AGRICULTURAL FUELS IN CROP PRODUCTIVITY

Pakistan must continue to maintain dynamic agricultural research and production programmes

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

Agriculture has been revolutionized in the past few decades and to a great extent this has been due to the use of chemicals. pesticides and fertilizers are among the most useful tools available to modern man. Many crops could not be grown or harvested without them. As a result of their use, food quality has improved and the cost of food is less than it would otherwise be. Without fertilizers and pesticides the problem of world hunger would be much more serious than it is indeed, attempts to deal with that problem involve increasing the use of fertilizers and pesticides and putting them to more effective use. Adequate food, shelter and clothing are now surely an unquestionable and universal human right. Yet, the necessary agriculture and forestry by which such needs are uniquely met are probably better appreciated in the Third World, whose people are closest to the consequences of agricultural and forestry shortcomings. Agrochemical (chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, soil and post harvest fumigants etc.), play two essential roles in modern agriculture. Firstly? by increasing yield and quality as a result of soil fertility? maintenance and improvement and secondly, by the reduction or elimination of otherwise serious pre- and post- harvest losses due to pest and disease attack.

The use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has become unavoidable in order to increase agricultural production so that the food, clothing and other needs of the burgeoning population are met the rapidly growing food demand of our country has compelled the farmers to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides for increasing crop productivity. These two inputs are playing vital role in the agricultural development of the crops of the country.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used to combat insects and pests to reproduce germination power of land by removing deficiency of salts or and to enhance productivity. If pesticides are not used> according to an estimate nearly 35 to 40% of crop loss annually would occur. Not only this, if fertilizers are not used, soil productivity will come down to almost one-third.

Fertilizers are materials, either natural or manufactured, containing nutrients essential for the normal growth and development of plants. Fertilizers are used in order to supplement the natural soil nutrient supply in order to satisfy the demand of crops with a high yield potential and produce economically viable yields; compensate for the nutrients lost by the removal of plant products only leaching or gaseous loss; improve unfavourable or to maintain good soil conditions for cropping. Three plant nutrients have to be applied in large quantities) nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium sulphur, calcium and magnesium also are required in substantial amounts. These nutrients are components of enzymes, proteins, nucleic acids and chlorophyll and are essential for processes such as energy transfer, maintenance of internal pressure and enzyme action. Seven other elements are required in small or trace quantifies are referred to as micro-nutrients or trace elements. There are other five elements which have variety of functions in plant metabolism. Fertilizer use has been increasing rapidly in Pakistan over many years but there is a stagnation of crop production. This seems to be due largely to the incorrect use of fertilizers. Farmers have been applying high amounts of nitrogen, but only small quantities of phosphate. Other fertilizers such as potash and micro-nutrients are hardly used to all. Organic sources are not being properly integrated with mineral fertilizers. Under such conditions the soil is depleted and it takes more nitrogen every season to obtain the same crop. Fertilizer recommendations, should take into consideration specific agro-climatic and environmental conditions. General recommendations need to be adjusted to the conditions of the particular field. They depend on factors such as soil characteristics cultivation practices, quality and quantity of irrigation water, ground water table, crop rotations and managerial capacity of the farmer. Pesticides have been used to protect food stuffs, livestock and health. The development of resistance in insects against pesticides poses a severe threat to agricultural productivity.

Pesticide resistance can influence the cost of pest control and crop yields which affect in turn the level and stability of farm income. Resistance management requires a collective effort by the farmers, chemical companies and the regulatory agencies.

Total food grain production in the country has increased from l8.48 million metric tons in 1951-52 to 27.48 million tons in 1996-97. In some years it has imported modest quantities of cereals to increase the level of buffer food grain stocks, while in other years, it has exported modest quantities to food grain especially rice.

Although, Pakistan has made tremendous progress in improving its agriculture and increasing food production over the past two decades, it cannot relax the effort on the agricultural front. Population reached almost 140 million in 1996, and was growing at nearly 3% per annum. Therefore., population growing by more than 4 million each year. Pakistan must continue to maintain dynamic agricultural research and production programmes in order to hold firmly the per capita food production line, and hopefully further increase it, while at the same time assuring more equity of distribution and taming of population monster. This must be achieved so as to make it possible for all who are born into this world to have access to the necessities required for a decent human life. Notwithstanding the fact that the mainstay of Pakistan's economy is agriculture, it has been very much neglected over the years, with the results that we have been forced to import even our main food items, such as wheat and edible oil from abroad.