9.5 per cent protein content).” He also adds, higher protein value should fetch higher returns for local growers.

wheat-production

Cotton

Cotton is the most important cash crop of Pakistan which has also a larger share in the exports. Nevertheless, the country’s cotton production declined by a whopping 33 percent as 9.48 million bales have been produced during 2015 against 14.25 million bales during the same period of last year. Abnormal weather, seed quality, pests and disease and low prices are said to have negatively impacted cotton production. In Punjab, cotton production declined by 44 percent while in Sindh by 4 percent.

Cotton Commissioner Pakistan Dr. Khalid Abdullah during a recent briefing to a high level meeting had said that Cotton Crop Assessment Committee (CCAC) has downward revised the cotton estimates to 10.85 million for the current season against the initial estimates of 15.49 million bales.

According to him Punjab was projected to produce 10.5 million bales, however after the pink bollworm and whitefly attacks, cotton crop was badly damaged and the projection was revised downward to 7.4 million bales. Sindh was projected to produce 4.4 million bales; however the projected estimate was revised downward to 3.4 million bales following similar attacks. The government had set a target of 15.489 million bales from 3.122 million hectares; however cotton was planted on 2.946 million hectares and missed the target by 0.47 percent.

Dr. Zafar Hayat, a progressive cotton farmer and convener on FAP’s cotton committee terming the uncertified, counterfeit pesticides and herbicides as reasons of decline in cotton output says the government should ensure supply of good quality Bt cotton seeds, lowering the input cost and carry out a stern action against the seed mafia which is responsible for the downfall of cotton crop. He is of the view that embracing new technologies both in seeds and herbicides can ensure better yields and better returns to the growers.

Read more: Agriculture: Through the Ages in Pakistan

cotton-production

Sugarcane

Sugarcane is another high value cash crop of Pakistan which accounts for 3.2 percent in agriculture’s value addition and 0.6 percent in overall GDP. During 2015-16, the area sown for sugarcane crop stood at 1,132 thousand hectares showing a decline of 0.8 percent while its production for the year 2015-16 increased to 65.5 million tons from 62.8 million tons of last year’s production showing an increase of 4.2 percent.

Though, it is feeding the sugar and sugar-related industries, but the growers’ organizations always complain about the timely disposal of their cane and later the timely payments from the industrialists to the growers. Because of cotton shock and falling prices, it is hoped that growers may turn to sugarcane this year. Pakistan is having surplus sugar production but lower international prices again create impediments in the way of export of the surplus production. The sugar industry demands subsidy and usually makes it an excuse for non-payment that they would only be able to pay the growers after disposal of their stocks produced from the sugarcane.

FAP Director Farooq Bajwa and Kissan Board Pakistan (KBP) Secretary Information Haji Muhammad Ramzan are of the view that the government should pay attention towards the chronic issue of untimely payments and even defaults. They suggest that the Cane Procurement Receipt (CPR) should be made as a promissory note or given status of check for payments, which may help discourage the influential mill owners from holding the payments of the growers for too long.

sugarcane-production

Corn

Maize or Corn, contributes 2.2 percent to the value added sector in agriculture and 0.4 percent to GDP. During 2015-16, Maize was cultivated on an area of 1,144 thousand hectares, showing an increase of 0.2 percent over last year’s area of 1,142 thousand hectares. Introduction of hybrid seed has played a significant role in enhancing the corn production in Pakistan.

Nevertheless, growers are of the view that the government should encourage more and more industrial buyers to make use of maize thereby increasing corn production. They argue that in presence of only two major players for extracting edible oil or making other products of it, there is less chance of having reasonable prices. The third biggest buyer is the poultry feed industries. They are of the view that these players determine the price of corn but if more and more players come into the field to extract corn oil which is second after olive oil, farmers can get better price.

Another suggestion is that since maize is considered third biggest food source in the world the government should create an export window for this crop.

corn-production

Vegetables

Other important crops include Potatoes, Chilies and Onions which grew positively during the year 2015-16 as the growers brought more area under cultivation of these crops as compared to the corresponding periods. However, again the price instability and availability of good quality seeds are the problems being faced by the growers. The production of Sorghum (Jawar) and Millet (Bajra) during 2015-16 witnessed positive growth of 40.0 percent and 1.4 percent respectively due to increased area under cultivation. Gram crop, one of the largest Rabi (winter sowing and spring harvest) crop in Pakistan—accounting for the 76 percent of the total production of pulses in the country and occupying about 5 percent of the Rabi cropped area—witnessed a decline of 17.7 percent as the production of gram during last few years showed erratic trends due to heavy dependence on rains. Similarly, the ESP 2015-16 shows a decrease in area under cultivation of Barley, Rapeseed and Mustard.

