Challenges & Dynamics of Agriculture in Pakistan By Asif Sharif

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Necessary Interventions
not much has been done in the past, except for pushing agriculture sector off the cliff. Each area requires radical and disruptive change for our survival and sustainability of future generations.

This region, Punjab in particular, remained food surplus, a reason for so many invasions. We are still food surplus, except for some items, due to bad management. Our future depends on producing exportable surpluses to bridge the trade deficit and stability of farm produce prices.

Import substitution, production of industrial raw materials and to stabilise supplies & prices are the additional requirements.

Some of the areas which need immediate intervention are mentioned below:

Wheat: according to the calculations of Punjab Government, production cost of wheat averages at Rs.1,160 per mound which can be dropped to less than Rs.400. With change in production process we can increase farmers profitability while serve downtrodden with low cost basic food item and Government can offload wheat procurement burden. Further certified natural/organic produce will fetch over US $600 per tone in the international market as against average of $200 for conventional.

Rice: Three to five thousand litters of fresh water is wasted (over 95%) to produce one kilogram of rice grain. Rice plant need as much water as it evaporate from leaves, water that is not passing through the plant goes waste while damage the soil and environment. Production system needs to be changed to produce better quality at a lower cost without damaging climate.

Sugar: Cat & mouse situation prevails between producer and processor. The real issue is never discussed and resolved, that is higher cost of sugarcane production and lower sugar content/recovery. If cost of production is reduced and sugar content is increased, farmers will become profitable so do the processors. With process intervention, we can produce higher sugar content sugarcane, with as little water as a wheat crop, at less than Rs.50 per mound. This is the ultimate solution for farmers, processors and consumers.

Cotton: we were exporters of cotton, now we import. Blame is on the quality of seed. As mentioned earlier, seed is just a potential. Question is ‘Are we able to exploit full potential of the available seed varieties’? The answer is big NO. Issue is a poor production practices, which heavily rely on intensive application of purchased inputs (mechanical power, fertilizers & poisons) for soil fertility and pest & disease management. We can increase production with Paradoxical Agriculture at a reduced cost. There is a big demand for organic cotton and its made-ups, we can target this market to earn foreign exchange in manifolds.

Oil seeds and edible oil: we are major importers of oilseeds, animal meal and edible oil. Decline in cotton production increased lint import and decreased local production of cottonseed oil. There is no other major crop which is profitable and can offset imports due to lower yield because of short spring & autumn seasons. Obsolete production practices further makes it unviable. We can bridge the gaps by introducing multi cropping system and promoting peanut crop in rain-feed Pothohar and other regions.

Garlic, Ginger, Onion: large quantities are being imported either from China or Thailand. We can substitute imports with local production and produce exportable surpluses.

Fruits & vegetables: are in major crisis due to bad production management practices. Cost of production is high, yields are low and quality very poor. Little export is to the low grade markets. We can increase yield, lower cost of production and improve certified quality to export to the high end markets.

Seed: heirloom open pollinated seed banks should be encouraged and developed. We have good indigenous seeds those can compete with hybrids/GMO’s, for high quality and nutrition dense eatables.

Water scarcity: we are water surplus, all we need to do is on-farm-water management to reduce wastages and as such demand for water.

Climate: there are two points which should be considered:

Major cause of climate devastation is bad agriculture practices. Soil contain three times more CO2 than there is in the atmosphere, which we have/are releasing with soil disturbances through ploughing
Comparing with trees, crop plants absorb more CO2 because of higher leaf surface area, we release CO2 with ploughing. PA farming practice will address this issue

Another issue is excessive water in the atmosphere due to lower water absorption capacity of soil. Paradoxical Agriculture is the overall solution.

Jobs and income creation at grassroots level: knowing how to read and write is no more bread earner. We need to skill youth with skills-to-earn a decent living. Agriculture is the biggest production area and can absorb most of the young population if properly motivated and trained. Hundreds of new job avenues can be opened without much investment.

One acre prosperity: majority of farm land is divided due to inheritance law. These small scale farmers have conventional knowledge and inadequate resources to make a living. This category looks towards Governments for health, education, jobs and other facilitations. We can train them to earn sufficiently from an acre of land for sustainable living of any household.