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Challenges and vision for the future

Agriculture in modern times requires appropriate machinery for ensuring timely field operations

By Dr. S. M. Alam,
 Nuclear Institute of Agriculture,
 Tando Jam
Oct 09 - 15, 2000

Man has gained centuries by manipulating and controlling space and time. However, man will continue to utilize agriculture for food, clothing, shelter and medicines with added sophistication in the environmental context of 21st century. During the second half of 20th century, significant and far-reaching developments have taken place in the philosophy and methodology of crop improvement, contemporary agronomy and food sciences. The technology which has made most significant contribution to mankind is the technology of plant breeding, which is indeed an evolutionary process. Our present day crop plants are the products of evolution. In recent years, technological innovations in genetics and related disciplines have made it possible to direct this evolution by utilizing hybridization, heterosis, polyploidy, mutations, wide crosses, tissue culture, haploidy, protoplast fusion, somaclonal variation, antibody probes and DNA probes.

Pakistan is essentially an agricultural country. Similar is the case in most of the Third World Countries, where the food and agriculture sector is the principal contributor to the gross domestic products. Nonetheless, it is lamentable fact, that two-thirds of mankind comprising the developing nations produce a mere one-fifth of the world's food supply. Lack of self-sufficiency in food production in the Third World Countries with ever increasing population pressures has rightly been described as a time bomb with which humanity is precariously co-existing. The reasons for the poor performance of low developing countries in agriculture are lack of organization, inadequate economic returns to the farmers, dearth of necessary inputs and above all a minimal use of science and technology in farming, harvesting and post-harvesting.

One of the finest Pakistani success stories of post independence era has been the Green Revolution of sixties which turned the country from a chronic importer of food-grains into an exporter. Green Revolution has been instrumental in significant enhancement of productivity in Pakistan, particularly in wheat and rice. The newly developed early maturing and high yielding dwarf varieties of wheat and rice during that period, helped in increasing the production of food-grains significantly. This has led to massive transformation in the rural and agrarian economy which came about through the collaborative efforts of farmers, researchers, planners, backed up with necessary administrative and political support. Since independence, while the population increased almost five times, food grain production increased four times. From a mere million tonnes during 1950-51, food grain production increased to an estimated many thousands million tonnes in 1998-99 and productivity increased from 500 kg/ha to more than 2000 kg/ha of cereal crops.

Green revolution

Besides Green Revolution, significant production advances have been made in milk, fish, oilseeds, fruits, and vegetables. There are different research organizations in the country who have been engaged in research work for better production of food grain crops and other cereals. The major cereals grown in Pakistan are wheat, rice and maize. Wheat breeders in Pakistan have developed over 50 varieties for irrigated and rain-fed conditions in different parts of the country and for different sowing timings. This includes large number of varieties, which are resistant against wheat diseases. As a result of these efforts, wheat production in the country increased 5 folds after independence. Wheat, the main staple food of people, is the single-largest grain crop of the country. For the current year (1998-99), the target of the area and production was fixed at 8.15 million hectares and 20.0 million tonnes, respectively. The average production of wheat has increased from 9.5 million tonnes in 1975-80 to 20.0 million tonnes in 1998-99, the quantum jump in wheat production was mainly due to the introduction of high yielding and disease-resistant varieties, adaptation of improved crop production technologies and proper plant protection measures and some increases in area of the crop.

Rice, is the major food as well as commercial crop of the country. Rice is the second most important cereal crop in Pakistan. It occupies about 10 % of the total cropped area of the country. On an average, one-third of its production is exported every. Production of rice has increased from 0.9 million tonnes in 1975-80 to about 5.0 million tonnes in 1998-99. In the current year, rice was planted on an area of 2125 thousand hectares and the production is estimated at 5.5 million tonnes. Outstanding achievements in rice improvement after independence included development of high yielding rice varieties of local and basmati for irrigated areas. Our projected requirement of rice in 2005 AD is 6.0 million tonnes against the present production of 5.0 million tonnes and the different research organizations in the country is on its way to developing higher yielders with built in resistance to stresses (biotic and abiotic). With the advent of the Green Revolution, the semi-dwarf varieties IR8 and IR6 were introduced from the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines, in 1967 and 1969, respectively. The area and production of rice have increased by leaps and bounds in Pakistan. However, in spite of this phenomenon progress, Pakistan still ranks only No. 10 in total rice production among the 14 rice producing countries of the world.

Maize: It is the third cereal crop of the country. The production of maize has increased with an average growth rate of 3.3% from 0.81 million tonnes in 1975 to 1.2 million tonnes in 1993. Research establishments are trying their best to grow maize to the maximum quantity by adopting new techniques suitable for this crop to a large extent.

