MAKING AGRICULTURE PRODUCE COMPETITIVE
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Aug 1 - 7, 2011
Crop yields in Pakistan are far below the world average and even those achieved in India. The economic managers are fully cognizant of the factors responsible for low production and productivity but little is done to overcome these issues.
Though experts have been highlighting the need for achieving food security, yet the measures taken have failed in yielding desired results.
It was only recently that Pakistan achieved self sufficiency in wheat but continues to suffer from highly inadequate production of sugarcane, cotton and edible oils.
Some of the experts attribute low productivity to small landholding and the biggest hurdle in mechanized farming. Two land reforms were introduced in the country and with the passage of time, the holdings have become highly fragmented. They also say that the country now needs consolidation of smallholdings. They are also soliciting corporate farming because under the laws of the land no individual can hold more than specified acreage.
The issue can be overcome by forming private and/or public limited companies, which will be entitled to acquire hundreds of acres of land. The feudal lords, who are afraid of fair market competition, oppose this proposal.
Limited availability of certified seed, cultivation of varieties susceptible to virus/pesticides attacks not only affects output of infected farm but also becomes responsible for spreading the attack. Only government can be held responsible for the prevailing state of affairs. Though some of the companies claim to market certified seeds the ground realities are contrary.
Experts say that after every bumper crop the country face acute shortage. Lately, cotton crop used to suffer from a variety of viral and pest attacks. At that time, it was also alleged that the imported seeds mostly created the havoc. Some of then cynics said that some of the countries just do not like another country becoming their competitor and selling genetically modified seeds are part of their bio-chemical war tactics.
Ironically, developing countries don't have the capacity to prove this point but there is an overwhelming consensus on it.
Cultivable land in Pakistan is highly deficient in nutrients, which could be attributed to absence of crop rotation and use of improper dosage of nutrients. It is a fact that lands are deficient in nitrogenous content but often its use exceeds required dosage. Over application of urea not only affects yield of various crops but also contaminates subsoil water. The reason for this malpractice is high price of DAP, particular with reference to wheat. A common fallacy among the farmers is that over application of urea can compensate lower dosage of DAP. One of the suggestions is that the government should pay subsidy on DAP rather urea.
Acute shortage of water is attributed to rampant pilferage by the feudal lords, choked watercourses, and excessive seepage due to improper lining of watercourses.
Seepage is said to be the main cause of water logging and salinity eroding cultivable land at a very fast rate. Though every year billions of rupees are allocated for the cleaning and improvement of watercourses, the condition has gone from bad to worse due to massive corruption in the concerned departments.
The government initiated right bank outfall drain (RBOD) and left bank outfall drain (LBOD) programs. However, the general perception is that these programs are causing more damage than rectifying the problem. Dumping of saline water into Indus river and canals is polluting surface water.
Worst example of this policy is the precarious state of Manchar Lake. It used to be among some of the largest sweet water lakes of the world, which has reduced to highly poisonous pit. This has happened because WAPDA decided to dump saline water into the lake.
Sindh government has been asking the federation to stop this but discharge of saline water into the lake is still going on. Another link canal has been constructed to dump lake water into Indus river. Sindh has also objected the project and termed it anti people because it is polluting Indus water and also destroying the ecosystem down stream Kotri.
The country has not been able to build another mega size dam after Tarbella, completed in 1976. At the best, efforts have been made to raise the storage capacity of Tarbella and Mangla to overcome the accumulating silt issue. It was decided in fifties that one dam will be completed in ten years. Mangla was completed in 1967 and Tarbella in 1976 but no dam has been constructed in last more than 35 years. The storage capacity of booth the dams is on the decline due to accumulation of silt, a natural phenomenon.
While India is constructing both small and mega size dams, Pakistan has remained mostly indifferent because of no realization of the adverse impact of Indian strategy. Once India gets the full control on water flowing to Pakistan it can cause extreme floods as well as drought in Pakistan by controlling the discharge. Most of the projects are being constructed in gross violation of Indus Water Treaty signed between the two countries in sixties. It is still not too late Pakistan should assert its rights and stop India from construction of dams in gross violation of the treaty. Pakistani economic managers must not forget that the Third World War will be fought on water.