AGRICULTURE: AN OVERVIEW

DR. S.M. ALAM & DR.M.A. KHAN
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
July 18 - 24, 20
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Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan's economy. It is the biggest sector of the economy. Pakistan like many developing countries of the world is faced with the problem of low agricultural productivity. The country is totally dependent on agriculture for the supply of food and fiber. Therefore, it is imperative to increase food and fiber production to cope up not only with ever growing requirements of the country, but for the sake of foreign exchange earnings and to attain self-sufficiency.

Rapid agricultural growth can stimulate and thus sustain the pace of industrial growth, thus setting into motion a mutually reinforcing process of sustained economic growth.

Agricultural sector is usually divided into four main sub-sectors: crops, livestock, forestry, and fisheries. Blessed with abundantly available national resources and favorable climate, Pakistan stands as an ideal place for crop, animal, forestry and fish production.

Agriculture is therefore, the leading sector and backbone of our economy. There are about 65 large and small institutes and over 62 sub-stations, etc. in the country. All research activities undertaken today in the country pertaining to agriculture are carried out by both provinces and federal government. The federal government plays a defined role in policymaking, inter-provincial coordination, and foreign trade of agriculture related materials.

Agriculture continues to be a dominant sector of the economy and it accounts for over 20 percent of the GDP. The sector at present employs over 17 million workers, who represent 44 percent of workforce. About 68 percent of population are living in the rural areas. About 65 percent exports are agro-based. Agricultural production is dominated by grain productions, which directly or indirectly depend on agriculture. Agriculture is very important for Pakistan. It helps the country in the development of economy. Its total area is 7, 96,096 square kilometers and over 70 percent of our total population are living in the rural areas and the major source of their living is agriculture.

Pakistan is the 6th most populous country of the world, with more than 170 million tough, diligent and hardworking people. Flanked by Iran and landlocked Afghanistan in the west, the central Asian Republics and China in the north and India in the south-east, Pakistan can boast of having a significant location advantage with a vast, only partially tapped, potential consumer market.

With one of the highest peaks of the world in the north and vast plains in the south, the country has an unusual diversity of temperatures ranging from subzero level on the mountains in winter to scorching heat in the plains in summer. It provides friendly habitat to exquisite ranges of flora and fauna and a large variety of agricultural crops used for both food and raw materials for industries and for exporting purposes. The total export income is about $20 billion which comes through exporting cotton, textiles, rice, leather items, sports goods, carpets, fruits, handicraft and sea-food. Similarly, the total import expenditure is about $33 billion on industrial equipments, vehicles, iron ore, petroleum, edible oil etc.

The agriculture is exposed to a number of problems including poor yields, marketability of commodities, water shortages, indiscriminate use of pesticides, etc.

The yields of major crops like cereals production have decreased due to variety of reasons. The most significant factors appear to be ecological changes and timely availability of the agricultural inputs including non-availability of high yielding and disease, insect and pest free stock of seed varieties in addition to scarcity of water fit for irrigation.

Textile, sugar and many other industries mainly depend on this sector directly or indirectly for raw materials. It also happens to be the biggest source of foreign exchange.

Pakistan is endowed with one of the best canal irrigation systems of the world. Large varieties of crops are cultivated throughout the year, including wheat, rice, cotton and sugar cane which account for 90 percent of the value-added in major crops. Minor crops including oil seed, pulses and vegetables account for 12.4 percent of the value-added in overall agriculture. The sustainability of agriculture depends on the prudent use of natural resources and careful considerations of environment. Our natural resource base like land and water is under great stress. It is now necessary that cereal production should be increased by at least 40 percent over the next 25 years to meet needs for food, livestock feed and fiber crops.

Similarly, production of all other major food products shall have to be increased to meet the subsequent demand. The per capita agricultural land continues to shrink and land resources are increasingly depleting. The continuing problem of salinity and deforestation has become a menace.

It has been noted that the fertility of good soil is decreasing day by day due to intensive cropping. To maintain the fertility status of soils in order to supply adequate nutrients for plants, application of different fertilizers is recommended by the agriculturist scientists. Like many other parts of the world, salinity and water logging are the major constraints limiting crop production. Of the 22.2 mha of the total cultivable land, 6.62 mha are salt-affected land.

