Challenges Faced By Pakistan’s Agriculture Sector
By Maheen Taraq
The economy of Pakistan depends heavily on agriculture. Importance of this sector is manifold as it feeds people, provides raw material for industry and is the base of our foreign trade. Foreign exchange earned from merchandise exports is 45% of total exports of Pakistan. It contributes 26% of GDP and 52% of the total populace is getting its livelihood from it. 67.5% people are living in the rural areas of Pakistan and are directly involved in it. There are two main crops in Pakistan i.e. Rabi & Kharif. Main crops of Pakistan are wheat, rice, maize, cotton and sugar cane.
These major crops contributed 7.7% last year. Minor crops are canola, onions, mangoes and pulses which contributed 3.6% as there was no virus attack last year. Fishery and Forestry contributes 16.6% and 8.8% respectively.
Though the agricultural sector is facing problems in Pakistan yet the major chunk of money comes from this sector. Let us shed some light on the problems of the agricultural sector of Pakistan of agricultural problems in Pakistan growth or development in Pakistan.
One being no mechanism has been adopted to eradicate the soil erosion and even after harvesting nothing is done to restore the soil energy. Therefore, the fertility of soil is decreasing day by day. The thickness of fertile layer of soil in Pakistan is more than 6 inches but the average yield is lower than other countries where the layer of fertile soil is only 4 inches.
Water in Pakistan’s rivers has gone down to perilously low levels. The reason for this is not just lack of rains. India is restricting water flow of rivers that originate from her and then flow into Pakistan, especially the Indus, Chenab and Jhelum rivers that pass through Indian held Kashmir. Pakistan has raised objections to Indian water projects, but a World Bank-appointed and supposedly “neutral” expert rejected most of the Pakistani objections, while also advising India to make some changes to the dam’s height. Pakistani commentators, pressure groups and leaders are convinced that India is controlling the river waters to strangulate Pakistan’s agriculture, which would definitely affect Pakistani exports and increase its dependency on food imports.
Despite being the fifth richest country in water resources , Pakistan is estimated to be losing 13 million cusecs [approximately 368,119 cubic meters/second] of water every year from its rivers into the sea, as it does not have enough reservoirs or dams to store water. The archaic method of flood irrigation is still in practice in whole of the country which wastes almost 50 to 60 percent of water. A new irrigation system called drip irrigation system has been introduced in many parts of the world. This not only saves water but also gives proper quantity of water according to the needs of plants. However, this system is yet to implemented in our country if we are to maximize our water utility.
Furthermore, owing to traditional methods of cultivation and harvesting, Pakistan has low yield per acre that means the average crop in Pakistan is just 1/4th of that of advanced states. Where as Nepal, India and Bangladesh are using modern scientific methods to increase their yield per acre. For this purpose, these states are using modern machines to improve their yield. Also, the small farmers are increasing in our country as the lands are dividing generation by generation. So, there are large number of farmers who own only 4 acres of land. These small farmers do not get credit facilities to purchase seeds, pesticides, fertilizers etc. Additionally, a large portion of land is owned by feudal and the farmers who work on their lands, are just tenants. This uncertain situation of occupancy neither creates incentive of work hard nor attracts capital investment.
On the other hand, water logging and salinity are increasing day by day. No effective measures have been taken to control it. The storage capacity of the dams is decreasing due to layers of mud accumulating at their basin so is the water availability per acre. Therefore, the farmers are installing more and more tube wells to irrigate their crops. This is why salinity is becoming a major issue in most parts of Punjab and Sindh.
As the usual focus is more on land, crops and yield problems, the man behind the plough is always ignored. While formulating the 5 or 10 years plan, no emphasize has been laid on the importance of solving the problems of farmers. As most of the farmers are illiterate, poor and ignorant, even the loans issued by ADBP or other banks are used by them in other fields like repayment of debts, marriage of daughters etc, in spite of its befitting use in agricultural sector.
Pakistan is rich in fertile land but this gift of good is being wasted. 79.6% million hectors of land is cultivated, where as only 20.43% million hectors is cultivated. There are two main reasons for that.
1. A major area is owned by feudals. It is difficult to manage such a huge area so only that part is cultivated which is easy to manage, the rest is left uncultivated.
2. The rise of industrialization has given threat to this sector. People are migrating to cities and cities are expanding, thus new towns and colonies are constructed on fertile lands.
Monopoly of Foreign Companies:
Along with these issues, the monopoly of Foreign Big Wigs and false policies of government must not be ignored.The pesticides companies are sorting partnership with “World Bank”. These companies are selling adulterated and expensive pesticides to poor farmers thus leaving them helpless. These pesticides are not only hazardous for health but also filling the pockets of companies. By moving according to the world bank these companies are gaining their own aims. Moreover there is a conflict of interests. It is not ensured that either the company conducting the agreement is basically trying to get access to international market or just working according to their aims.
