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Cover Story

By Dr. S.M. ALAM, NIA, Tandojam
Jan 17 - 23, 2000

Pakistan is essentially an agricultural country, yet nearly two third of its total landmass of about 80 million hectares, is undulating and rugged in topography, making only subsistence agriculture possible. It is only one third of the area falling in the plains of the Punjab and Sindh and known as 'Indus Basin' which has a high production potential on account of deep fertile alluvial soil. Here again, the limiting factor is arid to semi-arid climate characterized by high temperatures from long summer and meager natural rainfall varying from nearly 500 mm annually in the central Punjab to a mere 150 mm in the south. Consequently, productive agriculture has been made possible only through an extensive irrigation system that traverses the length and breadth of this tract. The most of the rains are received as hard downpours during monsoon. Water seepage from the canal system became apparent in the late 1950's giving rise to water-logging and salinity. Most of the soils of arid and semi-arid climate badly lack in organic matter, therefore, all out efforts are required to return all waste products of organic matter back to the soil and also improve it by green manuring, adding farmyard manure and other plant residues as well as suitable industrial and urban wastes.

One of the major factors limiting crop productivity on sustained basis is the depletion of soil fertility. Due to low organic matter content in soil, the inherent nutrient supply capacity is poor in vast areas of the country. Nitrogen (N) use as a fertilizer was initiated in the early fifties and phosphorus (P) application began late sixties. The fertilizer use development was remarkable because of its dramatic impact on crop yields, particularly with the introduction of high yielding crop varieties during the green revolution period.

The agricultural land meant for crop production is shrinking as a result of fragmentation of land holdings and rapid use of agriculturally productive land for residential, industrial purposes and construction of motorways. Almost all soils of Pakistan are alkaline with pH around 8.0 calcarious to varying degree and low in organic matter (generally less than 1%). Low organic matter contributes to poor structure and tilth.

Forests in Pakistan cover near 4.5 per cent of the total land whereas, 25 percent of the total area under forests is recommended for steady growth and development. The utilization of agricultural land for the growth of various food and cash crops has been increased significantly since the year 1950 onwards. In the year 1997-98, the area and crop productivity of Pakistan for all the crops recorded as: The area and production for all the crops for the year 1996-97 were 12050 x 1.03 ha and 22730 x 103 tons respectively. Out of the total area of 79.61 million hectares (about 197.0 million acres), nearly 22.2 million hectares (about 55 million acres) are cropped, while 8.84 million hectares (about 22 million acres) are termed as culturable waste. This means that area is cultivable i.e. suitable for cultivation, but is not being cultivated, because other facilities needed to develop are lacking. Agriculture is the backbone of the country's economy. It contributes about 24 percent to the GDP, employs about 48 percent of the total labour force, and earns about 60 percent of the total value of the national exports of the agricultural products. By and large, it provides the food needs of the population and meets the raw material to the domestic industry. The population of the country increased from 36 million in 1949-50 to about 140 million in 1996-97. During the same period the country's cultivated area increased from about 37.38 million acre to 53.37 million acres. This shows that the cultivated area per capita has increased quite significantly. It was about 1.03 acres in 1950-51, 0.89 acres in 1960-61, 0.77 acres in 1970-71, 0.60 acres in 1980-81, 0.46 acres in 1990-91 and 0.42 acres in 1995-96 and so on.

Of the total land area of 20.6 mha. of the Punjab, nearly 11.58 mha. (56%) is cultivated. The total land of Balochistan is 34.7 mha. nearly 1.47 mha (4%) is cultivated. As regards NWFP, its total land area comprises of 10.2 mha and out of this 1.93 mha (19%) is cultivated. Similarly, of the total land area of 14.11 mha of Sindh, nearly 5.45 mha (39%) is cultivated. Finally, the total cultivable area of Pakistan comes to about 21.0 mha. The important food and cash crops are grown through cultivation of above mentioned areas i.e. 21.0 mha. Thus, wheat is cultivated on an area of 8109 mha with production of 19.0 million tons, rice 22.51 mha and production 4305 million tons, maize 871 x 103 tons and production 1259 x 103 tons, bajra 303 x 103 ha and production 146 x slow root penetration poor moisture retention and inadequate levels of colloidal material for efficient chemical exchanges and microbial activity. Soil texture varies from sandy to clayey, as most agricultural soils are medium to heavy loam and clays. The soils are relatively young and their mineralogy is dominated by micas, followed by variable quantity of minerals like montmorilonite, kaolinite, vermiculite, chlorite, quartz and iron oxide. Fertilizer use in the country mainly comprises N and P only and is highly imbalance in favour of N for example out of 2.1 million nutrient tonnes fertilizer off take during the year 1992-93, 76% was N. 23% P2O5 and less than 2% k2O. Thus, the nature of nutritional disorders and fertilizer usage in the country call for serious attention on correction of inadequate and imbalance fertilizer use.

Historically, the rise and fall of the civilizations have often been linked to the quality and quantity of topsoil of the surface layer and therefore to water availability. Agriculture and soil management has been required to generate food surpluses to support. The growing population and satiate the increasing demand of industry. In 1950, modern technology was applied to Pakistan agriculture for the first time. Increased crop yields were achieved through intensive use of energy in the hybrid seed, chemical fertilizers, mechanical tillage, pesticides and large-scale irrigation. The period 1950 and 1972 was apparently unique with regard to agriculture throughout the world, because the amount of food production almost doubled due to better management. However, this also caused in the loss of topsoil. Since 1972, the gains in agricultural output have barely kept pace with population growth and the rate of agricultural growth shows a clear loss of momentum. Irrigated land is subject to the new ecological threat of soil destruction due to water-logging and salinization. Almost one third of Pakistan's total land is cultivated. Notwithstanding this high land utilization for agriculture, the country is scant to feed its bereaved masses with the required food, feed and fibre. Proper soil management and tillage practices do affect the nutrient requirement of the crop and their use efficiency. In saline soils, efficiency of N fertilizers is improved if the fertilizer is applied after soil reclamation. Under rainfed conditions, fertilizer use efficiency is improved and crop yields also improved significantly, if fertilizer is applied in deep tilled soil, rather than in the field ploughed tilled with a cultivator.

103 tons, jowar 370 x 103 ha and production 219 x 103 tons, barley 152 x 103 ha and production 150 x 103 tons, sugarcane 964 x 103 ha and production 41998 x 103 tons, cotton 3149 x 103 ha and production 9374 x 103 bales (one bale =375 lbs), tobacco 49 x 103 ha and production 59 x 103 tons, mung 192 x 103 ha and 90 x 103 tons, all other pulses 1575 x 103 ha and production 832 x 103 tons, potato 86 x 103 ha and production 963 x 103 tons, and all fruits 629 x 103 ha and production 6187 tons.