Potato Growers Cooperative Association President Maqsood Ahmad Jutt also complains that potato growers are not getting reasonable price for their labor. “We are having expense of PKR 130,000 to 135,000 per acre while the return is negligible,” he claims saying Pakistan is producing potatoes more than its needs. He asserts that annual production of potatoes is around 6 million tons and alleges that official claims of production of 3.5 million tons per annum is wrong.

Maqsood further says Pakistani potatoes are being exported to Russia and Afghanistan adding the government should have a look for other markets too. He calls for a formation of a “Potato Board” on the pattern of “Tobacco Board” having representation of growers from all the provinces where it is cultivated, including the finance minister and other stakeholders to create opportunities of export for this crop.

Livestock

Livestock is the highest performing sub-sector of the agriculture industry as it contributes nearly 58.6 percent to the agriculture value added segment and 11.6 percent to the overall GDP. Around 8 million families are attached with this profession, deriving 35 percent or more income from livestock production. It is considered a major player in rural poverty alleviation. Though, major crops have not shown the growth this sector has shown. Pakistan, according to the ESP 2015-16, has 42.8 million cattle in year 2015-16 as compared to 41.2 million in the corresponding year including buffalo 36.6 million as compared to 35.6 million last year, sheep 29.8 million against 29.4 million of corresponding period, goat 70.3 million as compared to 68.4 million etc.

Pakistan is the fourth largest milk producer of the world and as per official statistics, the country produced 54,328,000 tons of milk during the year 2015-16 against 52,632,000 tons in 2014-15. The human consumption is recorded at 43,818,000 tons. Gross value addition of livestock at constant cost factor of 2005-06 has increased from PKR 1,247 billion (2014-15) to PKR 1,292 billion (2015-16), showing an increase of 3.63 percent over the same period last year.

However, Pakistan is far behind in providing processed milk to its population as the industry is only processing around 4 percent of the total production.  According to a recent study carried out by the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in collaboration with Tetra Pak, the demand for livestock and livestock products is increasing at a rapid pace on account of rising population, increased incomes, changes in consumer preferences towards livestock and dairy products and increasing export demand. According to the study, the Pakistan Livestock Census 2006 suggests that livestock supply is overshooting demand: growth in cattle, buffalo and goat population is recorded at 4.5 percent, 3.5 percent and 3.1 percent per annum, respectively. This is much higher than the growth rate of human population at nearly 2 percent. But, the rising trend in real prices of beef, mutton and fresh milk negates this view. The report further says it is generally believed that the official numbers of total milk production in the country and the numbers on average milk yield of dairy animals is far from realistic.

Read more: Pakistan’s Cotton Emergency

The study recommends for a better reliable data through revisiting the data collection tools used by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the Government of Pakistan ensuring better monitoring and supervision so that more reliable numbers of the dairy sector are made available. It further notes the government has a clear understanding of meeting the increased demand for dairy products and the critical importance of the role large scale and corporate dairy farms play in this regard. However, huge startup infrastructural cost serve as a major barrier to entry for new players. The government must fine-tune the Livestock Development Policy 2007 to bring it in line with the changing dynamics of this sector, the study recommends.

Seasonal variation in fodder availability is a critical challenge for the policymakers in the country because it is responsible for poor quality of feed and rising fodder costs. Serious attempts are warranted to lower the cost of feed. Policy measures that encourage silage making by smallholder dairy producers would be a step in the right direction, the study observed. It may be worth mentioning here that the Punjab Livestock and Dairy Development Board (PLDDB) has recently launched small and big silage bales both for the small livestock farmers and big farmers, which is a commendable step.

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SOURCE: PAKISTAN ECONOMIC SURVEY 2015-16

Poultry

Poultry is the most vibrant and flourishing subsector of agriculture in Pakistan which according to the ESP 2015-16 provides employment to over 1.5 million people directly or indirectly. Pakistan has become the 11th largest poultry producer in the world with the production of 1.02 billion broilers annually. Besides, this has also been playing the role of a check on the prices of mutton and beef also. The survey declares it the backbone of agriculture sector which consumes over 7 million metric tons of agro residues.

