ACHIEVING FOOD SECURITY
PRODUCTION OF DIFFERENT PRODUCE CAN BE DOUBLED WITHOUT BRINGING ADDITIONAL AREA UNDER CULTIVATION BUT PRUDENT CROP MANAGEMENT
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Aug 6 - 12, 2012
Experts have been saying for long that for preserving Pakistan' security and sovereignty achieving food security is a must, not the lethal arsenals. They say food scarcity was the main factor leading to the disintegration of USSR and not the attack on Afghanistan. This year it has become even more important to focus on agriculture because two leading food producing countries in the world, United States and India are likely to face the worst drought in their history. The downpour this monsoon season in Sindh has been extremely low. There are fears that if India faces water scarcity, it may also cut down the release of water for Pakistan.
It is being said regularly that Pakistan needs to build new and mega size water storage facilities to ensure round the year supply of irrigation of water. It is on record that the country faces deluge after torrential rains or drought like the situation when downpour is less. However, no mega dam has been constructed after the completion of Trabella in 1976. Pakistan was required to add minimum one mega dams in a decade. According to the experts Pakistan should have been busy in constructing the fourth dam in 2012. One also just doesn't find a reason for not initiating the construction of dams in the country; Kalabagh Dam is not the end of this world, especially when a number of other sites have been identified.
Authorities are also accused of not taking proper repair and maintenance of the irrigation system present in the country. The largest man-made irrigation system in the world has been contracted in Pakistan more than half a century ago. The authorities have not only failed in adding new canals and water courses but also failed in maintaining the existing ones. Erosion of lining has given birth to water logging and salinity issues but more importantly waste of available water that often creates drought like situation in the country.
Experts have come up with the consensus that the 3rd World war will be fought for getting control over water resources. Many countries have constructed dams that can store water to meet the need of the people even if there is no rainfall for years. Pakistan faces a strange phenomenon, a drought like situation if there is no rain, but it becomes even more painful when heavy downpour causes devastation, due to the absence of water storage facilities.
Cognizant of emerging water shortage many countries have gone for a 'drip water' system which not only help in water conservation but also ensures water supply for longer durations. It is but obvious that when downpour is inadequate, water level also goes. This year India has allocated extra electricity for the tube-wells, as against this rural population in Pakistan is facing up to 16 hours of electricity out of 24 hour. Therefore, farmers in Pakistan and especially those in Sindh will be worst hit.
Cognizant of the fact that land under cultivation in Pakistan suffers from nutrient deficiency the successive government has primarily been focusing on fertilizer production. At present urea, the country has an installed capacity to produce nearly 7 million tons urea, the most commonly used fertilizer. In fact the country has attained capacity to produce 1.2 million tons of urea. However, the absurd policy being followed by the present government led to the import of 1.2 million tons urea, which has cost the government around Rs50 billion besides eroding highly scarce foreign exchange reserves.
At a recent hearing of the National Assembly subcommittee Managing Director of SNGP informed that 1865mmcfd gas is available in its system while demand is 2600 mmcfd, resulting in a shortfall of 624 mmcfd. He also warned that shortfall would increase to 900 mmcfd in December this year while in January next year 2013 the deficit would increase to approximately 1100 mmcfd. In such a scenario the probability of curtailment of gas to fertilizer and/or mandatory closure for extended period goes up.
Despite import of huge quantity of urea the commodity remains scarce because of smuggling to Afghanistan. Ironically, the authorities have not been able to stop smuggling of urea to Afghanistan. Reportedly, a substantial quantity of CAN is smuggled to Afghanistan because of low preference of Pakistani farmers. The United States often accuses that CAN is used for manufacturing of explosives. There is also pressure on Pakistan to stop its manufacturing immediately. However, the logic beyond comprehension because it is the responsibility of the Nato as well as the Afghan authorities to ensure that CAN is not used in explosive devices.
While the central bank and commercial banks have been working hard to meet the credit demand of farmers, it is often alleged that the policies being followed by the government are anti farmers, mainly because of hike in urea price and interest rate being charged. The other side of the story is that during FY12 financial institutions disbursed credit however the common observation was that the bulk of the funds was used for procuring expensive cars and urban properties. It was also alleged that feudal lords were the main beneficiaries and small farmers got paltry allocations.
Experts have the opinion that output of various crops can be doubled without bringing additional area under cultivation. Farmers have to be told to use seeds of high yielding varieties, apply appropriate dosage of different types of fertilizers, undertake timely spray of pesticides/insecticides and above all use the available water judiciously. A lot of rain water goes directly to sea because the country doesn't have adequate water storage facilities.
Another still grossly ignored problem are the farm to market roads. Every year the government collects billions of rupees as cell from the farmers but no one knows where the money goes. It seems the bulk of the funds deployed goes for maintaining offices, cars and fuel and little is spent on salary of researchers.
It is also on record that nearly one-third of the total agriculture produce (staple food, vegetables and fruits) goes stale before reaching the market because of a lack of modern storage facilities and supply chain management. If this wastage can be contained not only the income of farmers will improve but produce will also be available at competitive prices.