With the world population nearing 7.9 billion, the environment and food security are under extreme stress. Depleting water resources, land degradation, low per acre yield and rising demand for edible items are posing enormous challenges to states and governments across the globe.
Nations failing to cope with the emerging demand of edibles come across food deficiency and malnutrition sometimes leading to famines. Against this backdrop, researchers and agricultural experts have been toiling hard to explore modern techniques for optimum use of agricultural land.
In Pakistan, successive governments have also been trying to introduce modern techniques, better seeds and inputs, monetary incentives and to raise awareness among farmers.
Their efforts are bearing fruit but still a lot is needed to fully exploit the potential in Punjab and Sindh provinces especially the South Punjab where 77% rural population is associated with agriculture.
Once the traditional methods of farming are replaced with modern techniques, agro-based industry in the region can be a game-changer for the country.
“People of South Punjab areas like Multan, Bahawalpur, Muzaffargarh, Layyah are engaged in traditional farming for centuries. However, now there is a need to also promote cultivation of olive, pulses and medicinal plants in the areas,” said South Punjab Secretary Agriculture Saqib Ateel.
He said the government is spending billions of rupees to enhance per acre yield and exploring new crops. “We have started our journey with olive cultivation in the mountainous region of Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.”
He said around one million olive plants are being planted in South Punjab besides grafting of five million olive trees in Bahawalpur and the Koh-e-Suleman area. “We are also focusing on shrimps farming in areas with salty water and the agriculture department is providing all possible assistance to farmers.”
Data available with South Punjab Secretariat reveals that in the context of Punjab the region produces 98% of mangoes, 94% of cotton, 94% of falsa, 92% of green chili, 75% of sunflower, 73% of onion, 49% of sugarcane, 46% of tomato, 45% of maize and 44% of wheat.
However, experts believe that its potential has not been fully tapped. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led provincial government introduced numerous measures to transform the agriculture sector and one of the initiatives was Rs300 billion PM’s Agriculture Emergency Programme.
“We hope a turnaround by upgrading infrastructure and promoting high value crops by fully utilizing Rs11 billion allocation by the provincial government for agriculture sector in South Punjab,” Ateel said.
He said presently we face a challenge of preserving about 50% mangoes, 45% citrus and 20% tomato and other vegetables which are wasted. “Once we are able to successfully preserve our fruits and vegetable crops, the revenue would increase manifold.”
Recently, the farmers have also started cultivation of “Sagwan tree” as its wood is sold at nearly Rs12,000 per cubic feet once the tree matures. Farmers have also started cultivation of medicinal plants with over 1,000 kanal area in Multan, Khanewal and Bahawalpur districts being utilized for the purpose.
“As high value crops offer high economic returns, farmers have started exploring this area,” said Assistant Director Fruits and Vegetable Dr Qaisar.
He said the farmers have also started cultivation of fennel seed (Soo’nf), Kalonji, Celery (Ajwine), Spaghetti (Ispghol), Basil (Tulsi) and Linseed (Alsi).
“We have been importing these seeds for decades. But, with their domestic cultivation we hope to save precious foreign exchange and ensure reasonable earning for local farmers.”
Amidst the government efforts, the farmers and agriculture experts have drawn the attention of the government towards laying down proper marketing mechanisms and provision of quality seeds and cheaper agricultural inputs to revolutionize this sector.
“The main issue of this sector is cost of production,” said a progressive farmer Major (retd) Tariq. “The government should reduce cost of production by ensuring cheaper inputs as farmers often fall short of spending and fully utilizing the potential of their land.”
He called for curbing black-marketing of fertilizers, reducing electricity rates, ensuring better access to markets and proper pricing for agriculture products. “We also need to encourage and incentivize corporate and export- based agriculture to help farmers earn more and contribute more to national economic growth.”
Another progressive farmer Khawaja Shoaib pointed out weaker implementation of laws and suggested improving the performance of regulatory bodies.
“Farmers need protection and better prices for their goods and the government should improve the performance of concerned departments to properly facilitate farmers and protect their rights.”
He said the farmer needs cheaper quality seed, best possible pesticides and easily available fertilizers. “But, when these commodities are provided at higher rates by hoarders, it minimizes our profit ratios.”
He also underlined the need for more research work and for shattering the cartels busy fleecing the farmers and making it hard for them to earn respectable living.
“In view of the prevailing situation, there is dire need for promoting modern technology, encouraging progressive farming, providing cheaper inputs, proper marketing mechanisms to ensure better prices of produce and export opportunities for farmers to revolutionize this sector and earn revenue,” he added.