Pakistan Poultry Association (PPA) former Chairman Abdul Basit notes that the international halal food trade hovers around $300 billion, “Pakistan being an Islamic country can take advantage of this market by patronizing its food sector,” he says. According to him poultry which is a thriving and vibrant sector can play a major role if provided incentives.

He said, ‘Made in Pakistan’ tag could be the guarantee of halal food (Kosher) in the international market and if Pakistan could only secure 10 percent of the total international halal food trade, its food exports could leave behind its all other exports. For this he proposes that the government should declare poultry export as zero rated.

Abdul Basit further says poultry sector first pays duties at the grand parents import, then electricity bill of the farms which keep these grandparents chickens, then the downward stream of this industry pays taxes and sales tax on electricity and feed ingredients. “The poultry sector cannot claim drawback, so the sector proposes to be offered 20 percent export rebate to make it competitive in the international market.” Citing the Indian example, he says, India is subsidizing its whole agricultural sector and grains are 90 percent of the poultry feed, which enabled Indian poultry to be cheaper.

Similarly, he says India is providing up to 90 percent of freight rebate to its export sector adding if Pakistan offers 25 percent freight rebate to halal food export it will help the sector become more competitive in the international market and make further inroads.

Another challenge, Abdul Basit sees is the negation of the Pakistan government of its own policy of not imposing duties and sales tax on raw materials of any sector which is not produced in the country. He sarcastically notes that poultry is being treated step motherly in this case where they have to pay 15 percent duties on the import of grandparent chickens. Similarly, he says soybean meal which is the major constituent of the poultry feed is also charged 11 percent duty on import and 10 percent sales tax. He says abolishing these duties will not favor any sector or any industry but the poor people of Pakistan who are getting access to protein in favor of cheaper poultry products.

production-and-consumption

SOURCE: PAKISTAN ECONOMIC SURVEY 2015-16

Fisheries

Pakistan has both marine water and inland fisheries based in rivers, lakes, ponds and dams etc. According to ESP during the period of 2015-16 the total production from both sources was estimated at 499,000 metric tons including 365,000 metrics from sea and remaining from the inland fisheries sector. Pakistan exports, nevertheless, have been decreased by 7.30 percent in quantity during the same period.

Forestry

Though forests sector of Pakistan showed a positive growth during the financial year 2015-16 which according to the ESP 2015-16, contributes 2.06 percent in the agriculture value addition posting a growth rate of 8.84 percent as compared to the negative growth of 10.43 percent last year. Nevertheless, a look on forest area of Pakistan and its comparison with other countries following progressive forestry practices reveal that Pakistan is a forest poor country; only 4.55 million hectares. The per capita forest area is merely 0.033 hectare compared with the world average of one hectare. The primary reason for meager forest area is that most of the land area (70-80 percent) of Pakistan falls in arid or semi-arid zones where precipitation is too low to support tree growth.

Global Forest Watch quoting FAO data of year 2011 claims that 53,000 people are directly attached with this sector in Pakistan for their living. This sector needs special attention. Federal and provincial governments do launch tree plantation campaigns twice every year but there is a need to ensure complete care of the saplings planted every year ensuring these turn in to fully grown trees.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government’s billion tree plantation campaign launched last year is also a commendable step but its results are awaited.

Oilseeds

The major oilseed crops of Pakistan are sunflower, canola, rapeseed/mustard and cotton. During the year 2014-15 total availability of edible oil was 3.523 million tons. Local production of edible oil contributed 0.556 million tons while import of edible oil/oilseeds was 2.967 million tons and import bill for the same period was PKR 269.412 billion. While the area under cultivation of oilseeds in Pakistan slightly decreased in 2015-16 to 8,474,000 acres from 8,498,000 acres which according to the statistics of the Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (PODB) was because of lower international prices of oilseed which also impacted the local prices discouraging the farmers.

After 18th Amendment, PODB is functioning only in Federal territory without proper staff and organization. Even liaison with provinces has no mechanism. Area under sunflower has been reduced from 1.2 million hectare to 0.9 million hectares. PODB should have at least strong coordination setup at provincial level for promotion of oil seed crop in the country.