Soil salinity is robbing major crops 25 percent of its potential production. A major part of salt-affected soils are presently cultivated to rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, rape seed and other crops with substantial reduction in yield. In Pakistan, conservation and management of water supplies is crucial as the demand for water continues to rise because of burgeoning population. Pakistan agriculture is predominantly irrigated.

Water is one of the most limiting constraints for agricultural production in Pakistan. Fluctuations in weather conditions, deficient in storage capacity and poor use of available water, culminate in water acting as a major constraint to agricultural growth. A substantial amount of water is also lost annually due to water management inefficiency.

Water losses are estimated to be approximately 25 percent from the canal head to the outlet and another 15 percent from the outlet to the farm gate mainly due to poorly linked canals and watercourses.

The most basic constraint in the development of agriculture in our country is inadequate irrigation supplies, widespread occurrence of water logging and salinity and low level of modern farm inputs. Inadequate water supplies have resulted in low cropping intensities and are moreover responsible for low yield.

The country's major agricultural areas lie within the smooth plains formed naturally by mighty Indus River since time immemorial and its several tributaries such as Kabul, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej, which flow in southwardly directions, finally enter into a single stream and flowing into Arabian Sea near Karachi. However, due to mismanagement of water resources, inadequate drainage systems, poor performance of existing irrigation and drainage systems, the agricultural production is far below its potential. At present, only 16.5 million hectares are under canal irrigation being fed by Tarbella, Mangla and Chashma reservoirs, 22 barrages, 12 inter-river link canals and 48 main canals.

There are two growing seasons of crops in Pakistan: Kharif and Rabi. In Kharif season, mostly rice, cotton, sugarcane, maize, etc. crops are grown, while in Rabi, the crops like wheat and vegetables are grown.

Other crops grown in the country are bajra, jawar, barley, tobacco, sugar beet, guar, pulses, rape seed, mustard, groundnut, linseed, castor seed, onion, garlic, chilies, turmeric, ginger, potato, tomato.

WHEAT: Wheat is a major and most important food crop and a staple food for almost entire population. Wheat occupies a central position among food grains of the country. On an average, each household spends about 17 percent of its total food expenditure on wheat and wheat flour. It contributes 12.5 percent to the value added in the agriculture sector of the economy and accounts for nearly 38 percent of the total cultivated area, 30 percent of the value added by major crops and 76 percent of the total production of food grains.

The most remarkable progress has been made in the improvement of wheat yields during the last few decades. The availability of the irrigation water through canals mainly contribute to the growth and production of wheat. With the advent of 'Green Revolution', national wheat production has increased from four million tons in 1965-66 to over seven million tons in 1968-69, making Pakistan the first developing country in Asia to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat production. During the last 40 years, the new wheat varieties have been regularly evolved by various wheat breeding programs in the country. The Federal Committee on agriculture has estimated that the output of wheat crop is likely to touch 23.421 million tons, which will be sufficient to fulfill the country's requirement during 2008-09. Pakistan stands within the ten wheat producing country in the world.

Wheat is grown on an area of 83.03 million hectares with an average of 2590 kg/ha. However, the yield per hectare is low compared to other wheat producing countries of the world.

There is an urgent need to increase the yield of wheat per acre and that can be increased by the use of high yielding varieties, certified seed, fertilizers in right proportion, pesticides, adequate quantities of water, larger labor, input resulting in better tillage operations, and strictly following the crop calendar. This is only possible when the crop is properly planted, at an optimum time, with an insuring optimum stand, and the required tilling. In addition, when adequate moisture and plant nutrients to sustain vigorous growth are available and when there is no major loss due to weeds competition, disease attacks, or insect infestation. These factors are poor seed bed preparation, late sowing, quality of seed, inadequate and ill-time irrigation, fertilizer, weed competition, insect and disease control, cultural practices, harvesting losses.

