Agriculture development in Balochistan: lots of potential yet many issues and constraints
Balochistan is a water starved province and in agricultural production it is far behind to other provinces. More than 75 percent of its population heavily relies on agricultural goods and services for their livelihood. A marked improvement in agriculture can make the province self-sufficient in food. There is need to bring about a shift from traditional to a technology based farming system in the province. This would require the use of appropriate agricultural inputs in technologically feasible and economically profitable manner. In context of chemical technology, the fertilizers offer tremendous scope and assistance to enhance agriculture production. The main problem confronting the farmers of Balochistan is the shortage of irrigation water. The long term water management program in Balochistan will meet a long felt need of the province for adequate quantity of water for agriculture, especially the expanding acreage of fruit orchards.
The province depends on rain, Karezat and tube-wells for irrigation. Over 50 per cent farmers rely on only irrigated crops, which are the main enterprise. Naseerabad, the only canal irrigated district, receives water from the tail end of the Indus River system at the time of sowing cotton and paddy. Agriculture in the province with respect to source of water may be classified as canal irrigated, Karezat irrigated, tubewell irrigated and rainfed or barani agriculture.
The experts are of the view that agriculture sector in Balochistan is facing many serious challenges and constraints for future growth. These challenges include reclamation of cultivable wasteland, diversification of production from the low value to high value products in response to market demand. Increased farm productivity through sustainable use of natural resources and other inputs and the rising demand for agricultural products with the growth of population and incomes will be helpful. The major constraints include scarcity of water, unavailability of agricultural inputs and lack of a strong agriculture research system.
They see the key ingredients of future agriculture strategy should be the reclamation of cultivable wasteland and development of water resources in the province. Reclamation of about 4.0 million hectares of cultivable wasteland is essential to enhance agricultural production in the province. The capacity of the Provincial Agriculture Engineering Department need to be enhanced by providing it additional machinery and bulldozers to reclaim the cultivable wasteland.
The federal government must provide bulldozers for Balochistan, which may be hired out to the farmers at no profit no loss basis to facilitate them in reclaiming the cultivable wasteland. According to one estimate, around 146,250 hectares of cultivable wasteland can be reclaimed through the use of 200 bulldozers in the province. The government should encourage the small farmers by initiating an easy loaning policy for them to get bulldozers and tractors so that acute problem of land leveling and land development in remote areas of the province, could be resolved.
BETTER WATER MANAGEMENT
The development of water resources should be the key to maximize crop production in Balochistan. This can be done through increasing surface water supplies and conserving water using the latest technologies and protecting land and infrastructure from water logging, salinity, floods and soil erosion. There is a dire need to overcome the scarcity of water through construction of medium and large dams and efficient utilization of irrigation water and restoring the productivity of agricultural land through control of water logging, salinity and floods. An integrated program approach for water management needs to be adopted.
For the past many years, Balochistan is trying hard to improve the management of scarce water resources. The key areas in this regard include increasing surface water availability and reducing groundwater depletion, increasing water productivity through a combination of engineering, management and agricultural measures and expanding local capacity and participation of farmers to implement similar schemes and formulate plans for sustainable water resources development and watershed management.
POTENTIAL FRUIT MARKET
Balochistan is well known as the country’s fruit basket and according to recent study it contributes 90% national production of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60% of peach, pomegranate, apricot and 34% of apple and 70% of dates. Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149,726 hectares in Balochistan and approximately 889,490 tons of production is achieved annually. Apples, almonds, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums and dates are grown over an area of 48,329 hectares, 10,621 hectares, 12,240 hectares, 10,999 hectares, 3,945 hectares, 3,872 hectares and 43,099 hectares, respectively. Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains south-western region, depends on the availability of groundwater. Serious efforts need to be directed for bringing about a shift from traditional to a technology based farming system using appropriate agricultural inputs in technologically feasible and economically profitable manner. A strong agriculture research system is needed to efficiently and fully tap fruit export potential of the country’s fruit basket.
Fruit crops are grown in the northern parts of the province. Its huge yield potential of high quality deciduous fruits can efficiently be tapped by making investments in establishing ‘crop specific zone’ and ‘fruit processing units’ in the province. The key problems baring long-term investment in fruit production include shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of groundwater in highland, lack of marketing infrastructure and facilities like farm-to-market roads and sale centers, dearth of skilled labor and lack of technical knowledge and expertise. Investments can be made in building cold storage houses and air-conditioned transportation facilities to minimize the risks to spoilage of fruits.
There is a need to introduce high yielding, and drought and disease resistance varieties of fruits. The positive steps to increase fruit production and export from the province will increase the country’s foreign exchange reserves. The treatment plants serve the purpose of fruit preservation during off-season. The country will earn huge foreign exchange if these plants are established at different districts in coastal Balochistan.
The province is famous for its grape production of commercial varieties. The grapes are grown in bulk in Quetta, Pishin, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai and Mastung districts, which are currently facing the problem of power shortage. The acute shortage of water due to frequent power break down has been playing havoc with these fruit crops. Efficient crop management can increase the profits of local farmers in Balochistan and decrease their costs involved in fruit production. Pre-harvest contractors and commission agents largely benefit from the fruit production and the poor farmers continue to reel under the miserable socio-economic conditions.