The Punjab government is also working on promotion of olive oil in the province. Both private and public sectors are working and if these efforts are combined with the federal department and other provinces, it could be a big leap towards reducing reliance on imported oil for food usage.

Fertilizers

Fertilizers, the most important but at the same time one of the most expensive input plays a role of 30 to 50 percent towards increase in yields. According to the ESP 2015-16, most of Pakistan’s soils are deficient in three basic essential plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potash) required by the plants in large quantities for normal growth and development. The survey claims that total off take of fertilizer nutrients recorded a decrease by 10.1 percent during 2015-16 (July-March) period.

In the recent budget (2016-17), the federal government has announced a cut in the prices of Urea and DAP fertilizers. The incentive has fetched mixed reaction from the farmers as some organizations welcomed the cut while some of them were of the view that the cut should have been deeper.

Agri Forum Pakistan Chairman Muhammad Ibrahim Mughal is of the view that the government should further lower down the prices of Urea and DAP and also pay attention towards promoting the use of potash based fertilizers. He also says the use of Urea and DAP fertilizers should be doubled to ensure more per acre yield of different crops.

Pakistan is also exporting horticulture products such as citrus, mangoes and guava etc. However, growers and exporters are very concerned that export is declining for the last three years. Progressive Mango Growers Association of Multan President and Vice President of the Multan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tariq Khan said that the export of mangoes in 2013 was over 120,000 tons which dropped down to only 62,000 tons last year.

According to him, unnecessary tight policies adopted by the Department of Plant Protection during the last two years resulted in decrease in the fruit export. Similarly, he said Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company (PHDEC) which played a very important role in starting exports of kinnow and mangoes from the country has failed to achieve its objectives because of faulty policies of the previous government.

Tariq is, however, hopeful saying that this year policies of the present government seem good. “The Ministry of Commerce is trying to revamp PHDEC, and produce of mango is also good with expectation of 1.7 million tons of fruit.” He hopes export of mangoes will again touch the 100,000 mark this year.

Climate change

According to a policy brief by the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, South Asia is expected to incur substantial losses in agricultural output, to the tune of 10-17 percent as a result of increases in average temperatures (of 2.3-4.5°c) and variation in precipitation. Climate change impacts agriculture though inducing uncertainties in the supply and availability of our water resources.

In Pakistan, per capita water availability has decreased by an over whopping 400 percent since 1947, leading to the conclusion that Pakistan is a water-stressed country. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) measures the pressure on national water resources by calculating water withdrawal as a percentage of total renewable water resources (TRWR). Pakistan’s TRWR value is 74 percent: stresses are considered high if the value is above 25 percent so Pakistan’s figure is indeed exorbitant. Food security is also closely linked to water availability. There are different pathways through which climate change can affect agriculture. The results indicate a rise in long term average temperatures, with significant negative consequences for agriculture, while precipitation variations show alternate signs depending on the season and region under consideration. In particular, climatic unpredictability in terms of precipitation will have significant impacts in KP, Balochistan and Sindh, given their dependence on rain-fed cropping. Furthermore, the overall surface water availability is also getting impacted. During 2012-13, the availability of water as an essential input for Kharif (early summer planting with autumn harvest –  a period of April to September) was 14 percent less than normal and during Rabi (winter sowing and spring harvest) season it was 12.4 percent less than the normal availability.

The policy brief suggests increased budgetary allocations for climate change actions and plans. The climate change impact in terms of losses in agricultural productivity is projected in the range of $6.94 to $30.34 billion by 2040. There is an urgent need to allocate resources to mitigate climate change commensurate to Pakistan’s vulnerability. There is a need to systematically incorporate adaptation and mitigation actions in the investment and budgetary decisions at the national level, with linkages to provincial and district level action plans. There is a strong case that can be made for immediate-term public expenditure on reducing vulnerability and scaling up of adaptation measures. This can only be achieved if we allocate adequate resources and mainstream climate change into the national budget. Develop national water policy and provincial water action plans.