Need for additional steps: Increasing the yield per acre is vital if self-sufficiency in wheat is to attained. This can be done only by technological advancement and improved irrigation. Some important measures which could raise yield are: i) Plant breeders should be motivated to develop new high yielding wheat varieties especially those which are fit for late sowing; ii) Production and distribution of certified seed of the existing recommended varieties should be undertaken earnestly on an emergency basis. This is crucial for sustaining momentum and deserves almost attention; iii) Wheat should be sown at proper time; timely and adequate irrigation should be ensured, iv) Fertilizer application in adequate quantities in right proportion and at the right time must be ensured; v) Farmers should be inspired to eliminate weeds from fields.

These measures, if implemented in earnest, could double the yield and make the country not only self-sufficient but also able to export wheat.

The major area of wheat lies in Punjab followed by Sindh. To attain self sufficiency in wheat, Pakistan has all the required basic ingredients such as fertile land, sufficient irrigation water, hard working farmers, certified seed varieties of local and foreign origin and modern technology in abundance, provided these are utilized to full potential, which is only possible, if there is a firm will on the part of the planners. This incentive encourages farmers to apply sufficient amounts of DAP and urea to the field. About 75 percent of wheat are sown in irrigated area and 25 percent in the rain-fed regions.

RICE: Rice is the second most important crop bringing economic prosperity for the growers as well as earning billions of dollars through exports. Pakistan fine rice commonly known as Basmati is world famous and enjoys monopoly in the international market, due to its quality characteristics, strong aroma, slender and long kernel, intermediate amylase content, gelatinization, temperature and high degree of grain elongation on cooking.

However, the grain yield of basmati rice varieties is very low. In order to remain in the international market, we have to further improve the quality as well as yield of basmati varieties. Rice plays a pivotal role in the agro-based and occupies a conspicuous position in agricultural economy of Pakistan.

Rice occupies 11 percent of the country's cropped area and contributes about 17 percent of food grain production. Rice is cultivated over an area of 2.51 million hectares with production of 6.92 m tons as estimated for the year 2008-09. Punjab is the biggest producer of rice in the country and contributes 48 percent to national production. All rice is irrigated and mainly transplanted. On an average, each household in Pakistan spends about 3.8 percent of its total food expenditure on rice and rice flour. The contribution of basmati and coarse rice in rice exports are 54 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

After Thailand, Vietnam, USA, and India, Pakistan is the fifth largest rice-exporting country in the world. Despite the prime position of rice in the national economy and world market, the average yield is low.

COTTON: Cotton and its produce is obtained in the shape of seed cotton and cotton lint. Cotton is the second most important cash crop of our country after wheat, in terms of area and value added. It is a creditable source of valuable foreign exchange for the country with an annual production of nearly 12 million bales. Accounting for over 60 percent of Pakistan's foreign exchange earnings, cotton is the country's most vital economic asset. During 1991, Pakistan ranked third globally after China and USA, in production. The highest yield achieved in Pakistan was 12.28 million bales in 1991-92.

Cotton crop is cultivated in the southern Punjab and Sindh. It brings cash returns to the farmers, supplies raw materials to the textile industry and provides employment in both the rural and the urban areas. Cotton is the major textile fiber used by man. It is also providing livelihood to over five million people at the farm and industry and trade and furnishes raw materials for 1035 ginneries and 445 textile mills and 650 oil expelling units. Cotton is a major summer crop and planted in March/April in Sindh and picking is done in September and in upper Sindh and Punjab, sowing is carried out between May and June, while the picking period extends from October to January. Cotton picking is done entirely by women. The time of sowing is so adjusted that the young seedlings escape the early summer heat as much as possible. The climate of lower Sindh is milder than that of upper Sindh and the Punjab. It is sown on nearly three million hectares, contributing 29 per cent to the value added by major crops, thus, is grown on about 12 per cent of the cropped area which is higher than any other cash crop. Cotton is mostly grown on the alluvial plains of the Indus basin. Cotton is grown on loamy soil, and requires a minimum temperature of 25c and a maximum of 35c.

Cotton needs 5-6 watering, 24 inches from flat fields and 16 for ridge cultivation and 6-7 pesticide sprays depending on the intensity of pest infestation. It competes directly with rice in those areas where both crops can be cultivated. Cotton in combination with winter crops also competes indirectly with sugarcane as the latter occupies land resources round the year. The yield of cotton in the Punjab, which contributes nearly 82 percent in the total production, is ranged from 470 to 602 kg/hectare. A series of virus have significantly lowered the yield, although Pakistan's agricultural scientists have produced virus resistant seeds that have revived the crop.

