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1- AGRICULTURE: GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS
2- SMES: DRIVING ECONOMIC GROWTH
3- THE QUALITY OF IRRIGATION WATER
4- BUSINESS: THE PICNIC FARMS IN KARACHI
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MAKRAN COASTAL HIGHWAY

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'PICNIC FARMS' BUSINESS IN KARACHI

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The government should provide some legislation or constitute a controlling authority

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By AZAM ALI

Dec 20 - 26, 2004
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The business of 'Picnic Farms' in and around Karachi is now on top among local investors. Businessmen from various sectors, including marriage halls, catering service are rapidly shifting their business into 'Picnic Farms' due to its increasing demand for recreation purposes. There are many supporting reasons behind mushrooming picnic farms from half acre to 28 acres, basic factor behind the business is non-availability of parks and natural spots in the densely populated city.

Of the estimated 100 picnic farms around Karachi, a majority of them, about 70, falls in Gadap area off Super Highway, while the rest are scattered in Malir, Hub and Thatta. The fee for an overnight stay is rather high, but cheaper than any holiday resorts or hill-station in the country, so people prefer these picnic spots for the weekends. They pay Rs4,000 to Rs10,000 for a daylong trip and an additional Rs1,000 for overnight stay, or for booking on Sundays. The size of most of these farms varies between one acre to two acres, and a few even stretch over an area of 28 acres, cut like marriage gardens into different sections.

Think of a farm picnic and the following come to mind: birds, plants, orchards, thatched-roof village huts equipped with modern-day facilities, tiled swimming pools, grassy fields for grazing animals, horse riding etc.

"I had anticipated seeing a lot of trees, orchards, animals and village life before going there, but I was disappointed to see it was just like a residential compound enclosed in a boundary wall. One may call it a rest house but not a picnic farm," says Sadaf Siddique, who works in a private company. She visited a farm in Gadap area with her family some weeks before the holy month of Ramazan.

Sadaf, who visited the same farm thrice as the owner being a friend of her uncle gave them discounted booking rates, says they changed the water in the swimming pool only on the first day of the week. "We found the pool clean when we visited the farm on Tuesday but the water was very dirty on Sundays," she adds.

"Some farms even supply their pools with muddy canal water, which is unhygienic and not fit for health. A few others, however, have filter plants set up on the site to drain and release fresh water into the pool," says Muzaffar Ahmed, a banker, who is developing a 16-acre farm on Bhambhore Road off National Highway.

Muzaffar decided to invest in the agriculture farm after he saw the overall situation in the city not conducive for starting up a new business venture; later, moved by the trend, he planned to use it also as a picnic resort for family, friends and acquaintances.

However, Valeed Arsalan Khan, a first year college student, who has visited different picnic farms located in Hub and Gadap as part of his school outings and sometimes with the family, has had different experiences. "I had great time swimming in the pool, playing indoor games at night, watching the deer in the open, and caged monkeys mimicking the visitor," he says. However, he greatly missed an artificial lake for boat pedaling and orchards.

According to Mohammad Rehan Khan of Al-Sayyed Agriculture Farms & Resorts located on Gadap Road, winter is off-season, however, visitors have to make booking a month before to get the farm booked during summer vacations and weekends. The 28-acre farm cut into three sections, each booked for a group of not more than 80 visitors for Rs6,000 on working days and Rs8,000 on Sundays. Families are number one visitors, followed by college students and groups of schoolboys. The proprietor, who also runs 'Modern Palace' marriage hall in North Nazimabad, claims they offer 25% discount to students.

Karamat Bagh spreading over 14.5 acres in Gadap area, however, stands apart from others in the vicinity in terms of plantation and the number of trees laden with fruits and the variety of vegetables grown in the field. Karamat, a retired government officer, raised it laboriously, bit by bit, by cutting away shrubs, wild grass, by leveling up depressions, removing stones etc on a piece of 3.5 acres of land some 28 years ago.

 

 

It has now 700 coconut, 150 cheeku and 100 imlee trees in addition to ber, guava and banana. He procured coconuts from Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, dug up two wells and developed the farm. There are swings for children, a tree house, small cricket pitch, washrooms, bathrooms, two swimming pools, electricity and, best of all, thatched huts for privacy and relaxation.

When it became unaffordable to meet the expenses after there were no sufficient rains in Karachi for several years, he decided to offer it as a picnic resort as well to meet the expenses. The farm is available on nominal charges, which is far less than the high rates offered in the neighbourhood. A group of 25 is charged Rs3,000 for daylong trip and Rs4,000 for overnight stay.

"This is a gentlemen's farm," says Dr. Quraishi who has frequently visited the farm. The difference between this farm and others, he says, is that they first made a picnic spot and then started plantation, and Karamat first developed the farm and later opened it as a picnic spot.

