PAKISTAN AGRICULTURE AND FARMERS

 

There is a need to improve the living conditions of farmers

Dr. S.M. ALAM
Oct 06 - 12, 2003 

In its narrowest sense, agriculture is the growing or cultivation of agricultural fields or more broadly, it is the science of producing crops and livestock from the natural resources of the earth. The primary aim of agriculture is to make the land to produce more foods abundantly and at the same time to protect land from deterioration and mismanagement. The diverse branches of agriculture include agronomy, horticulture, entomology, animal husbandry, dairying, agricultural engineering, soil chemistry and agricultural economics. From his earliest days, man has depended for his livelihood on hunting, fishing and food gathering. Still same groups pursue this single way of life and others have continued as roving herdmen. With this passage of time, cultivation of crops such as wheat, rice, oats, maize, barley and millet encouraged settlement of stable commodities to grow these crops in agricultural fields in the various parts of the world.

Pakistan occupies the North-eastern part of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent between 23 and 27 north latitude and 62 and 75 east longitude. The length and width, it covers is approximately 1400 kilometers and 500 kilometers, respectively. Pakistan is basically an agricultural country and thus agriculture is the backbone of the economy and the mainstay of our national economic life. It contributes about 25% to the GDP, employs about 50% of the total labour-force, provides livelihood directly to 70% of the rural population, and earns about 60% total value of exports. Overall, it meets the food needs of the population. But unfortunately, the backbone is aching badly now and may suffer crack under the pressure on soil discordance and natural calamities. The total geographical area of Pakistan according to agricultural statistics of Pakistan 2001-2002 is 79.61 million hectares (mha) (about 197 million acres), of which only 25% or 19.82 million hectares (about 48.96 million acres) are currently under cultivation. Out of the total land area of Pakistan, the total land area of Punjab is 20.6 mha (about 50.90 million acres), out of which 54% or 11.04 mha (or 27.28 million acres) are cultivated. The total land area of Balochistan is 34.7 mha (or 85.74 million acres), out of which only 4% or 1.4 mha (or 3.46 million acres) are cultivated, and the total land area of NWFP comprises of 10.2 mha (or 25.20 million acres), out of which nearly 10% or 1.93 mha (or 4.77 million acres) are cultivated. The vast areas of country generally own fertile soil, a favourable climate and with the world largest elaborated canal irrigation network. Rainfall in this area is seasonal and generally varies from 50-900 mm with an annual average of 250 mm. Therefore, our farming is based mainly on the quantum of heavy irrigation carried out from canal, originating from the Indus river due to short and insufficient rainy season and a long dry summer in the plains.

Agriculture is the single largest sector of the economy of the country. Its primary goal is the achievement of its growth rate higher than the population growth to ensure food security, self-sufficiency and exportable surpluses. There are meager chances of expansion in the land area to increase agriculture production. Our agricultural land is facing many problems. Among the major problems, arable and conversion into non-agricultural uses, soil erosion, water logging and salinity are most disastrous. According to population growth rate, which is currently 3.1 per cent per annum, we are among the top most nation of the world. If we talk about in terms of total populations, which is currently 150 million, then we are ahead of Bangladesh and Japan now, and rank as the 7th largest nation of the world. According to the total land area, which is nearly 197 million acres, we stand at number 34 among the world nations. As a country, our total land area is fixed i.e. 79.61 mha, which cannot be increased, therefore with rapidly expanding population pressure on it, is also increasing quickly. In the result, our current and potential agricultural land is reducing.

Owing to rapidly increasing demands for food and other products, our agriculture is already under a lot of pressure. At the same time, some residential buildings, factories, highways etc. are devouring much of the best farmland. About 60 per cent of the country's land, surface is mountainous and plateau. Remaining 40 per cent is almost level. But due to certain natural and cultural reasons whole of this land is presently not cultivable. Only about 48.96 million acres of less than one-third of the country's area is currently cultivated. In order to meet the growing food demands of rapidly expanding population, over 75 per cent of the country's cropped area is under food crops and remaining less than 25 per cent is under cash crops. But in many parts of the country, valuable crop lands are turning into non-agricultural areas. A recent example is the construction of Motorway which runs from Lahore to northwards. Besides, many economic and others benefits, due to this road nearly 80 per cent of which passes through arable land and thus more than 10,000 acres of land is taken out of cultivation. Industrial zones will also occupy substantial amount of arable land in future. It is obvious that these industrial zones will attract population concentrations. Consequently, due to increase of population, a huge amount of additional land will be consumed for non-agricultural activities in that area.