SUGARCANE: In Pakistan, sugarcane is grown in three soils and climate zones, the tropical Sindh, the sub-tropical Punjab and the temperate Peshawar valley. It is cultivated successfully in tropical area between 25o N and 28o S latitude, mostly around the equator but nowadays it can also be grown well in sub-tropical areas, where summer temperatures favor this crop and irrigation facilities are available. Sugarcane is an important cash crop of Pakistan. It ranks fourth in average cultivation after wheat, rice, and cotton. It is the mainstay of the sugar industry. Sugar industry of Pakistan is second to textiles. Sugarcane is cultivated on an area of over one million hectares during the current fiscal year. It has been observed that area, production and yield per hectare of sugarcane has increased remarkably since the inception of Pakistan, but it is a matter of great concern, that yield per hectare and sugar recovery is very low as compared with other sugarcane growing countries of the world.

Variety is the pre-requisite and major requirement for crop improvement. Sugarcane growers are always interested in the cultivars that offer more tonnage, while miller is more conscious of quality. In general, cultivars to be proffered are those which are high yielding, disease resistant, broad-spectrum adaptability. At present, the total sugar mill in the country are 83 (33 in Sindh, 42 in the Punjab and 8 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

Based on 160 days season, the sugar mills have a total crushing capacity of over 60 million tons of sugarcane capable to produce 4.6 million tons of refined sugar and three millions of molasses. The average production is 46 tons/hectare. Sugar consumption in the country is about 4.2 million tons per annum. The per capita consumption of sugar in the country is about 25 kg.

EDIBLE OIL: Despite the fact that Pakistan is an overwhelming agrarian economy, it is unable to produce edible oil sufficient for domestic requirements and substantial amount of foreign exchange is spent on the import of soybean and palm oil from foreign countries. Per capita consumption of edible oil is 11 kg.

Pakistan is facing a serious shortage of edible oil because its domestic production is far below the demand. Edible oil is produced from cotton, rape seed, mustard, groundnut and sesamum, while sunflower, soybean and safflower are recent introductions.

TEA: The Pakistan National Research Council had established the National Tea Research Institute (NTRI) in 1970 to lead the country towards self-sufficiency in tea production and to reduce the import bill. Sources said that despite favorable climate and availability of fertile land in different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining tribal areas 1.350 acres were brought under tea cultivation during the last three decades. Figures showed Pakistan imports more than 150,000 tons of tea every year and its requirement. A huge quantity of tea is smuggled from land and sea routes into the country.

Giving a breakdown of the cultivation area, official said that NTRI had cultivated tea over 360 acres, a private organization had brought 900 acres under cultivation and the KPK had carried out tea plantation over 100 acres in Mansehra and Swat districts.

FORESTRY: Forest area constitutes a meager 4.8 percent (3.81 million hectares ) of the total land area of 79,61 mh. A desired level of 22 to 25 percent is considered to be essential for economic growth of a country as suggested by the United Nations. The forest sector despite its small size makes its presence felt by employing half a million people, supporting 30 million herds of livestock, conserving soil, regulating water flow for irrigation and power generation, reducing sedimentation, maintaining ecological balance, providing 3.7 million cubic meters of wood and one third of the nations energy requirements. There is a great need for increasing forests to meet the growing requirement of firewood, timber, which provide vital coverage to the country's watersheds and regulate the supply of water in the rivers. Pakistan's forests are a valuable basic natural resource, which provides food, fodder, forage for cattle, fuel wood, timber wood for building and other materials, and medicinal plants. They provide shelter and protection and are a source of income and employment. Forests play a crucial role in the protection of the environment and provide oxygen to the air. Forestry as it exists today in Pakistan is generally characterized by lack of adequate area under forests, very low per capita consumption of wood, and use of out-dated forest technology in planting and harvesting operations.

