The economy of the country is basically agrarian and is heavily dependent on irrigation largely confined to the Indus Plain

Sep 08 - 14 , 2003 

Agriculture is the lifeline of the Pakistani economy and is central to the socioeconomic development of Pakistan. It has the potential to produce multiplier effect on the growth of other sectors of the country. Pakistan agriculture, through the uptake of Green Revolution technologies, has been one of the striking success stories of the post-independence era. The Green Revolution beginning with the rice and wheat revolutions in the late 1960s, and extending to several other crops in recent years ushered in an era of food self-sufficiency and improved rural welfare. The total area of the country is 79.8 million hectares. The economy of the country is basically agrarian and is heavily dependent on irrigation largely confined to the Indus Plain. The climate in Pakistan is arid to semi-arid with temperatures ranging between 2C to 50C.

The mean annual precipitation ranges from less than 4 inches to more than 30 inches. There are great variations in the sorts of the country. The country has world's largest integrated irrigation network serving more than 14 million hectares of continuous land fed by the Indus River and its tributaries. Of the about 80 million hectares of mainly arid and semi-arid land, 34 million hectares are suitable for agro-forestry use. Of this approximately 22 million hectares are under cultivation. There are two crop seasons Kharif (summer) and Rabi (winter) with a limited choice of crops according to the weather in these seasons.

Agriculture is the leading sector of Pakistan's economy. It is the largest income generating sector and contributing 25 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It employs more than 47 per cent of the total labour indirectly about 68 per cent of the population contributes 60 per cent to export earnings of raw and processed products of agricultural commodities. It provides food, feed and raw materials for major industries such as textile, sugar and several other medium and small-scale industries which account for about 50 per cent of total value of industrial production. It is thus evident that welfare of the vast majority of the population is critically dependent upon efficient utilization of the agricultural resources of the country on a sustainable basis.

The major contemporary constraints to crop production in the country are mineral deficiency, extreme temperatures and lack of water. As human population growth continues and within about one-third of the world's land surface being arid or semi-arid, the need for more irrigation appears inescapable. In fact, irrigation has increased dramatically in the last 200 years, from around 8 Mha in 1800 to more than 255 Mha at present. One of the main problems of irrigation is secondary salinization.

Nature has been very kind to Pakistan. The country has been endowed by God with abundant labour force and human resources. In any agrarian country, the growth prospects generally depend on the endowments of land, climate, labour, capital, water availability, power, fertilizer, seed, plant protection, extension services, agriculture research, pigmented markets, electricity and financial. Brief descriptions of these factors are as:

LAND: Land is a vital non-renewable resource. The total geographical area of the country is 79.61 million hectares of which 21.60 million hectares of land is under cultivation, 8.84 million ha is culturable waste, 22.14 million hectare is cropped area, 17.20 million hectares is crop area irrigated, 3.58 million hectares is forest area and 4.94 million hectares are under rainfed.

Pakistan has thus tremendous potential for development of agriculture in view of large area under cultivation and availability of around 9 million hectares of culturable wastelands. Of the total cultivated area, around 17.20 million hectares is irrigated while crop production in the remaining 4.9 million hectares depend mainly upon rainfall and tube-well irrigation. The country has to cope with the situations by embarking upon policies to increase agricultural productivity. The land base has to be expanded through increased supplies of irrigation water and productivity enhance amount through technological developments in both irrigated and rainfed areas.

CLIMATE: The dominant feature of Pakistan's climate is its aridity. A combination of low rainfall, low atmospheric humidity and high solar radiation results in a vegetative moisture stress over several months of the year. Climatically, the country enjoys a considerable measure of variety. The north-western high mountains ranges are extremely cold in winter while the summer months of April-October are very pleasant. The coastal strip in the south covering the areas of Sindh and Balochistan has a temperature climate.

Agriculture sector being the lynchpin of the country's economy continues to be the single largest sector and a dominant driving forcer for growth and development of the national economy. It accounts for 24 per cent of the GDP and employs 48 per cent of the total work force. Agriculture contributes to growth as a supplier of raw materials to industry as well as a market for industrial products and also contributes substantially to Pakistan's exports earnings. About 67 per cent of country's population are living in rural areas and are directly or indirectly linked with agriculture for their livelihood.

Most of the area of the country is classified as arid to semi-arid because rainfall is not sufficient to grow agricultural crop forests, and fruit plants and pastures. About 68 per cent of geographical area lie under annual rainfall of 250 mm, whereas about 24 per cent of the area lies under annual rainfall of 251-500 mm. This leaves only 8 per cent of area where annually rainfall exceeds 500 mm. Thus the supplemental water for profitable agricultural production is required either from irrigation or through tubewells. Due to low rainfall and high diurnal range of temperature, humidity is comparatively low. Only the coastal-area has high humidity. The annual variation in temperature provide two districts crop seasons, i.e. Kharif (summer) and Rabi (winter). Kharif crops are generally sown between April to June and harvested during October to December. Rabi crops are sown in October-December and harvested in April-May. In each season several crops are raised depending not only on the nature of soil and climatic condition but on the availability of resources.

Of the main food crops, wheat, gram, rape and mustard seed are the principal Rabi crops, while rice, maize, cotton, millet, sorghum and sugarcane are the main Kharif crops. In addition, a variety of both summer and winter vegetables and fruits are grown in the country. Out of total cropped area, food grains account for 56 per cent, cash crops 16 per cent, pulses 7 per cent, oilseeds 3 per cent and rest is occupied by fruits, vegetables and other minor crops.