The yields of crop in the country are comparatively lower than those of agriculturally advanced countries. The general problems associated with agriculture of this region are scarcity of water, floods, water logging, alkalinity, erosion, low yield per unit area, low yield per animal unit and traditional methods of cultivation. Apart from the general problems others include poor quality seeds, poor soil management, low yielding varieties, lack of crop protection methods, credit facilities and non-application of modern technology in raising crops, contribute to the low yield and poor quality of crops. There is, therefore, immense need to bring an improvement by strengthening the research programme for the best utilization of the existing resources.

Research programmes should include evolution of high yielding varieties showing maximum potential for various climatic and soil conditions. New varieties may be evolved which are fertilizer responsive and can grow well under light moisture supply conditions and are resistant to pests and diseases. The most important problem of the crop sector is to raise crops under the arid or semi-arid conditions because of a vast area of the country falls under arid and semi-arid prone areas. However, the agricultural productivity of these areas can be increased only by supply sufficient water. Productivity per unit can be increased through technological change.

Accordingly to generally accepted definition, a small farmer is one whose land holding is upto 12.5 acres. It is estimated that out of a total of 3.8 million farms in the country, 2.6 million are small farmers. They constitute about 67 per cent. According to statistics, 28 per cent of our farmers possess less than five acres and 38 per cent of the farmers possess less than one acre. Although about 80 per cent of the farmers own or possess less than 12.5 acres each.

Pakistani farmers produce enough food to feed all of the Pakistan and for export. The aim of farmers and managers is to efficiently improve the quality of agricultural products. They make many decisions and use different strategies to protect themselves from the unpredictability of farming. They determine the best time to plant, fertilize, harvest and market their products. The farmers day usually begins early, is strenuous and long. During the planting and harvest seasons, there are very few days off. The day is spent mostly outdoors in any kind of weather and farmers are constantly on-call. Most farmers are self-employed, the work can be hazardous and the market unpredictable. Tasks can include caring for livestock ,operating machinery and maintaining equipment along with administrative duties such as record keeping. Crop farms grow grains, cotton, fibers, fruit and vegetables. The crop farmers plant, till, fertilize, spray, harvest, package and store their produce.

Livestock farmers plan, feed and care for animals. Horticultural farmers produce ornamental plants and nursery products. Aquacultural farmers raise fish and shellfish. A farmer income varies each year. There can be a profit one year and a loss the next. Many earn incomes away from the farm from other activities. Aquaculture has the most new job opportunities because of over-fishing and the high demand for seafood. Smaller farms will survive by establishing market niches such as organic farming with direct customer contact. Farming today combines formal education and work experience. While still in high school one can take courses in math, biology, computer and life sciences. One can participate in young people agricultural programs or work on a farm. Pakistani universities usually have a school of agriculture where you can get a bachelor's degree. Some experienced farmers have apprenticeship programs where one can train on the job. Farm managers usually have a bachelor's degree and many years of work experience. Employment is predicted to decline because of increasing productivity and the combing of farms new developments in marketing and organic farming are making small-scale farming viable.

Pakistan has 197 million acres of land, but only 52.21 million acres of this is available for cultivation. Besides these, 9.04 million acres of forest are spread over the country. According to the Pakistan Land Commission's 1972 report, 600 feudal families own land, which is equal to 30 million tillers and peasants while 7.1 million acres of land are under the control of 3000 landlords. This shows the historical failure of the Pakistani ruling class to develop Pakistani society. Its vital economic base, agriculture, is in stagnant condition. It has failed to eradicate feudalism and build an infrastructure capable of revolutionizing agricultural production. There are about 4 million landless farmers working on the land of the landlords and they work it on the basis that they get back only a 30 percent share of the total production. The prices of fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, agricultural machinery have risen by up to 200 percent in the last ten years. So these poor farmers are suffering terribly.

Literacy of farmers is one of the most sensitive and acute problem of our agriculture. Our illiterate farmers insist on conventional and old method of farming. They hesitate to adopt modern know-how of agriculture, even if they adopt modern technique. Insufficient knowledge gives poor results. Irrationalization of farmers usually results in improper use of fertilizers, seeds, insecticides, pesticides and farm machinery. Hence, there is a need for proper education of our farmers to get full benefits of modern agrarian technology. Concentration of holding is also another cause of low productivity in agriculture sector. Big landlords exploit only a nominal part of their vast land and leave the rest uncultivated had all their lands been cultivated, the yield would have been much more to what it is today. Contrary so big landlords, the small farmers put hard labour to boost up their agricultural production. If they are provided proper condition, necessary for increasing yields, e.g. assured supply of water, proper guidelines, better credit facilities and proper transportation and communication, the problem of low productivity can be reduced to a certain extent. Hence, there is a need of radical changes in our land tenure system to get desired results.