Water security is important for adaptation and a key driver of agricultural productivity and sustainability. Pakistan’s present state of water scarcity is one of the biggest threats to its attaining food security. We need a comprehensive national water policy, supported by provincial-level water action plan. Provincial water policies can address water-related climate change adaptation measures at the local level – as recommended by the National Climate Change Policy 2012. Increase capacity – both human and financial – of provincial and district government departments. The actual brunt of climate change is faced at the farm level. Provincial- and district-level government departments are on the frontline but despite their critical position, they have very limited ability to adapt and act in a timely manner. There is a strong need to build capacity, in both human and financial terms—to build resilience at the local levels. This can include, but not limited to –better institutions, improved extension services, budget allocations, and access to weather information, using resistant crop varieties and implementing efficient agriculture practices. Cascade the National Climate Change Policy into provincial climate change action plans. It is not possible to fully implement a policy without local-level action plans and the capacity to execute them. The National Climate Change Policy is a comprehensive document addressing a range of sectors and climatic impacts. However, it needs to be translated into provincial- and then district-level adaptation action plans. Climate variations and associated risks are experienced locally, and only local action plans will build resilience to climatic unpredictability and extreme events. There is a need to develop compensation and support strategies for farmers. At community level, climate change impacts are detrimental for both lives and livelihoods but according to a LUMS/WWF study, adaptation strategies have significant cost barriers. Financial support and access to credit/financial markets is needed both in a non-disaster context to help the adaptation in a long term sustainable development perspective and in a disaster context to help the disaster risk management, by supporting prevention, preparedness and resilience (pre-disaster perspective) and to help the emergency response, reconstruction and recovery (post disaster perspective). A compensation strategy, including disaster insurance mechanisms, is needed, the brief concludes.

An expert from the Punjab Agriculture Department, seeking anonymity, said the recent failure of cotton crop was not the result of total failure of the seed as the same seed had been giving higher yields during the last four years. Instead, he said the inability of the seed being used to cope with the changing climate patterns was the result of ruining of the crop. “We need to introduce new seeds to meet the impacts of changing climate in Pakistan so we not only maintain our cotton output but enhance it for the requirement of our main industrial sector,” he added.

Seeds

Of many challenges Pakistan’s agriculture sector is faced with is the low quality of seed—a key input in crop production.

Pakistan needs to focus on more research and development to introduce new varieties of seed employing technology. The country also needs to strengthen regulations in the seed sector. Seed Act 2015 was passed last year but its rules and regulations are still in the process. Likewise Plant Breeders Act promulgation is also the need of the time so as investors and technology providers can come to the country without any fear of loss of their hard labor. Pakistan’s production in wheat, rice and other major crops is stable while cotton is facing a severe challenge. So there is dire need to introduce certified genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other new technologies to enhance the production which will ensure better returns to growers and add to their profitability.

Read more: Technology: The Missing Link in Pakistan’s Agriculture Sector

Information and communication technology (ICT) in agriculture

Today technology in agriculture is being developed and applied in innovative ways with a primary focus to assist the farmer in enhancing its production. Information and communication technologies (ICT) in agriculture offers a wide range of solutions to agricultural challenges. It is seen as an emerging field focusing on the enhancement of agricultural and rural development through improved information and communication processes. In this context, ICT is used as an umbrella term encompassing all information and communication technologies including devices, networks, mobiles, services and applications; these range from innovative Internet-era technologies and sensors to other pre-existing aids such as fixed telephones, televisions, radios and satellites.

Many ICT interventions have been developed and tested around the world, with varied degrees of success, to help agriculturists improve their livelihoods through increased agricultural productivity and incomes, and reduction in risks.  Though in Pakistan, provincial agriculture departments are using fixed telephones as helpline to guide and disseminate information about latest agricultural technologies to the growers, there is a need to develop liaison with some international firms who are providing ICT services to farmers in different countries, which could bring these services to Pakistan for growers to take benefit of it in getting the advance information of weather, latest growing technologies, even to check their crop status on their mobile phones or tabs etc.

Nevertheless, Punjab Agriculture Department sources say that the department is using all modes of ICT to disseminate pre and post-harvest methodologies, taking care of crops and weather alerts to the growers. It includes newspapers, television, Facebook, Twitter, SMS, Whatsapp and free telephone landline. According to them, the department is also carrying out a survey of Punjab to know the fertility of land and then provide correct guidance and information to tillers of this land so that they can take correct decision at the critical junctures of any crop.

Mechanization

Mechanization in agricultural sector is rapidly growing in Pakistan and especially in Punjab and Sindh provinces. The sowing and threshing processes are said to be 100 percent mechanized in the country while hoeing process is partially mechanized. However, this ratio also varies with the crops.

