Dec 17 - 23, 2012

Pakistan is a developing country and agriculture is its backbone. Around 65-per cent of the population in this country is living in the rural areas and associated mainly with agriculture activities. Since the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, the contribution of agriculture in country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been declined from 54-per cent to 24.6-per cent, reflecting the inadequacies related to the existing policies and/or the implementation of these policies in the agriculture sector.

Pakistan has a large proportion of soils which is unsuitable for agricultural practices and only 21.2-per cent land is under cultivation. The major factors attributed to effect the land-use include soil salinity, water logging and soil contamination with heavy metals and metalloids, which are thought to have a drastic affect on crop yield and quality; the contaminants are also posing health risks to the environment.

One of major agricultural problem in Pakistan are increasing contamination of agricultural land by irrigation with the sewage water that contains toxic metals; application of pesticides and herbicides. This is affecting the environment in two ways: (i) reducing the area under cultivation, (ii) generating health problems by entering contaminants in the human food chain.

Also, lack of modern knowledge in agriculture sector; conforming to conventional approaches; resistance to adopting a change; negligible practical role of Govt Extension Organisations.

According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2011-12, the agriculture sector is critical for growth, exports, incomes and food security and for industrialisation. It is the second largest sector of economy and contributes about 21-per cent to the GDP, generates productive employment opportunities for 45-per cent of the country's labour force while 60 per cent of the rural population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture sector for their livelihood.

In 2011-12, Pakistan's agriculture grew by 3.1-per cent against the targeted 3.4-per cent. Major crops accounted for 31.9-per cent of the agricultural value-added and experienced a growth of 3.2-per cent in the fiscal year 2011-12.

Agriculture is continuously witnessing a downward trend as it has registered an overall decline of 10-per cent in several major and minor crops during the last few years. Reasons for the decline have been floods in the country during 2010 and heavy rains in Sindh during 2011. Also, lack of research, insufficient funds allocation and lack of encouragement for domestic varieties are among the few major impediments in the development of agriculture. Climate change is becoming a threat for the country. Also, increasing population and decreasing resources may pose a threat for our future generations. Therefore, farmers should implement their knowledge and improve food security through sustainable agriculture. Promotion of sustainable agriculture will not only save environment, but also boost farmers' incomes.

On the other hand, Punjab has exceeded production targets of rice and sugar for FY 2012-13. Punjab produced 3.4 million tons of rice against the target of 3 million tonnes this year. Its sugar mills will produce 4.3 million tonnes of sweetener during the on-going crushing season.

They said that late monsoon rains in August / September greatly helped the two water intensive crops though cotton crop in D.G. Khan, Rajanpur and Rahimyar Khan districts was badly damaged reducing the cotton from 10 million bales to 9.6 million bales.

Experts said that Punjab has achieved 95-per cent wheat sowing target in the rice growing areas of central Punjab and rain fed (barani) areas. However, it is a bit behind the schedule in cotton belt of Southern Punjab for the growers extended cotton picking period due to fair prices or seed cotton. Punjab has set the wheat sowing target at 16.8 million acres to produce 19 million tons or wheat which is the staple food of the nation.

Despite injection of huge subsidies and increase in support prices, the performance of agriculture sector has declined over the past three years and there are apprehensions that it may lead to long-term negative impact on economic growth and prospects of poverty reduction.

Experts told PAGE that developing agriculture as a more diversified and technologically advanced sector required a precise and thorough intervention in policies, which should provide crop insurance and storage facilities and increased investment in infrastructure to address water shortage issues, improve farm-to market roads, energy and value chains through processing and cold storages.

They said the agriculture sector witnessed a persistent decrease in its share in the GDP from 4 per cent in 2008-09 to 1.2per cent in 2010-11. Its growth fell to a record level of 0.6 per cent during financial year 2009-10`. Low productivity, rising seed and fertiliser prices and energy crisis remained major challenges in the agriculture sector over the last three years.

The major crops accounting for 33.4 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 declined to 32.8 per cent of GDP in fiscal year 200910 and further down to 31.8 per cent in 2010-11. Due to persistent problems, the year-on-year growth area under cultivation of cotton, rice and wheat declined to 18 per cent, 13 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively. While wheat and sugarcane production exceeded their targets, the actual year-on-year production under of the major crops of cotton and rice declined in 2010-11 while in 2008-09, three out of four major crops depicted a slow year on-year production rate in rice, sugarcane and wheat.

Official sources said the county had wheat stocks of more than 8.41 million tonnes and there were plans to export one million tonnes from these stocks. Rice production this year is expected at 6.16 million tons which shows an improvement of 28-per cent over last year. Sugarcane production is estimated at 59.5 million tons as compared to 55.3 million tons last year and cotton production is expected to be around 13.6 million bales.

An effective mechanism needs to be adopted to educate farmers and the industry on any development made in agriculture research so that the agriculture sector can benefit from it.