The backbone of the country
By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Oct 23 - Oct 29, 2000
Pakistan's agriculture sector, of course the backbone of the country, has started giving strong signals after remaining depressed consecutively for three years.
Having the potential to steer out the national economy from the troubled waters has surfaced on the economic front with a noticeable growth rate of 5.5 per cent during 2000 as a result of good and well directed economic decisions taken by the present government.
After attaining the prestigious growth rate of 11.7 per cent in 1996, the agriculture steeply declined to a pitiable growth rate of 0.1 per cent very next year in 1997. The sector showed a slight improvement next year in 1998 by registering growth rate at 3.8 per cent but again lost its pace to 1.9 per cent growth rate in 1999. The year 2000 however proved resurgence at the level of 5.5 per cent growth rate. Currently the government is taking keen interest to harvest almost all the cash crops to the optimum level.
The agriculture sector having a strong base and hardworking field farmers can do a magic to the national economy provided certain improvement on scientific grounds is made in the key areas like water management, quality seeds, fertilizers and pesticides and proper return is ensured to the farmers.
The government has finalized a 3-year macroeconomic framework which is aimed at striving hard to achieve a 6 per cent GDP growth rate against a 4.5 per cent GDP growth in 1999.
New targets have been set for different crops for the year 2000-2001 with special emphasis on cotton crop which is estimated at 9.7 million bales of cotton, 51.6 million tonnes of sugarcane, 5.1 million tonnes of rice, 1.5 million tonnes of maize and 22 million tonnes of wheat during the said period.
The agriculture development plan aims at achieving self-reliance in key commodities required in Pakistan. The plan envisages ensuring food security, improving quality and size of the crops, and promoting sustainable development.
Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA) however has expressed the hope that the country may have another bumper crop of 10 million bales this year if current flow of phutti arrival continues to the middle of December when the first picking ends. It is highly encouraging to note that despite water shortage hitting the lower Sindh in particular, the phutti arrival so far is higher by 21.17 per cent as compared to corresponding period last year.
A special fund is also being created for implementation of the said agriculture development plan, which is likely to be launched shortly.
Necessary spadework has already been completed and the plan will get underway after soliciting formal approval from the higher authorities.
To deal with the surplus agriculture produce such as rice, the government is trying to provide relief to the farmers by increasing support price of paddy.
Special attention is being given to achieve sustainable growth in wheat crop that has suddenly come into limelight with a record production of 22 million tonnes last year. In order to improve the wheat crop multi-dimensional steps have been taken including increase in the support price from Rs300 per 40 kg to Rs320 for the coming crop. Although the farmers have widely welcomed the decision of increasing the support price, yet the smaller provinces including Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP have put up some opposition against the increase in support price. It is said that the beneficiaries of this increase in support price would be the farmers of Punjab, which is the largest producer of wheat.
As a result of good crop of wheat last year, a quantity of 1.5 million tonnes is readily available for export for the first time in the agricultural history of Pakistan.
Meanwhile the scientists working on the agriculture side have been urged by the government to prepare such a wheat production package for the Rabi crop, which requires minimum water for maximum output to achieve wheat production target.
Realizing the importance of the agriculture sector in general and wheat and cotton crops in particular, the most important contributors to the growth of the economy, special attention is being given by the research centres to provide all sorts of support to achieve better crops of the two commodities.
There are strong signals that country is going to have yet another bumper wheat and cotton crops this year as well.
Meanwhile, the government has also directed PASSCO to provide all sorts of assistance to the farmers in selling out the rice stocks of last year. PASSCO has been asked to make arrangement for purchasing rice right at the farm stage. Efforts for exploring new foreign markets are also underway to increase rice export beside the traditional markets.
The concept of desert farming is also being given due importance to expand total area of cultivation. The scheme is likely to be initiated in Balochistan, Thar and other deserted areas of the country to bring the baron areas under cultivation. New agriculture techniques to cope with the requirements of the modern age would be evolved for the benefit of growers for enhancing per acre yield of the agriculture production.
The crops requiring less water for their growth would be encouraged in the manner that their production rate could be enhanced.
Emphasis should also be laid on sprinkling irrigation system to resolve the problems of irrigation water shortage, which is adversely affecting the agriculture output.
Efforts are being made to increase availability of quality seed. Presently availability of wheat improved seed is about 15 per cent while that of cotton is about 5 per cent. New and short duration varieties of cotton are also being evolved and new initiatives are being taken to explore the possibility of utilizing wasteland around rivers, coastal belts of Sindh and Balochistan.
