AGRICULTURE & RECEDING ECONOMY

FOZIA AROOJ (fozia.arooj@hotmail.com)
June 30 - July 06, 2008

Pakistan's economy is facing worst challenges in its history as there is ever rising oil price as well as political instability. Unrest and militancy in tribal areas have jolted the very foundations of the whole system. A natural outcome of this grim situation is sky rocketing inflation rate exacerbating the difference between the rich and the poor. There is an unprecedented increase in the commodity prices. In 2007, the price of wheat rose 77% and rice 16%. According to a special report by the magazine, The Economist, these were the sharpest increases in agricultural prices in history. In 2008, the rate of increase has accelerated. Since the start of the year, rice prices have soared 141%; and the price of wheat by 25%. This bleak scenario is also a direct outcome of deteriorating agriculture sector.

Agriculture forms the largest sector of national economy of Pakistan. It is strongly linked with food security, poverty alleviation, and rural development as means to achieve bigger goals, for example, employment led economic growth through its linkages and multiplier effects. The agriculture sector, however, faces some crucial and critical challenges.

CHALLENGES:

The agriculture of Pakistan in general and Sindh in particular is exposed to a number of problems instated in national grass root level as well as international repercussions. These problems underscore elements like poor yields, ineffective marketability of commodities, water shortages, conservation, grading to set world quality norms, indiscriminate use of pesticides and biological control. The yield of major crops like cereal production has decreased due to variety of reasons. The most significant appear to be ecological changes and timely availability of the inputs including non availability of high yielding and disease, insect and pest free elite stock of seed varieties (germplasm) in addition to scarcity of water fit for irrigation purposes.

MEASURES TO BE TAKEN:

It is therefore, imperative to take immediate and structural measures in agriculture sector to deal with the short-term and long-term challenges. The government policies are required to be focused on the measures to control and minimize the cost of production to a sustainable level besides, maintaining quality to enable entrepreneurs for their survival and competition in the international market. The per capita agricultural land continues to shrink and land resources are increasingly depleting. The continued problems of salinity and deforestation have assumed a proportion of menace to be reckoned with. Above all, the water scarcity will become more acute over the years due to global warming and loss of glaciers. How to benefit the farming community in order to achieve the potential agriculture in a country such as Pakistan? Of 58 countries whose agriculture price policies are followed by the World Bank, 48 have imposed price controls, or provided consumer subsidies, or adopted export restrictions, or made adjustments in import and export tariffs. The state in the developing world could play a role in benefiting from the dramatic adjustments in recent food prices. The reallocation of water needs to be reviewed at canal command level in the light of cropping pattern, cropping intensity and other related factors. It must be supplemented by fully exploiting groundwater, rain harvesting and exploitation of avenues of new water (if feasible) wherever possible. Even the agriculture sector should focus on the production of crops that require less water and those that have a high export value.

There is a dire need for adoption of modern technology to increase the agricultural productivity and reduce environmental risks. Precision agriculture technologies to increase farm profitability are to be developed at war footing. Traditionally agrochemicals and irrigation were applied uniformly without considering substantial variability in soil and crop characteristics, topographic features and fruit yield within fields. Therefore unnecessary or over-use of fertilizers deteriorated water quality, promoted weed growth and reduced profit, while under-fertilization may restrict crop yield and quality. New technologies could significantly reduce input costs, increase profitability while minimizing the environmental impacts.

We require development of desert lands using brackish groundwater through highly efficient pressurized irrigation systems, to exploit potential of agriculture in coastal area of Sindh to generate income for the downtrodden people of the area; to develop strategies to produce quality seed including hybrids to achieve high yield potential; to conserve and develop indigenous crop and animal (cattle, buffalo, camel and small ruminants) germplasm; improve livestock production potential through Artificial Insemination and embryo transfer technology to utilize sugar, food and beverage industrial waste for animal feeding. Widespread availability of fast and accurate differential global positioning system (DGPS) service and the rapid evolution of laptop computing power, a range of automated instruments have offered new opportunities for varying inputs within fields on as- needed basis to maximize profit and reduce environmental contamination. The precision agriculture technologies are economical, environmentally sound, and can easily be adopted by the Pakistani growers, producers and manufacturers.

The higher education is a capital investment and is of paramount importance for economic and social development of the country. Certainly, the institutions of higher education have the main responsibility of producing individuals with advanced knowledge and skills required for positions of responsibility in the public and private organizations. Only highly educated manpower with updated knowledge can handle advanced technology & innovations. Thus, without the participation of well-qualified manpower, the process of economic development cannot be accelerated in any sector, be it Agriculture or otherwise. Moreover, the fast communication access has led to the internationalization and globalization of economies, knowledge and culture. The concept of access to life long learning has also assumed a distinctive character in higher education at national and international levels.