WATER: Water is the essence of life and supply of clean, healthy water is essential for the country for the purposes of drinking and irrigation of the crop fields. The development of water resource is of vital importance for a developing country. Water helps in building the infrastructure of the economy, which is essential for the development of agriculture, industry and other sectors. The agriculture of Pakistan is primarily based on one of the oldest and largest contiguous flow of irrigation systems of Indus Basin. The system comprises of the Indus river and its tributaries, the three major reservoirs, 23 barrages and 48 principal link canals. The total length of the canal system is about 63200 kilometers with water courses about 110,000 are field ditches running around 1.6 million kilometers. Groundwater is pumped by both public and private tubewells. Other source of water is rain water, which is high in northern area and low in southern part of the country.

Agriculture is still the predominant employer of labour force in the economy. It contributes about 48 per cent in agriculture of the total population. It is declining day by day because workers from agriculture either entered the services sector or so get employment abroad.

CAPITAL: Investment in agriculture is needed for improvement of land, provision of irrigation facilities, purchase of agricultural machinery, farm building structure, purchase of livestock such bull, ox, etc. agricultural services and other agricultural and irrigation infrastructure. The public and private sectors are active partners in the development of agriculture. The public sector is responsible for building up agricultural infrastructure, irrigation works, drainage, reclamation, flood protection and water management. The private sector, i.e. the farmers themselves undertake, with assistance from credit agencies, investments in farm capital including land improvement, farm building, agricultural machinery and livestock.

LOW CROP YIELDS: Low crop yields as a proxy of low productivity of agriculture, illustrates the potential for its improvement. Research carried out in Pakistan have shown that the country has enough potential to raise its present production level of crop to new heights only through increased yields per hectare alone.

TECHNICAL-KNOW-LOW: In order to develop and spread now technology the country has a good institutional base for carrying out agriculture education and research. There is Pakistan Agriculture Research Council at Apex, which is responsible for agriculture research at national level and coordinating research at provincial level. There are agriculture universities, colleges at different places.

CONSTRAINTS IN PRODUCTIVITY: There are several constraints, which directly affect land productivity in the country. These include soil erosion, water logging and salinity and other soil related problem.

SOIL EROSION: The causes by wind and run off water particularly in the rainfed areas are well known yet the depletion of natural vegetation and excessive tillage has accelerated the problem of soil erosion. The flood damage causing soil erosion has been constantly on the increase, primarily in the wake of excessive loss of natural vegetation. Over 12 million hectares of lands are affected estimated to have been affected by water erosion.

WATER LOGGING: At present, about 20 per cent of the cultivated land in the CCA in affected by water logging to varying degree and even a greater amount suffers from salinity. The latest WAPDA figures indicate that an average about 2 million hectares out of surveyed 16 million hectares have a water table 1.5 meter from the surface. The adverse affects of water logging on agriculture are attributed to restricted aeration in the crop rooting zone, soil salinization reduced bearing capacity of the soils and increased attack of crop diseases.

SOIL SALINITY AND SODICITY: The problem of soil salinity and/or sodicity is of great economic significance to Pakistan as it depresses land productivity over 12 million hectares of land. The extent of salinity reveals that the problem of salinity is quite severe as 9 per cent of area is severely or very severely salinized. As productivity on saline area is low, the spreading incidence of salinity has resulted in reduced levels of production.

OTHER PROBLEMS: The soil nutrients have been depleted. Some washed away by irrigation water. All soils are low in organic matter and need continuous replenish meet through nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers.

SMALL FARMS: Land holdings in Pakistan, are characterized by small farms. There are over 5 million farms in the country and about 81 per cent of them are small farms (less than 5 hectares). The middle size farms (5-10 hectares) are 12 per cent. The large farms (10 hectares and above) are 7 per cent. The average sizes of small, medium and large farms are 4.50, 16.30 and 54.40 hectares, respectively. The leading factor causing in the reduction of farm sizes are the burgeoning population of the country.

WATER AVAILABILITY CONSTRAINT: Pakistan's agriculture is mostly dependent on irrigation. It accounts for 80 per cent of the total irrigated land. Scope for expanding irrigation water is not possible. However, it needs improvement. Loss of water during irrigation is a major problem. Lack of maintenance is another major drawback in the water losses.

POWER: Power supply through is not sufficient and there is frequent breakdown in the power supply.

FERTILIZER: Presently, fertilizer consumption is only about 113 kg per hectare. The country is also faced with serious problem in providing the quantities of fertilizer necessary to maintain self-sufficiency in major food crops. The planning, import and distribution of critical times in the crop cycle continuous to be a serious problem.

SEED: The use of quality seed is not more than 5-7 per cent of the total requirements. The lack of storage capacity, inadequate marketing facility, non- availability of the required quantities of basic seeds and inadequate facilities for monitoring quality of seed in the market.

Plant protection: Pests and diseases are a major constraints in obtaining potential crop yields. The use of pesticides has increased from 3677 tons in 1981 to 23,000 tons in 1992.

EXTENSION SERVICES: Extension services lack proper extension facilities and severely lack trained and devoted staff.


Agriculture plays an important role directly and indirectly in generating economic growth. The importance of agriculture to the economy is seen in three ways; firstly, it provides food for consumers and fibres for domestic industry, secondly, it is a source of scarce foreign exchange earning and thirdly, it provides market for industrial good. Agriculture has a strong backward linkages by purchasing farm inputs such as chemicals, fertilizers, seeds, pesticides and machinery and forward linkages by supplying raw material to food and fibre processing in the non-agriculture sector. Honesty, devotion, zeal and enthusiasm are other factors with which every worker related with agricultural activities should take part for the development of the agriculture.