ACHIEVING HIGHER CROPS YIELDS
THERE IS DIRE NEED FOR CHANGING THE MINDSET OF FARMERS AND MOBILIZING FUNDS FOR UNDERTAKING CULTIVATION ON SCIENTIFIC GROUNDS
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
June 30 - July 06, 2008
Though many people may not endorse the common belief that agriculture is the driving engine of Pakistan's economy, it is a fact that country's economy and exports are heavily dependent on agriculture. In recent past shortage of wheat, cotton and sugarcane eroded country's foreign exchange. Added to this has been growing import of fertilizers. Below the target production of cotton has not only eroded competitiveness of local manufacturers of textiles and clothing but also added to import bill of edible oil.
Ever since the present elected government has came in power it has remained "too busy" with non-issues and not paying attention to the most pressing issues i.e. extensive and intensive load shedding and emerging shortage of food products and their skyrocketing prices. Supply of wheat to Afghanistan did come under criticism but the real issue has been smuggling of wheat to India and Afghanistan.
Many experts are of the opinion that if Pakistan succeeds in plugging it porous boarders and containing smuggling of wheat, the country can still export wheat to Afghanistan officially and also earn some foreign exchange. Some of the experts believe that the boarder authorities are fully aware of the movement but keep their eyes closed because of the goods being taken in exchange for wheat. Ironically, this unofficial trade can never be legitimized because of the groups having vested interest.
However, crying on split milk cannot resolve the issues and the policy planners have to come up with new policies aimed at achieving higher production and productivity in the agriculture sector. For decades farmers have been victim of non-availability of agriculture loan. However, banks under the guidance of State Bank have a target of Rs 200 billion disbursement for the current fiscal and yet higher amount for 2008-09.
It is on record that the cultivable lands in the country suffer from low nutrient content and the deficiency has to be met through application of chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer Policy announced in 2001 has badly failed in encouraging investors to establish grass-root fertilizer plants, particularly for producing urea. The result is that now country has to spend millions of dollars on import of urea. The indigenous production of DAP can only meet less than 30% of demand and the remaining quantity has to be imported.
Lately, prices of DAP have skyrocketed and its use has become virtually unaffordable for the farmers. They are trying to use extra quantity of urea, in lieu of DAP, believing that urea is a substitute for DAP. However, this is incorrect and in fact out of proportion use of urea has negative impact on crop as yield is reduced.
In order to overcome shortage and contain prices Pakistan has to chalk out an extensive strategy. The key issues to be addressed are: using quality seeds, applying appropriate dosage of nutrients and ensuring adequate quantity of water. In the first phase effort should be made to achieve the yield equivalent to that attained in India and in the second phase to cross this benchmark. This is an achievable target and can help in doubling yield of the major crops i.e. wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton.
Pakistan has not been able to boost indigenous production of oilseeds and its dependence on imported palm oil is increasing with the passage of time. Part of this shortfall could be met by achieving cotton output target of 20 million bales. One could only regret that country gets around 11 million bales, mainly because of bad crop management, use of inferior quality seeds having low resistance against pests attacks, and use of imbalanced fertilizer.
Two other crops sugarcane and corn deserve specific attention mainly because climatic conditions are conducive for cultivation of these crops. Both the crops contribute towards food self-sufficiency and also have the potential to supplement fuel supply. Pakistan has a number of distilleries attached with sugar mills, which are capable of converting the entire quantity of molasses produced into ethyl alcohol. An addition of up to 5% alcohol in fuel even does not require change in the carburetors of cars.
Cultivation of corn on massive scale can also help in reducing edible oil import bill. In the US corn is also being used for producing biofuel and Pakistan can benefit from this technology. However, using corn for food will be a better option compared to its use for production of biofuel.
In the recent past government used to provide incentive for cultivating canola and sunflower. However, it seems that focus has shifted away from these two high yielding crops. This point is substantiated by growing import of raw palm oil and even refined edible oil. The added advantage of growing oilseeds in the country is increased supply of oilcakes.
Oilcakes is an important nutrient for the livestock particularly cows and buffalos. Feeding oilcakes to cows/buffalos increase milk production, which can enhance production of butter and butter oil in the country.
To ensure adequate availability of water the immediate required measure is cleaning/improving the watercourses. It goes without saying that the corruption in irrigation department has resulted in inequitable distribution of water; big landlords get more water and small farmers face drought like situation.
Pakistan faces a paradox: sparsely fragmented land and large landholdings by absentee landlords. The situation demands two opposite actions first consolidation of lands and second distribution of state owned lands among the landless farmers. Some of the experts are of the opinion that government should encourage "corporate farming" that is incorporated entities acquiring land and undertaking mechanized farming. The corporation will be able to acquire required funds from the financial institutions by offering land as collateral.
The policy makers and entrepreneurs should also try to develop joint ventures with individuals of high net worth from oil rich countries. Reportedly, governments and individuals from these countries are acquiring lands in other countries on rent or through outright purchase. Entering in such joint ventures will help in mobilizing funds desperately required for undertaking cultivation on scientific grounds.