Under the new plan new cropping pattern will be introduced to encourage the farmers to concentrate on high value crops especially in fruits and vegetables.
Small farmers are going to be encouraged to take up small enterprises like farming, raising of plant nurseries around big cities.
Corporate farming culture is going to be developed where all activities starting from crop production to marketing will be located.
Milk production has registered an increase from 24.2 million tonnes in 1999-2000 to 24.9 million tonnes during the current year. Meat production also increased to 1.9 million tonnes in 1999-2000 as compared to 1.8 million tonnes during 1998-99.
Agricultural credit availability in 1999-2000 decreased to Rs40.2 billion from Rs43.7 billion during 1998-99. The credit allocation for agriculture sector during 2000-2001 is set at Rs49 billion. Consumption of fertilizer in 1999-2000 was 2.8 million nutrient tonnes as compared to 2.6 million nutrient tonnes of 1998-99. The government is also striving hard to increase domestic production of oil seeds which also showing good results. The edible oil imports have therefore declined from Rs41 billion in 1998-99 to Rs21 billion in 1999-2000.
Edible oil is another area costing over Rs40 billion every year on imports. All out efforts are being taken to attain self-reliance in oil seeds production by the year 2003.
The total demand of edible oil is estimated 1.9 million tonnes per annum but only 0.6 million tonnes is being produced within the country while 1.2 million tonnes edible oil has to be imported to meet the requirement.
A huge amount of Rs40 billion has to be spent on the import of edible oil, which can be saved by taking bold steps to promote this sector.
More than 5000,000 acres in NWFP and 200,000 acres of land in Pothohar region have the potential to grow edible oil crops, says a senior official.
Some incentives including a proposed Rs600 per maund support price to farmers have been suggested as imperative to enhance edible oil production in the country.
Until the support price is given to the farmers, they won't be attracted to cultivate the crops of edible oils. Country's own variety of canola crop produced by Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) is very promising and is being cultivated on nearly 250,000 acres. Nearly 100 centers at village level in five districts of Pothohar and Haripur have been established under the supervision of Pakistan Oil Seeds Development Board and PARC to provide technical assistance, planning, machinery and seeds to the growers, as part of the plan to get self sufficiency in edible oil. The government has already ensured arrangements for availability of better quality canola seeds. Canola is useful in heart diseases and also reduced cholesterol level in human body. The soil and environment has also been found highly conducive for all the edible oil crops and farmers economic position can be improved by adopting the right methods and directions for cultivating the oil seed plants in Pakistan.
In order to provide import substitute, sufficient infrastructure is being designed and developed to increase local production of sunflower, canola and soybean production by PARC and the private sector has been invited to participate in this campaign.
Earlier the canola seeds were imported from Australia and Canada but now with the efforts of local scientists, canola seeds of much better quality are being produced within Pakistan. These locally produced seeds have proved highly successful in enhancing the yield almost double than the crop produced by the imported seeds.
Nuclear scientist Dr. Samar Mubarakmund says that the government is paying special emphasis on the economic uplift of the country through peaceful application of the nuclear research.
Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission has set up nuclear agriculture research centres across the country. These centers have done a great job by evolving new varieties of crops by using nuclear techniques.
Citing the example of PAEC cotton variety Niab-78, he said this single variety has brought a complete revolution in the country's cotton production. Two new cotton varieties Niab-98 and Niab-99, which are currently going field trials, will soon be dispatched to the farmers. Niab Karishma an anti curl leaf virus variety is already performing wonderfully well since 1996.
According to his estimates the cotton production will touch to 13 million bales this year and efforts would be made to increase the size of the crop up to 15 million bales during next two years. In Sindh, PAEC wheat varieties 'Soghat' and 'Sarsabz' are being cultivated over 70 per cent of the area under wheat cultivation. In the NWFP a cotton variety namely 'Fakhre Sarhad' has been developed by our nuclear research centres. This variety of cotton has proved its worth in the Barani areas by giving an average yield of 50 maunds per acre.
Hue and cry is often raised over shortage of irrigation water in the Province of Sindh and Balochistan. In order to avert such an ugly situation and improve harmony among the provinces, efficient and proper utilization of water resources are the need of the hour.
Recently, Sindh has demanded of the federal government to provide two million acres-feet of additional water during the Rabi season to compensate the farmers for water shortages during the Kharif season.