Sugarcane is an important industrial crop and covers about 5 % of the total area of the country. It serves as major raw material for the production of white sugar and gur. Sugarcane has been cultivated on an area of about 1000 thousand hectares in the current year and production has been estimated as more than 50000 thousand tonnes. Attractive support price of cane and good weather conditions in Punjab and Sindh have helped to bring about improvement in its production. Over the last 40 years, sugarcane has increased by 3% annually. This increase is mainly due to increase in the areas and adaptation of the technologies, which went up from 756 thousand hectares in 1975-80 and to more than 1000 thousand hectares in 1998-99. '

Oilseeds crops: The oilseed crops include-rapeseed, mustard, groundnut, sesamem, linseed, soybean, sunflower and safflower. There is serious shortage of edible oils in Pakistan which started developing soon after independence and continued to worsen. Edible oil is essential for human life. Pakistan is endowed with congenial atmosphere to grow all the conventional (rapeseed, mustard, groundnut and sesame) and non- conventional (soybean, sunflower and safflower) oilseed crops. However, about 65 % of the domestic edible oil production comes from cottonseed. In recent years, the production of edible oil has been increased substantially, but still there is serious shortage of these crops. The country has to import huge amount of palm oil and soybean from foreign countries to support the burgeoning population.

Cotton: It is an important cash crop of the country. It supplies cash returns to farmers, supplies raw material to the textile industry and provides employment in both the rural and the urban areas. It is sown in 3 million hectares and covering 12 % of the total cropped areas. It earns a lot in foreign exchange through the export of raw cotton, garments and threads etc. Many high yielding cotton varieties have been released in the country which have changed the economical condition of the country. Environmentally sound, easily adaptable and economically viable integrated pest management strategies have been developed for pest control in major crops such as cotton, rice, wheat, sugarcane, oilseed crops, and pulses. These strategies are expected to reduce the pesticide consumption in these crops by almost 50 %.

Pulses: The pulses include- gram, lentil, mung and mash. Pulses are the essential component of human diet and are the major source of vegetable protein and amino acids. These crops are generally grown under rainfed conditions on marginal lands. Pulses are grown all over the country. Ecologically, there are three zones for cultivation of pulses northern with 60% rainfall, the central region is highly fertile while, southern region is a low rainfall tract. Pulses are grown under both irrigation and rainfed conditions.

Fruits: The major fruits grown in the country are: citrus, mango, dates, apple, banana, guava, apricot, peach, pear, plus, grapes, almond, pomegranate and many others. The production of fruits have been increased due to the result of massive research support to the horticulture industry. Adoption of tissue culture and drip irrigation technology in banana has led to marked improvements in productivity. At present Pakistan has a prominent place in the production of fruits in the world.

Research on post harvest management in fruits and vegetables has led to development of many technologies including low cost environment friendly cool chambers for on farm storage of fruits and vegetables. Ventilated CFB packing for mango, citrus, apple etc. long distance transportation for mango for export, raw mango peeler are some of the other significant achievements. For export promotion and value addition, varietal screening has been intensified in the recent years. Mango varieties well suited for canned slices and tinned juice, grape varieties for raisin (kishmish) making have been identified.

Vegetable production: Pakistan having a wide climatic diversity, offers opportunities of growing almost all kinds of vegetable crops in its different ecological zones. These are held in high esteem because of their special attributes and high cash value, more productivity and high nutritional quality. Onion, potato, chilli and garlic are the main vegetables grown in the country. Development of hybrid seeds in vegetables has led to significant production advances and raising farmers income. In, mushroom, temperature tolerant species has been developed leading to tremendous increase in the production of mushroom in the country.

In the livestock sector, Production of suitable cross-breds of cattle and their wide adoption has greatly contributed to the country's milk production. Some of the breed such as Nili-Ravi, Kundi, Red-Sindhi, Sahiwal etc. are of high quality animals in terms of milk production in the country. Pakistan has emerged as a major producer of animal vaccines and various animal based raw materials for industrial importance. In Pakistan poultry industry is growing very fast both for eggs and broilers by application of genetic improvement techniques and adoption of modern management practices of poultry.

Generation of new technology in the fisheries sector has enabled the country to usher in Blue Revolution with production levels touching many million tonnes. Composite fish culture has revolutionized inland fisheries. There has been a credible increase in prawn farming. Resources are engaged in identifying, collecting and conserving the county's animal and fish genetic resources.

Agriculture in modern times requires appropriate machinery for ensuring timely field operations and effective application of various inputs as also for agro-processing. To provide durable solutions to the major problems faced by food and agriculture sector, we have concentrated on synergetic approaches involving new botany, new genetic and nuclear techniques for the genetic improvement of most important agricultural crops. Although, application of modern technologies have resulted in manifold increase in the agricultural production in the country, but the situation is far away from ensuring a complete household food and nutritional security. The country has millions of small and marginal farmers in whose farm, the productivity is very low. Science and technology must be suited to the particular region. There are wide gaps both in yields obtained against the potential and technology transfer, is very weak. The concerns of environmental protection, sustainability, employment, equity, energy, profitability and exports have become important. To propel Pakistani agriculture into 21st century, the quality technical skills and management of agricultural manpower must improve, for making the research need-based, effective, efficient and relevant. So, the maximum common good is quickly possible with least cost.