Karamat, also an artist, feels so proud of his 'creation' that he maintains a guest book for visitors to record their comments before leaving the premises. Several scientific and literary dignitaries have visited and recorded their impressions in the visitor's book that Karamat is now planning to produce in the form of a book.

The great Urdu fiction writer Ismat Chughtai, Jilani Bano, Kaifi Azmi, Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, Jamil Jalibi and others from US, Canada and India are among the visitors who recorded their comments in the book. "Apni baat kehnay kay liyay to yeh register bohat mukhtasar hai (This register is too small to carry all that I want to convey)," wrote Ismat Chughtai when she visited the farm on April 11, 1988.

Once there about 1000 agriculture farms in Gadap area for growing fruits and vegetables for Karachi. However, persistent drought (three in a row) deprived the area of rainfall that also sucked in subsoil reserve that trickled into the wells of these farms. Now there is almost no water in these wells, which have dried out.

Formerly, there was subsoil water available at 80 feet depth. Now even at 400 feet there is none. A handful of farms are making money by cultivation of coconuts and fodder. The rest are selling them away or converting them into picnic resorts. Water, fertiliser and availability of good quality seeds on low rates and high electricity rates are the problems Karamat enumerates for the landowners.

"About 25 years ago we used to bore 40 feet for water through diesel engine and now we get water after boring 400 to 500 feet," he says, adding that the landowners found it very hard to manage these farms. After the yield went down, they started selling out land and moving out to other places.

The situation became so owing to excessive excavation for sand and clay for constructing high-rises in the city without giving compensation to farm owners who were compelled to install submersible pumps that can draw water from 300 feet depth.

There are only two factories manufacturing submersible pumps in Pakistan whereas India has 400 factories to manufacture submersible pumps. A submersible pump, which is available for Rs25,000 in India costs Rs150,000 in Pakistan.

Digging up of a well costs Rs450,000 now. A sack of urea, which previously was available for Rs250 now costs Rs1000. Pesticides, on the other hand, are so expensive that they have almost become out of the reach of an ordinary farmer. Even the landowners having 100 acres of land cannot afford to go on, says Karamat. Which means farming is not practical for an ordinary farmer owning five acres of land in Pakistan.

"Being an agrarian country, our survival lies in agriculture," he says. "As such, government should encourage the trend of raising farms by offering them incentives like fixed rate electricity and provide pesticides, fertilisers and seeds on discounted rates."

"Have you ever seen or watched any programme on TV or articles appearing in the newspapers for farmers? Newspapers have entire pages reserved for sports, women, fashion and religion and not even a single column space for the farmers," Karamat complains bitterly. Even the articles on agriculture appearing in the weekly business sections are too technical and hardly address the needs of the farmers.

About employment opportunities for the locals, Dr. Quraishi says they are compelled to hire the locals but wages are low and output is also low because these are sick people as they are not eating enough and they are not getting proper nourishment. So they cannot work hard and get tired soon.

No farm is able to produce a cash crop. Cash crops are those, which mature quickly and reach the market early. They will be sold quickly and they will get more than what the farmers invested. "Almost 99% of vegetables in Karachi are laden with pesticides because vegetables will not grow without pesticides due to insect infection. If these farms can guarantee pesticide-free vegetables, they can sell it for five times the cost of the market value. People will purchase it because there is no pesticide in it," observes Dr. Quraishi. Apart from pesticide-free vegetables, they should also grow seasonal flowers, he added.

One acre is good and five acres is the right one that can be exploited into growing all this produce plus cost-effective cash crop, says Dr. Quraishi when asked about the appropriate size of a picnic farm.

He suggests that farm owners should diversify their farms by giving more recreational and amusement facilities like horse rides, pedal boats for children, and slides for swimming pool. Not just a plain pool to jump into but there should be a little adventure for kids in to swimming pools.

And, most of all, there should be a whole model of village life farm animals, huts/shacks, hand mill, ox-driven cart, and trees for the children to climb up as a city child hardly gets such opportunities. They should also, if possible, showcase local cottage industries like embroidery and clay tiles, he says. There should be lots of fruit and shady trees like pakhar (which is a cousin of banyan), gooler and peeple for the birds to nest in. "A world without birds can never be a beautiful place to live in," remarks Dr. Quraishi.

Muzaffar suggests there should be adequate security arrangements, proper access roads and a cook to be provided to the visitors who stay overnight in addition to a lot of greenery. Trees like neem and coconut should be planted. "Neem provides shade and coconut has decorative properties," he observes. He further suggests that the government should provide some legislation or constitute a controlling authority to keep a check on picnic farms operating on commercial basis so that the proprietors ensure quality service, security and basic facilities to the visitors, and they do not allow the visitors to indulge in illegal activities like gambling etc.