A grower from Jhang district, a Mr. Intikhab says mechanization is on the rise as it not only saves time of the grower but labor too and prepares land in a very befitting manner for the next crop or harvest any crop without higher wastage ratio.

According to him even small growers are purchasing machines and they share with their counter parts in rural areas.

Chief Agriculture at the Planning and Development (P&D) Department Punjab, Dr. Muhammad Ashraf throwing light on the challenges being faced by the agriculture industry said not having reasonable return of their hard labor is the biggest challenge for farmers. “The production cost is higher while price of the produce is lower than that. If we compare our agricultural sector with India, production cost is much lower there because of heavy subsidies being extended by the Indian government to growers in the shape of subsidy on electricity, power and machinery etc. Then they also have a strong commodity support price mechanism, which is very helpful to growers’ prosperity,” he remarked.

However, he says federal government in general and the Punjab governments in particular has realized this side of the agricultural sector adding incentives announced in recent budget both at federal and provincial level are reflective of it. He said Pakistan could only compete in the international market by bringing down the input cost.

Second, important challenge is lower per acre yield, says Dr. Ashraf while adding major reason in this regard is non-availability of certified seeds. “We have to work a lot on this subject. Punjab is working on this sector and bringing cotton seed reform project, so as to enable the public sector to produce certified high quality and high yielding cotton seeds so our growers do not have to rely on foreign assistance or company.”

Dr. Ashraf says people at the extremities of canals cannot have water according to their needs as either breeches or cuts deprive them of their share. According to him, Punjab Irrigation Development Authority (PIDA), which was formed to resolve these issues, is not seen to be very active. “We are trying to make this more active and also promoting smart use of water resources by promoting Drip Irrigation System so crops should be fed with that much water they actually need. The government is working on lining of water courses/channels.” He further says there are many projects including one funded by the World Bank worth PKR 21.25 billion called Punjab Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Improvement Project (PIPIP) while another is optimizing water course conveyance efficiency through enhancing lining worth PKR 6.8 billion.

Dr. Ashraf adds that the government is also promoting use of machinery in farming so as to bring down the cost of labor which includes providing subsidized laser land levelers, improving extension services and subsidy on tractors and other agricultural implements under special Kissan Package” announced by the Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

He said concept paper of another project was ready under which cooperative farming would be encouraged so the resources of a community should be pooled so all could take benefit of it. Subsidy on fertilizers and seeds has also been announced. Climate change is another threat to the agriculture and the government is trying to tilt the Annual Development Program (ADP) in such a way which could address the issues. He said efforts were being made to introduce such seeds which could be tolerant to climate change adding tunnel farming and greenhouse farming was being promoted and a long-term counter plan was also being devised to mitigate the damages by floods or drought. “We are cognizant of the fact that if we fail to address this issue it will ruin our future,” he added.

Absence of proper and abundant storage system is another challenge because in case of bumper crop (any crop) it is difficult to retain the surplus for strategic use or to export at a suitable time. In this case, preliminary sessions have been conducted providing one million metric ton of grain silos in public sector and two million metric ton of grain silos in private sector. On the other hand, government is also considering silos project to be executed under Public-Private Partnership mode.

On research and development, he suggested revitalization of Punjab Agricultural Research Board (PARB) and Punjab Seed Corporation.

Conclusion

The experts are of the view that while increased agricultural production and high crops yield is essential for food security, the government has to make agriculture industry more effective in ensuring profits to the growers, who are ready to work hard with dedication to produce more and more as evident from the growth of wheat and sugarcane.  There is a consensus among the growers that the government should introduce policies which can turn the agriculture industry into a profitable enterprise.

Seed sector, which is the base of crop, should be regulated effectively by ensuring implementation on Seed Act, introducing specifications for seeds before they are gone for commercial launch and introduction of Plant Breeders Act to attract reputable new technology providers to Pakistan who are delivering quality worldwide.

The government should ensure agriculture credit to the growers to buy better inputs and high quality seeds while farm loans should be kept separated from the agro-based industries.

The experts also suggest that development allocations should be made to the rural areas according to the population ratios while separate institutions should be established for international marketing of our agricultural commodities.

Agricultural inputs including fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and others should be made economical by withdrawing sales tax on it besides ensuring availability of certified seed of all crops. Similarly, the experts suggest that effective action be launched to curb trade of fake or substandard pesticides and herbicides.

Zahid Baig is a senior reporter at Daily Business Recorder.

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