Balochistan remained far behind other provinces in raising agricultural production. The agricultural growth is key to curtailing poverty, as agriculture is the mainstay of rural economy and over 75 percent population of the province depends on this sector for earning their livings. The province depends on rain, Karezat and tube-wells for irrigation while over 50 percent 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.
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.
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 programme approach for water management needs to be adopted.
Self-reliant in wheat growth
Pakistan’s wheat production can be increased by expanding wheat cropping area in Balochistan, which is the country’s largest province with respect to its landmass.
The province has wheat varieties yield potential of 6.5MT/hectares, but it is getting only 2.4MT/hectares. The province gets 95 percent wheat from irrigated and 5 percent from rain-fed areas. According to one estimate, out of the total geographical area of 34.719 million hectares, the province has a cultivated area of 1.989 million hectares and 4.826 million hectares of land falls in the category of cultivable wasteland.
Need is to reclaim this cultivable wasteland and this can only be done if the capacity of the Provincial Agriculture Engineering Department is enhanced by providing it additional machinery and bulldozers.
Presently, Balochistan is a wheat-deficit province. It excessively depends on Sindh and Punjab to meet its wheat requirement. It actually faces the problem of food insecurity. It requires 900,000 metric tons of wheat annually to feed its population of 6.8 million people.
Each year the provincial food department sets a procurement target of 50,000MT from Naseerabad zone, but it hardly purchases 20,000MT to 25,000MT. It is because of the less support price fixed by the government that provides the private traders and flour mill owners even from other provinces to lift maximum wheat of the province, as they offer a price to the local growers, which is more than the government’s support price. The private traders and flourmill owners exploit the situation.
The wheat support price needs to be enhanced enough to encourage the local farming community, otherwise, the Balochistan will continue to excessively depend on other provinces and PASSCO to meet its wheat requirement at higher price.
A long-term strategy needs to be devised to make Balochistan self-reliant in wheat. The sowing period for wheat crop in the province commences from 1st November to 31st November. The land must be prepared for timely sowing of crop, but it has been observed that local farmers frequently remain unable to prepare it for wheat sowing. The land often remains uneven or it is not properly leveled due to lack of mechanization. The uneven land causes water losses. Similarly, at the time of irrigation, the local farmers frequently face the problem of water shortage.
Country’s fruit basket
Known as the country’s fruit basket, Balochistan 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 149726 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.