Sindh has also challenged the Centre's authority to give its share of water to Balochistan and the NWFP during the Kharif season, which has caused serious resentment among Sindh's farmers.
The provincial government said that in future this should not be done without its approval as it was hurting the interests of the farmers in Sindh.
The Sindh government has also rejected Balochistan's claim of supplying less water by the former. Instead Balochistan had received more than its share during Kharif. It is learnt that Sindh irrigation secretary Idris Rajput had written a letter to the Centre saying the Indus River System Authority has no right to give the province's share to Balochistan during water shortage period. While sharing was done on the basis of historic uses the NWFP and Balochistan were exempted from sharing the shortages and were allowed to utilize their full shares, the letter pointed out. While Balochistan gets water as per accord, Sindh gets less supplies as per historic share. On Saifullah Magsi, the border canal, full cultivation is done on Balochistan side while there is reduced cultivation on Sindh side.
Sindh has also taken a strong exception to Balochistan's claim of Rs357 million on account of fewer water supplies to the province of Balochistan during Kharif. It said actual supplies delivered to Balochistan from Sindh canal system during Kharif were 1.654 million-acre feet. Sindh also said that the historic use of water by Balochistan for Kharif season was normally 0.785 million-acre feet but we supplied them 1.654 million-acre feet till September, the letter said. To put an end to such controversies between the provinces, Sindh has proposed to the Centre that smaller provinces should also share water shortage.
It is generally alleged both by the farming sector as well as official circles of the province of Sindh that Punjab divert river flows beyond its agreed share. According to a report, Secretary Irrigation and Power Department, Sindh, Idress Rajput has said that Punjab has always violated water apportionment accords.
According to an estimate Sindh need 257,000 cusecs of water but is getting only 157,000 cusecs — a shortfall of nearly 39 per cent.
It is said that Punjab uses Chashma-Jehlum link, Taunsa and Thal Canals to divert river water. Punjab had been at it even before the 1991 water accord between the four provinces. Sindh has never been given its due share from Mangla. It is also said that being the upper riparian Punjab is hardly hit by dry spells experienced in Sindh or Balochistan. Punjab, they said is also blessed with many tube-wells with the right quality of water. The tube-wells too help Punjab fight the dry spell if there is any. It is also said that Sindh has no representative in Indus River System Authority (IRSA)
The only option under the present situation is to take strict measures on priority basis to avoid huge water losses on various irrigation stages through efficient water management.
Pakistan's irrigation system has three major water storage reserves, 19 barrages and headworks, 132 link canals and 43 canal commands covering about 90,000 chaks stretching over 40,000 miles. The three major reservoirs including Mangla, Tarbela and Chasma were built by Pakistan on signing the World Bank sponsored Indus Water Basin Treaty between India and Pakistan. According to a report, our irrigation development was not supported after that except a few small irrigation schemes in the NWFP and a few small reservoirs in Punjab and Sindh.
Available figures regarding existing water resources indicate that the quantum of water entering the rivers aggregates to about 145 miles acre-feet per annum. Of this, about 109 million acre feet is transferred to canals annually and the remaining 40 million acre feet water flows down into the sea because of lack of storing facilities.
The volume of water entering irrigation watercourses from canals amounts to 78 million-acre feet per annum. Water obtained from 480,000 public and private tube-wells for irrigation purposes has been estimated at 44-million-acre feet annually. Thus, the total quantum of water entering the watercourses both from canals and tube-wells aggregates to 122-million-acre-feet annually. The agriculture sector was never able to make optimum advantage of the available water resources mainly due to inefficient water management.
Of the 145 million acre-feet water entering the canals each year, about 26 million acre-feet water is lost in transit due to a number of factors. Besides, about 40 million acre-feet water is lost within the watercourses themselves. Hence only 73 million acre-feet water reaches the fields. About 18 million acre-feet water is wasted in the fields. Taking into account all the losses only 55 million acre-feet water is actually left for crop growth while 90 million acre-feet water per annum goes waste which is estimated around 62 per cent of the total. Out of the total cultivable land measuring about 77 million acres only 34 million acres get the required amount of water which translate the situation how our agriculture sector suffering due to ill and mismanagement. It is unfortunate that our crops are getting only 1.5 acre-feet water per acre instead of their normal requirement of 3.5 acre-feet water per acre.
According to expert opinion, situation demands that small dams are to be developed at strategic locations so that rain water can be used in the rainy days. In order to arrest the waste of precious water in water irrigation channels and watercourses have to be put to desilting process on regular basis at least once in a year.