Most of these agricultural workers live below the poverty line. In lower Sindh, there are more than one million agricultural labourers working on a casual basis. These poor farmers get loans from the landlords. These accumulate over time as they have high interest rates and after generations of this the repayment of the debt becomes impossible. These millions of agricultural workers are very poor, they earn less than half a dollar per day per family, and hence these agricultural workers are turning into beggars. These workers are deprived of basic facilities like health, food, clothes, education, water and homes etc. These agricultural workers and their families are deprived of any medical treatment or health facilities. The children are malnourished and access to clean water and sanitation beyond the dreams of these poor souls.

At the Earth Summit, makes recommendations for strengthening the role of farmers in sustainable development. It may be useful for groups wishing to evaluate progress since Rio, and in planning for future activities in achieving sustainability in agriculture. Agriculture occupies one third of the land surface of the Earth, and is the central activity for much of the world's population. Rural activities take place in close contact with nature, adding value to it by producing renewable resources, while at the same time becoming vulnerable to over exploitation and improper management. The rural household, indigenous people and their communities, and the family farmer, a substantial number of whom are women, have been the stewards of much of the Earth's resources. Farmers must conserve their physical environment as they depend on it for their sustenance. Over the past 30 years, there has been impressive increase in aggregate agricultural production. Yet, in some regions, this increase has been outstripped by population growth or international debt or falling commodity prices. Further, the natural resources that sustain farming activity need proper care, and there is a growing concern about the sustainability of agricultural production systems.

A farmer-centered approach is the key to the attainment of sustainability in both developed and developing countries and many of the programme areas. A significant number of the rural population in developing countries depend primarily upon small scale, subsistence-oriented agriculture based on family labour. However, they have limited access to resources, technology, alternative livelihood and means of production. As a result, they are engaged in the over exploitation of natural resources, including marginal lands. Farmers, particularly women, face a high degree of economic, legal and institutional uncertainties when investing in their land and other resources. The decentralization of decision-making towards local and community organizations is the key in changing people's behaviour and implementing sustainable farming strategies.

There is a growing awareness in society, both within the scientific community and among the public, that if a sustainable development is to be achieved all parts and sectors of society have to contribute and take responsibility. Farmers play a crucial role in the achievement of the environmental quality criteria of a sustainable food production. To reach a sustainable development and an environmentally friendly agriculture, farmers must a) understand and appreciate what the criteria mean in theory and practice, b) be willing and motivated to apply them and related methodologies, and c) have the opportunity to do so. Understanding refers to farmers' knowledge about the criteria and why and how to apply them. Willingness and motivation can be reflected in farmers' attitudes and values related to farming, animal welfare and environmental protection. Opportunity and possibility include individual, situational, and institutional conditions, which affect farmers' decisions. Examples are health, farm location, social structure, capital, climate, regulations, and market forces. Earlier studies indicate that the discrepancy between farmers' attitudes and practices are primarily explained by economic and other situational and institutional factors.

For several years, agricultural policies, market forces and the technology advocated by research and the advisory services, have given priority to short-term cost efficiency in agricultural production in the country. Farmers' first priority is to be able to stay in business and to keep the farm running. They cannot risk going bankrupt. Thus, we can expect the to react defensively to demand for radical changes in their established modes of production. It should also be noted that farmers are not a homogenous group of people. Depending on production orientation, geographical location, and the way farm production is organized etc., the farmer will respond differently on incentives and demands on environmental and quality improvements. Thus, we have to understand farmers' behaviour and include the meaning farmers' themselves attach to farming and their own description of how to organize the complex activity. As said, farmers are at the core in the process of changing agriculture towards sustainability. They are the ones who are responsible for converting the growing awareness and knowledge into everyday practices. By the same token they will probably experience great changes in their every day life and in their work and business objectives. The challenges are many, and it is obvious that the way forward is through a participatory and truly democratic approach. Through inclusive processes farmers' local knowledge and site specific experience can be taken into account. As a response to all these notions social learning, collaboration, and local decision making has been advocated as approaches to be used.