LIVESTOCK: Livestock is the second important sector of agriculture. The share of livestock in agriculture increased from 30 to 48 percent. Currently, by supporting agriculture, the livestock sector contributes about 49 percent to the GDP. Within rural households, livestock activities generate additional income for households, in which nearly 35-40 million people in rural areas are involved in this sector. Production of poultry has also accelerated in recent years with almost every rural family and in every 5 urban families being involved in poultry production activities. The most important livestock in the country are buffalo, cattle, sheep, goat, camel. Donkey, horse, cow, hare, ass, mule, and poultry. Livestock provides draught power, manure to farming system and milk products to households. Livestock being one of the important sub-sectors of agriculture assume a pivotal position in the whole economy strategy of Pakistan. It covers about 38 percent of the agricultural value added and in providing directly or indirectly employment to about 50 percent of the population and 8.3 percent to GDP.

Besides, being a source of milk, beef, mutton, meet, and eggs, wool, bone, fat and blood, livestock provides industrial raw materials.

The major buffaloe breeds are Nili-Ravi and Kundi, while Sahiwal, and Red Sindhi are the dominant milk breeders. Bhagnari and Dajal are heavy breeds. Dhani and Lohani are medium, Rohani and Rojan are light breeds, while Thari is a dual breed both for milk and draught purposes. In the year 2008, the domestic livestock population is estimated at 24.8 million buffaloes: 23.3 million cattle, 24.6 million sheep, 52.8 million goats, 0.8 million camels, 0.32 million horses, 0.2 million mules, four million donkeys and 184.6 million poultry. It is evident from the above discussion that there has been a significant increase in livestock products such as milk, beef, mutton, poultry meat and eggs.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: Pakistan experiences different climatic conditions in its different regions, which provide it with a unique opportunity of growing fruits and vegetables all year round. Each region of Pakistan is adept at growing particular kinds of fruits. The horticultural sector has the potential of contributing significantly to the income of farmers and export incomes. A different kind of fruits are grown in the country, i.e. citrus, mango, banana, apple, guava, apricot, peach, pears, plums, grapes, pomegranate, dates, almonds etc.

Citrus is a prized fruit and holds number one position among all fruits both in production and export. The vegetables grown in the country are lady finger, carrot, radish, onion, tomato, potato, garlic, cauliflower, brinjal, peas, beans, cucumber, turnip, pumpkin, green chilies, ball pepper, snake melon, ginger, cabbage, spinach, kulfa, turnip etc.

FISHERIES: The fishery sector contributes a small percentage to GDP, but a large per cent to the export sector through its exports of shrimp and fish. Fish and fishery products are exported to Japan, the USA, Middle East, Sri Lanka, China etc.

Fish is an important source of protein and income through export, and employment. The total number of persons engaged in fisheries during 2008-09 is estimated at 495,000 persons engaged in the marine sector and 270,000 in inland fisheries. It has been reported that in Balochistan coastal area the catch is lower than the coast of Sindh. Balochistan's share in the total output with a 770 km long fishing area was around 130,000-150,000 tons. A large portion of fish catch is processed in various forms. The methods are freezing, canning and reductions to fishmeal. Almost all the frozen and canned fishery products are exported, while only about 25 percent processed fish meal is exported and remaining is consumed locally in the manufacture of poultry feed and other edible items. Similarly, about 45 percent of the total fish productions are utilized in the production to fishmeal and 35 percent marketed as fresh fish and for local consumption. Pakistan consists of the Indus watershed system, dams, barrages, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, canal, and disused canals. The names of some important fishing crafts used in catching fish from marine land and inland waters are sail boats, rowboats, mechanical-cum-sail boats, trawlers, and gill-netters. The inland fish industry is facing the problem of fish seed production in the hatcheries, research and developments.

CONCLUSION: The general problems associated with agriculture in Pakistan are scarcity of water, floods, water logging, alkalinity, soil erosion, low yield per unit area, low yield per acre unit and traditional and old methods of cultivation, quality of inputs, and pests and disease attacks. There is an immense need to bring an improvement by strengthening the research programs for the best utilization of the existing resources. Research programs should include evolution of high yielding varieties showing maximum potential for various climatic and soil conditions. New varieties may be evolved which should be fertilizer responsive, and can grow well under right moisture supply conditions and are resistant to pests and diseases. All these parameters determine that Pakistan is an agricultural country and agriculture should play a predominant role in future to meet rapidly increasing local food demand and to increase foreign exchange earnings by agricultural commodities export.