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Pakistan and Rain fed Agriculture

  1. Wind energy: An alternative source
  2. Pakistan and rain-fed agriculture

Nuclear Institute of Agriculture Tandojam

By S. M. Alam
Apr 24 - 30, 2000

Most of the land area of Pakistan is classified as arid to semi-arid, because rainfall is not sufficient to grow agricultural crops, forests and fruit plants and pastures. About 68 per cent of the geographical area of Pakistan lies under annual rainfall of 250 mm whereas, about 24 per cent of geographical area lies under annual rainfall of 250- 500 mm. This leaves only 8 per cent of geographical area where the annual rainfall exceeds 500 mm in Punjab and foothill of Northern areas. Thus, water is one of the most limiting constraint for agricultural production in Pakistan.

Out of 79.61 mha of total area about 22 mha is cultivated and 75.5 per cent of this area is under irrigation. Agriculture plays a pivotal role in the national economy and in this context, the need to increase productivity of barani areas is self-evident. The major of difficulty in the barani areas is the inadequate supply of water. The rainfall and sometimes the persistent dry weather causes near famine conditions. Worst still, the underground water is mostly saline and sweet water resources lie at great depth. In short, the scarcity of water has seriously obstructed the social and economic uplift of the population in barani lands.

Majority of our rural population to rain-fed farming system is entirely dependent on rainfall. The bulk of the rain-fed areas constitute arid and semi-arid lands, which generally do not receive development priority as they are considered expensive for agricultural development. However, these areas are big and produce a considerable amount of food grain. For instance, nearly one-third or 10 per cent of the national wheat production comes from the rain fed agricultural areas every year which is higher than the total irrigated and rain-fed wheat production either in NWFP and Balochistan and is 66 and 14 per cent of the total wheat production in Sindh and Punjab respectively.

In the cultivated command areas of the Indus Basin, the total annual rainfall is estimated to be about 23 MAF. Although, rain does not fall frequently in major parts of the country, it brings considerable amount of water when it does 10mm of rain provides 100 cubic meter of water per hectare. In rain-fed areas population comprises of subsistence farmers. As the rainfed areas are completely dependent on rainfall for agriculture production and in medium towards high rainfall areas, about 50-60 per cent of annual rainwater is lost through runoff during rainy periods. This not only causes moisture shortage, but also increases erosion hazard. If sufficient amount of water is conserved and utilized, plant growth will be assured. Nearly 18 mha of arid and semi-arid lands are covered by irrigation systems, vast areas comprise unirrigated arid and semi-arid lands. Major economic activities on these lands are range management and livestock production.

In the rainfed areas of Pakistan, the- rainfall varies from less than 100 mm to over 1000 mm, with an average of about 400 mm. Pakistan has a versatile climatic range from the most arid regions of the Kharan desert to some of the hottest in the world in Jacobabad, Sibi to severe. Nearly 4.95 million hectares (12.231 acres ) or 25 percent of the total cultivated area of the country is rain-fed. About 15 per cent of the total cropped area of the Punjab and 54 per cent of Sindh,56 per cent of the NWFP and 55 per cent of Balochistan, 50 per cent of FATA,94 per cent of Azad Kashmir and some parts of Northern areas are comprised of rain-fed agriculture.

About one-third of the wheat crop is grown under rain-fed (barani) conditions every year, but the yield is extremely low. In spite of the fact that wheat acreage covers the maximum of all the crops in rain-fed areas, yet the production is not enough to meet the total requirements of the area. Wheat crops in rain-fed areas depend upon rain for soil moisture. If the rains are received at proper time, the farmer can grow a very good crop. In this way, the farmers mostly obtain about 27 percent yield of maize, 56 per cent of sorghum and millet, 52 per cent of barley, 90 per cent of guar seed, 77 per cent of gram, 84 per cent of pulses, 24 per cent rape and mustard seeds, 83 per cent groundnut and l00 per cent of castor seed. In addition, other crops (desert plants, vegetable and fruit), which need less water for their growth are obtained.

In addition to crop production, about 65 per cent of the livestock population in the Punjab are growing in this area, while 80 per cent of the livestock population in Balochistan is sustained by the arid lands. Similarly, substantial number of livestock population in NWFP and Sindh are supported by the barani areas of these provinces. The economy of the dry land areas of Pakistan is mainly dependent on crop and livestock production. In winter mostly wheat, barley, gram Lentils, rape canola mustard are grown while in summer pearl millet, jowar, maize, pulses, guar, groundnut Watermelon are grown. In this way, about 60 per cent of rainfed areas are occupied by winter crops and nearly 40 per cent by summer crops. The food crop and livestock production can reasonably be increased by storing the rainfedwater and to use it at the time of cultivation of crops. Livestock production is the major economic activity in the rainfed areas of the country. In these areas, sheep and goats are the predominant species following cattle and camels, buffaloes are kept mostly in sub-humid areas.