The overall objective is to develop and apply models, which facilitate farmers' involvement in the development of new methods for sustainable systems of food production. The Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) is responsible for carrying out extension services at the grass-root level under the supervision of Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). The DAE carries its activities in the field level with the help of its different wings. DAE is mainly responsible for: To motivate and help farmers adopt improved production practices to increase their productivity, meet national consumption requirements, maximize export and minimize import; to provide farmers with the latest results of research and farm techniques for their socioeconomic betterment; to help develop self reliance and cooperation by training local leadership for organized group action; to provide channels for service and information from the MOA and its different departments to the farm people and in turn relay the problems and needs of the farmers that require national level intervention; to provide an effective linkage between the various research institutes and the farmers so that along with the flow of technology to the farmers, the farmers level problems are also brought to the relevant research institutes for investigation and solution; to serve as liaison agency between farmers and other organizations, both public and private concern with over-all socio economic development of rural people, including the credit giving and input supply agencies.

Agricultural subsidies are the financial assistance to farmers communities through government sponsored price-support programmes. Since 1930s, the most industrialized countries have developed active agricultural price support policies to reduce the instability ~f farm prices and to raise farm income. The programme vary considerably from country to country. In food importing countries, such as those of Great Britain and Europe, agricultural price-support programmes are also aimed at encouraging home production to make the economics more self-sufficient. In food exporting countries such as the United States and Canada, agricultural subsidy programmes are used primarily to increase farm income by raising the long-term level of prices above free-market levels. Farmers need long-term mortgage loans to help them acquire property and to refinance existing debts, short-term loans to finance the production and marketing crop sand livestock. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IFAD, WFP, the World Bank, the regional development banks and other international organizations involved in rural development should involve farmers and their representatives in their deliberations, as appropriate. Representative organizations of farmers should establish programmes for the development and support of farmers' organizations, particularly in developing countries.

The following objectives are proposed to improve the general condition of the farmers:

To encourage a decentralized decision-making process through the creation and strengthening of local and village organizations that would delegate power and responsibility to primary users of natural resources;

To support and enhance the legal capacity of women and vulnerable groups with regard to access, use and tenure of land;

To promote and encourage sustainable farming practices and technologies;

To introduce or strengthen policies that would encourage self-sufficiency in low-input and low-energy technologies, including indigenous practices, and pricing mechanisms that internalize environmental costs;

To develop a policy framework that provides incentives and motivation among farmers for sustainable and efficient farming practices;

To enhance the participation of farmers, men and women, in the design and implementation of policies directed towards these ends, through their representative organizations;

To promote pricing mechanisms, trade policies, fiscal incentives and other policy instruments that positively affect individual farmer's decisions about an efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, and take full account of the impact of these decisions on household food security, farm incomes, employment and the environment;

Involve farmers and their representative organizations in the formulation of policy;

Protect, recognize and formalize women access to tenure and use of land, as well as rights to land, access to credit, technology, inputs and training;

Support the formation of farmers' organizations by providing adequate legal and social conditions;

National and international research centres should cooperate with farmers' organizations in developing location-specific environment-friendly farming techniques;

National Governments, multilateral and bilateral development agencies and non-governmental organizations should collaborate with farmers' organizations in formulating agricultural development projects to specific agro-ecological zones;

Initiate mechanisms to document, synthesize and disseminate local knowledge, practices and project experiences so that they will make use of the lessons of the past when formulating and implementing policies affecting farming, forest and fishing populations;

Establish networks for the exchange of experiences with regard to farming that help to conserve land, water and forest resources, minimize the use of chemicals and reduce or reutilize farm wastes;

Develop pilot projects and extension services that would seek to build on the needs and knowledge base of women farmers.

Develop environmentally sound farming technologies that enhance crop yields, maintain land quality, recycle nutrients, conserve water and energy and control pests and weeds;

Conduct studies of high-resource and low-resource agriculture to compare their productivity and sustainability. The research should preferably be conducted under various environmental and sociological settings;

Support research on mechanization that would optimize human labour and animal power and hand-held and animal-drawn equipment that can be easily operated and maintained. The development of farm technologies should take into account farmers' available resources and the role of animals in farming households and the ecology;

Create the institutional and legal mechanisms to ensure effective land tenure to farmers. The absence of legislation indicating land rights has been an obstacle in taking action against land degradation in many farming communities in developing countries;

Strengthen rural institutions that would enhance sustainability through locally managed credit systems and technical assistance, local production and distribution facilities for inputs, appropriate equipment and small-scale processing units, and marketing and distribution systems;

Establish mechanisms to increase access of farmers, in particular women and farmers from indigenous groups, to agricultural training, credit and use of improved technology for ensuring food security.