PROSPECTS OF AGRICULTURE GROWTH
AROOJ ASGHAR (Arooj.email@example.com)
Mar 16 - 22, 2009
After 60 years of independence, agriculture continues to be the single largest sector which is the main source of livelihood for over 66% of the Pakistan's population. Agriculture accounts for 21 per cent of Pakistan's GDP and employs approximately 44 per cent of its workforce, according to the 2007-08 Economic Survey of Pakistan issued by the State Bank of Pakistan.
Country's agricultural growth has experienced mixed trends over the last few years. Agriculture performed poorly in 2007-08, growing at 1.5 per cent against the target of 4.8 per cent. The poor performance of agriculture can be attributed to an equally poor performance of major crops and forestry, registering negative growth of 3.0 per cent and 8.5 per cent, respectively.
Current global economic crisis has engulfed the whole financial indicators. To cope up with the crisis it is imperative to harness the untapped potential and unused resources of this sector.
Global food shortage can be an opportunity in disguise for Pakistan. Countries that had large incomes coming from their farms ended up doing well as prices of commodities edged sharply upwards. For a country like Pakistan, emulating this global example is indeed helpful. Already available abundant farmland must be a source of encouragement for Pakistan.
There is a wide gap between actual and potential yields of different crops such as wheat, rice, sugar cane, cotton, maize, and edible oil. In respect of yield per hectare, Pakistan ranks 8th in wheat, 9th in rice, 10th in cotton, 15th in maize and virtually lowest in sugar cane in spite of having the largest irrigation system in the world.
This reflects poor management of agricultural resources by different governments. Keeping in view the overwhelming importance of agriculture, this sector has not been treated properly.
There is a need to place emphasis on importance of the agricultural sector as a means of ensuring self-sufficiency in food, creating employment, and income subsidies as well as maximizing those export opportunities that will triumph over the crisis given the regional and global demand for food. The challenge clearly lies in seeking to persuade both local and foreign potential investors. Even in these times of crisis, investment in the envisaged mega-farms and agro-processing projects has worth and that, frankly, is by no means an inconsequential challenge. It is however the government's challenge.
As Pakistan has an agrarian economy economists believe that government should pay attention on agriculture sector by providing subsidy and loans to growers with a sustainable system. Moreover, Pakistan should bring institutional reforms so as to get advantage from the new opportunities being offered by the WTO agreement. It is vital to focus on diversification into high value products, agro-processing, and better integration in supply chains.
The policy makers should devise ways and means to meet the future challenges of food and fibre through efficient utilization of available resources. End of stagnation in the crop production requires a series of measures related to soil, water, agronomic and socio economic factors.
It is imperative to increase crop production. It is possible only either by increasing area under a particular crop or by enhancing yield of a crop per unit area. In both of the cases, there is a great need for efficient utilization of resources.
To increase the area under a particular crop requires measures to reclaim soil that has been rendered unproductive due to water logging, salinity, and erosion. Soil depletion, soil erosion, salinity and water logging result in reduction of crop area significantly. There is wastage of about 8.7mha, 6.3mha, 11.2mha and 4.73mha of land due to water logging, salinity, water erosion and wind erosion, respectively. Obviously, crop area can be increased provided arresting these problems with full commitment.
Although efforts were made in the past to tackle these problems they did not yield tangible results due to lack of commitment. Water is an important input in agriculture sector. Luckily, Pakistan is gifted with abundant water resources with 144maf average annual river flow and 52maf of ground water.
Still, about 10mha cultivable area has to bring under cultivation. This requires water for irrigation. In spite of the fact that the country has one of the largest canal irrigation systems, about 17mha is irrigated area out of the total 22.92mha crop area. Water shortage has become the common phenomenon. It is because of the fact that water resources are not properly managed.
Canal irrigation system comprises of the Indus River, its eastern and western tributaries, major and minor canals, link canals, dams, barrages, head works and watercourses. The irrigation efficiency of this system is very poor due to great water losses recurring in the wake of deep percolation, seepage and evaporation. About 35 per cent water is lost from major and minor canals, 24 per cent from watercourses and 25 per cent from field application.
There is an urgent need to save water by curtailing these losses through lining of canals and watercourse and plantation of trees on the banks of canals and watercourses. Increasing water storage capacity through the construction of dams is need of the day. Continuous sedimentation of the existing water reservoirs has reduced their storage capacity. Currently, storage capacity of all water reservoirs is insufficient. This makes it necessity to construct new dams. In rain-fed areas, it is important to follow water conservation practices to bridge the gap between actual and potential crop yields.
Availability of seed with desirable characters such as high yielding variety, resistant to drought, lodging, insect and pests and diseases, to the farmers for the purpose of sowing is necessary. It is important to exploit the biotechnological techniques to introduce genes of desirable characters in the seed to get high yields. The concept of genetically modified food is gaining momentum in developed countries and some developing countries as well. To increase yield per unit area, it is suggested to manage agronomic factors. These include use of quality seed for sowing, preparing fine seedbeds, timely sowing, using recommended seed rate, maintaining adequate moisture in the seedbeds, maintaining plant population, applying irrigation at critical crop growth stages, using balanced amount of fertilizers, eradicating weeds, adopting plant protection measures and timely harvesting.
In order to overcome the food crisis, it is equally important to increase the productivity so as to decrease food prices, generate new employment and stabilize rural wages. Long term solutions are needed for inter-provincial drainage problems. At the same time, the safety of infrastructure (especially barrages) needs to be guaranteed. A better integration between irrigation and agriculture would help the whole system to become more demand driven. It is important to improve land administration system, including computerization of land records and reduction of transaction costs. Though this has been done in recent past it requires more transparency. It would be better if SBP further cuts its interest rates for farmers and improve terms and conditions of debt.
The degradation of land, water, forests and natural ecosystems is pervasive and mostly affects the poor. The situation in Sindh with respect to land use, salinity, degradation of the wetlands, and floods needs special attention. Policies and public programs need to address the incentive structure for sustainable use and mitigation measures.
As such the agriculture sector is at the centre of the national economic policies and has been designated by all the governments as the engine of national economic growth and poverty alleviation. There is a need to encourage investment through corporate involvement in the sector which will definitely increase the crop level both in terms of quality and quantity. There is also an enormous scope to expand output, and also productivity, by increasing the productive efficiency of the relatively inefficient districts.
This can only be done by encouraging investment in rural physical infrastructure, providing efficient and effective institutional support, including agricultural extension, soil survey and testing, inputs quality control service, etc. In short, agriculture continues to grow as a supplier of raw materials to industry as well as market for industrial products. It is contributing substantially to Pakistan's exports earnings. Therefore, any improvement in agriculture will not only help Pakistan's economic growth to raise a faster rate but also benefit a large segment of the country's population.