Genetically Engineered Seeds:
91% of genetically engineered (GE) seeds are made and owned by one US Company called Monsanto. A vast majority of consumers around the world is against GE foods and crop as GE has been associated with health risks, loss of biodiversity, increased use of toxic weed killers and other environmental problems. 85% of GE crops are concentrated in just 3 countries i-e United States, Argentina and Canada. Globally G.E crops cover less than 1% of arable land.
Farmers around the world have experienced problems with Monsanto’s BT cotton. Pakistan has asked Monsanto to provide cotton seeds which consume less water as Pakistan is facing a grave issue of water shortage. It is a notorious organization that took the farmers to courts many times as it did not give ownership right to farmers to preserve seeds. Even the seed of harvested crop cannot be used again for cultivation. Monopoly of Monsanto is clear when it is selling seed at RS 1700 per kg to Pakistan and RS 700 per kg to India .
Non-comprehensive Policies of Pakistan:
18 billion in budget was allocated for agricultural sector of Pakistan but the withdrawal of subsidy on pesticides and electricity on the conditions of IMF has done considerable damage to this sector. Whereas America and European Union are giving a huge amount of subsidy to their farmers and that is a greatest hurdle in the implementation of W.T.O rules. Additionally, price policy is very weak. In Punjab sugar cane is sold 200 Rs. per 40 kilograms. It is purchased and then stocked by the Industrialists in their stores. When Brazil bought sugarcane from International Market and prices became high, the projected high demand gave Pakistani sugar mills owners a golden chance of selling sugar at high prices, resulting in Pakistan facing a severe sugar crisis. This forced Pakistan to import Sugar at high prices therefore, the prices of sugar went even higher in local markets.
In order to resolve our agricultural issues, each and every problem should be looked upon thoroughly and dealt with some concrete measures. First of all, feudalism should be abolished and lands should be allotted to poor farmers. This will not only enhance the performance of the farmers but also increase the productivity and per acre yield of all the crops in Pakistan. Taxes should be levied on agricultural income but not without devising a limit of land holding. Otherwise it would directly effect poor farmers.
Lack of guidance is the main reason for the farmers’ backwardness . As the only means of communication in rural areas is T.V or radio so it is urgently needed on the part of these mass communication resources to air the programmes and run ads related to the new agricultural techniques and scientific methods. But these programmes should be telecast in regional or local languages. Moreover, refresher courses should be arranged by government to equip the farmers with the latest techniques and methods in use. The communication gap between well qualified experts and simple farmers have not been bridged. Availability of these experts is not ensured in rural areas as they are reluctant to go there.
Moreover, Federal Seed Certification and Federal Seed Registration is approved but it should take responsible steps in approving seeds as it has already approved 36 new kinds of seeds. Those seeds which can create pest problem in future, should be banned. These seeds are of cotton mainly. International seed makers are providing those seeds which are not successful in our country as these seeds are not tested on our soil. A new Agricultural policy must be framed in which following steps should be focused on.
1. Small farmers must be focused. The major problems of small farmers should be solved first.
2. Provision of latest machinery , pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers to such farmers must be ensured at subsidised prices.
3. Consumer friendly policies must be formulated e.g they must be provided with accessible loans from banks.
4. Productivity enhancement programs must be constituted to adjust and support prices.
5. Different Agricultural zones should be introduced. As Multan is famous for its Mangoes and citrus fruits so it must be made Mango, citrus zone through which perishable products should be exported. Pakistan Agricultural storage & Services.
6. Corporation needs to take steps in this regard.
7. Corporate farming like giving lands to Mitchells, Nestle and Multinational companies is also a good idea that will also help those who own a large area of fertile land but can’t manage it.
8. Surplus vegetables and fruits must be exported. A scheme worth Rs.39 million has been approved for the current fiscal year for establishment of agro export processing zone for fruits, vegetables and flowers. This will also help in commercializing agriculture.
9. Latest machinery should be provided to the farmers at considerable prices to increase the per acre yield. This provision should be on easy installments so that the farmers can avoid the burden of loans. Subsidies should be given by the government for modern machinery.
The irrigation system of Pakistan also needs improvement as about 67% of the land is irrigated with canals. The employment of modern techniques of irrigation can solve the problems of irrigation in Pakistan. This includes drip irrigation and sprinkle irrigation methods. By using these techniques the farmers can save a huge chunk some of money which they pay for irrigation through tube wells and tractors.
Unless some rigidity and seriousness is not shown, India- Pakistan water issues may not be resolved .Thus, a mass movement must be called for to pressurise India to give up its claim on Pakistan’s water. Moreover, the government must embark on a crash program to build small dams which will play a vital role in improving the land’s fertlity, thereby increasing our per acre yirld. The rivers which are ideal for dam construction are : Indus, Jehlum and Chenab rivers. This will not only enhance the storage capacity of water and reduce the per acre cost of all the crops; but will also reduce the salinity chances of the land as less tubewell water will be flooded to the lands which cause salinity. Hence, it is not until proper attention and corrective measures are taken by both the public and private sector , that our agricultural yield may get improved and the agrarian issues may get resolved.