Aug 31 - Sep 06, 2009

Many of the experts are of the opinion that agriculture can play a key role in boosting Pakistan's GDP. A little attention to the problems facing growers and proper documentation of the sector can immediately raise its contribution in the GDP and development of multifaceted strategy can double the size of agriculture sector. This would on the one hand improve the per capita income and on the other hand stop migration of people from rural areas to urban areas in search of job opportunities.

Livestock can be termed the most ignored components of the agriculture sector. One of the facts substantiating this statement is that during last financial year banks disbursed around Rs230 billion to the farmers under agriculture loans but hardly any mount was disbursed to the livestock sector. One of the factors providing confidence to the lenders is 'agri credit insurance' that has been declared mandatory. However, no such facility is available for the livestock.

Traditionally, livestock supplements income of farmers and become the savior in case that standing crop is damaged due to any natural calamity. However, livestock farming is still done in a very primitive way in Pakistan. Ranches developed on the modern lines are conspicuous by their absence despite the fact that the country falls among the top five milk producing countries.

In certain areas of the country, livestock is often on the move due to shortage of grazing lands. One of the reasons is that green fodder is not raised partly due to limited availability of water and partly because many farmers consider cultivation of fodder far inferior to growing food or cash crops. Somehow the other farmers have not been convinced to grow maize as fodder for animal.

Corn is a source of food for human beings (corn flour as well as oil) and oilcakes supplement diet of milk giving animals. Perhaps the people at the helm of affairs have not been able to create awareness among the farmers that maize crop has a harvesting cycle of around 120 days and it can be cultivated on lands often not considered suitable for cultivation of some of the food and cash crops.

Despite all odds livestock plays an important role in Pakistan's economy. It provides livelihood to millions of people in rural areas. It serves the farmers as a social security against crop failure in rain-fed area. In the past, this sector was considered a small contributor to the agriculture of the country. However, there is a growing realization that government must come up with a livestock policy to focus this most important segment to enhance farmers' income for poverty alleviation.

According to an article lately published in a daily newspaper, livestock accounts for 52.3% of agriculture in terms of value addition and contributes 11% to the GDP of the country. It provides basic items of human diet like meat, milk and eggs and also supplies wool, hides, skins, bones and animal casing etc. for industrial use within the country and also for the export. Pakistan earns a fairly large amount of foreign exchange from export of different livestock products. If one adds export of wool, leather and leather products, woolen carpets and dairy products their contribution in total exports of the country becomes substantial.

The country is blessed with certain varieties of animals which stand distinguished in global arena. Some of these are the best tropical and sub-tropical breeds like Nili - Ravi and Kundi. The other well known breeds include Hostein Friesein and Jersey breeds as well as their cross breeds with local cattle (Sahiwal, Red Sindhi and Thari), Dera Din Pench, Beetal, Nachi and Kamori goats and Lohi, Kjli,Keghani, Damani, and Salt Range sheep.

All these play a pivotal role in substantially increasing livestock production in the country. According to a FAO report Pakistan is among the top lamb and mutton producing countries along with global leaders like Algeria, Syria, India, Turkey, Iran, New Zealand, Australia, and China.

Cattle population was 32 million, Buffaloes 30 million, Sheep 27 million, Goat 57 million and camels over one million. Gross milk production touched 45 tons and beef production was over 1.5 million tons and mutton 0.6 million tons. The available production is not sufficient to meet the domestic requirements of growing population. Prices of dairy products are on the rise in the country necessitating import of substantial quantity of dairy products and meat to meet the increasing demand.

Keeping in view the importance of this sector and its enormous potential, it is necessary that livestock be given industry status. The introduction of modern technology can facilitate this sector to boost production of quality livestock in the country. Awareness about breeding, management, disease control and marketing has to be provided to the farmers. Animal quarantine facilities which are few in numbers should be provided in all major livestock producing areas of the country. Easy credit facilities and mobile animal health care services should also be provided at farmers' doorstep.

As a result of rising population, demand has exceeded local production. Prices of meat, beef and dairy products are on the rise. Malnutrition has become a serious problem. Therefore, rapid growth of livestock must be considered mandatory not only to support the rural economy but also for poverty alleviation. Pakistan should also benefit from Indian experience. India's livestock production has been higher than crop production. The government must come up with a comprehensive Livestock Policy at the earliest.