. .

Agriculture scenario in South Asia

Enhancing agricultural technologies for poverty alleviation

By Dr. S.M. ALAM, NIA, Tandojam
Sep 04 - 10, 2000

South Asian countries are primarily rural-based with more than half of their labour forces engaged in agriculture. Booming population with limited land area in the primary concern of these countries. The share of agriculture to the GDP ranges from 40 per cent in Nepal to 24 per cent in Sri Lanka. Agriculture in this region is complex in nature and pressure on land is enormous. Farmers are mainly poor leaving little access to modern facilities. Poverty and destitute phenomena continue to plague the countries of South Asia in various degrees, especially those in rural areas. Out of 1.5 billion people in this region, 600 million live on less than one dollar per day, 500 million people are illiterate, 270 million generally lack access to health services, 250 million to safe drinking water and nearly 90 million children under 5 are mal-nourished. Agricultural crop production in these countries during the last few decades has experienced rapid growth and tremendous transformation as a result of substantial technological improvements in agricultural production and marketing of agricultural inputs and outputs. It has been reported that in South Asia, population grew at an average annual rate of 2.1 per cent during 1980-97 and is expected to grow at 1.6 per cent during the year 2010. It has been expected that by 2020, the population of the region will increase to a level of 1350 million in India, 206 million in Pakistan and 180 million in Bangladesh. Accordingly, the demand for food grain especially wheat and rice will increase considerably with the growth in population and income. Massive technological phenomenon through the use by people alone can hopefully fulfil or surmount the genuine demand. The long term effectiveness impact of our agricultural development normally lie on our turning scientific credibility, building scientific strengths and mobilizing scientific partnerships to meet the goals of eliminating poverty and hunger and protecting the environment. In a true sense, agricultural productivity in South Asian countries will depend more on scientific technologies that can help ameliorate the constraints appeared with the shortage of available land and good quality irrigation water, while maintaining agricultural output at the higher levels. For this purpose, all out efforts for the development of genetic engineering and biotechnology and crop management and input use technologies, including more efficient integrated nutrient and pest management will be necessary. All scientific personal and research workers, who are working for food production, must keep the population monster in their mind while formulating research plannings and programmes. Farmers and research workers have to accomplish a complex task of producing sufficient quantities of food to satisfy the need environmentally and economically sustainable ways. We people must focus our scientific activities on the problems of the small-scale producers. Because they are many in numbers and adoption of a continuing stream of productivity in enhancing agricultural technologies is an important option for poverty alleviation. At the same time, proper awareness should be developed to control the population to a reasonable level through literary campaign.

Agriculture is a very important sector of Pakistan's economy and as such the welfare of the vast majority of the population is dependent on efficient harnessing of the agricultural resources of the country. The population of the Pakistan is increasing at an annual rate of 2.8 % and has reached to level of over 145 million. To meet the needs of this rapidly growing population for various agricultural commodities, production will have to be increased considerably through enhanced per hectare yields. At present, per hectare yields obtained at experimental stations/progressive farms using a complete package of improved technology is far higher than the average farms practicing traditional agriculture. We believe that this gap can be bridged only if the package of technology being used by the farmers is completely balanced. It appears that efforts to promote pesticides and fertilizers especially by the private sector have produced good results but the question of quality seeds has remained unanswered and as such has started seriously affecting the overall production economics of the farmers.

Geographical area currently in Pakistan used to be known as the bread basket of the sub continent in pre-Independence days but is unable to support its own population even after a laps of years and imports of large quantities are required not only of edible oils but also of wheat which is the staple diet of people of Pakistan. Although agriculture in Pakistan has developed in the past but it has not been able to keep pace with the rapidly growing food requirements of the population.

In Pakistan out of 80 million hectares of land only 20 million hectares land are available for cultivation, while the rest of the areas are comprised of forest, mountains, rangelands and deserts. The area which is available undergoes intensive crop cultivation to produce enough for food security. Land available per capita is only 0.02 hectares. Another serious drawback is the lack of awareness and proper training of the small farmers. This is the main reason for which we find a huge yield gap between research stations and farmers fields. A meaningful way of closing the yield gap will certainly add sufficient food to our food baskets. More than 70 per cent of our population live on agriculture even though agriculture contribution to GDP is decreasing gradually. Sufficient investment in agriculture research and development is also needed. Lack of sufficient irrigation water, drought and menace of waterlogging and salinity have caused huge loss to agriculture. Our crops cultivation has been started showing sign of decreasing soil fertility. The organic matter content of our soil, which is considered very crucial for crop production is now at a state of below critical level. The twin basic challenges facing agriculture in Pakistan in the next century will be increasing agricultural production simultaneously. Sustaining the Natural resource- base which supports agricultural production. This would call for new opportunities and constraints that would increasingly affect agricultural scenario world-wide-liberalisation of trade and greater integration of local markets with world markets, global climate change etc. Scientists should work in team spirit. Scientists working in isolation for their own interest do not help the nation nor themselves. Science fair at school and college level should be widely introduced to develop competence among the young scientists. Scientific demonstration and teaching should not be confined in the urban areas so and should be spread to less privileged areas so that people from all walks of life can get benefit.