The magnanimity of the agricultural problems in Pakistan has undoubtedly crippled the economy. In 1947, agriculture’s contribution of GDP was 53% that has shrunken down to 21% last year. Pakistan has great agricultural potential because of its alluvial soils. However, it is producing almost 50% below its potential. Neighboring India and Bangladesh have shown significant improvement in their agriculture sector, unlike Pakistan. Where China is growing padi crops in Gobi desert, Pakistan is still relying on perennial canal system of irrigation. Let us make an attempt to study the agricultural profile of Pakistan followed by a brief discussion on problems in this sector.
Almost 90% to 97% of showers in Pakistan are received during the summer monsoon season. Very few showers are received during winters. Droughts and floods formulate a permanent feature of the area. Pakistan receives seasonal showers due to which most of the agricultural land must be irrigated and agricultural output is largely affected by climatic variations and global warming.
The total land area of Pakistan is 96.9% and 3.1% is constituted of water bodies. Total cropped area of Pakistan is 23.04 million hectors. 90% of the land is irrigated and only the remaining 10% is rain-fed. In Pakistan, Intensive Subsistence Farming is largely practiced Use of fertilizers and pesticides; and techniques of crop rotation are practiced widely in order to have larger yield. Among major crops of the country, there is wet padi and wheat. Cash crops include cotton, sugarcane, maize, jute, tobacco, citrus fruits, mangoes etc. Almost 44% of the labor is involved in it and almost 64.5% of the population is still rural in nature. Due to 2010 floods, agriculture sector showed an overall growth of 1.2% whereas major crops showed negative growth of 4% during the year 2010 – 2011.
Quite unfortunately, network of water channels existing in Pakistan has become redundant. Perennial canal system of irrigation, when formed, was a very efficient in 1960’s. But today, Pakistan is deprived of the modern ways of irrigation that is drip and sprinkle irrigation. A huge amount of water is lost due to seepage and evaporation. Moreover, due to problem of distribution of water in fields, farmers do not practice the standard water required in fields. Thus, this leads to mismanagement of water.
In Pakistan, construction of water reservoirs has become a matter of political tussle. Due to which construction of dams has been in halt since last major project of Terbela. Indus Basin Treaty 1960 has failed to stop India from constructing water reservoirs on the channels flowing to Pakistan. However, Pakistan consistently failed to establish its view point on international forums. The present canal water is not effectively used in our irrigation system. 25% – 35% losses of water are recorded out of total applied to fields. Out of 142 MAF, total quantum of water available to crops is only 42 MAF. Due to shortage of canal water farmers have to use tube well water. This water is brackish and having higher concentration of different salts and enhances the problem of soil salinity.
Less than 4% of land in Pakistan is forested and the rate of deforestation is around 3%. From northern highlands to the coastline of Karachi, Pakistan has a diverse range of forests from coniferous to mangroves respectively. However, deforestation is the result of increased and unplanned urbanization. Therefore, expanding urban units grow at the cost of trees. This is not only causing environmental hazards, but also accentuating the impacts of global warming.
Absence of Land Reforms
During Ayub’s era, first-time land reforms was practiced. Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced more reforms in 1972. The Law Reforms Act 1977 was also enforced by Bhutto’s regime. The most important change was that individual holding, including shares in shamilat, if any, in excess of 100 acres of irrigated land or 200 acres of un-irrigated land. Furthermore, notwithstanding the above, no land holding could be greater than an area equivalent to 8,000 PIU. However, these laws were declared in contradiction to Islam and have ceased to be in effect since 1990. Thus, the absence of land reforms has always caused a lot of damage to the agricultural sector of Pakistan.
Salinity and waterlogging
Due to excessive use of canal water, most of the cultivated lands have become victims of these two dangerous diseases. Every year, salinity alone is turning about 100,000 acres of arable land into marches and salt lands. Water-logging is no less injurious. About 25% of the irrigated area of Pakistan is affected by waterlogging and salinity problems.
Lack of R&D and neglect in education & training of farmers
There are only five universities in Pakistan and around 15 research centers related to agriculture. Research conducted, techniques taught and skills imparted in these institutions rarely reach at the level of small farmers. Farmers need to know how to make optimum use of land. How to use fertilizers and pesticides and what amount of water is exactly useful and necessary for any crop. Techniques to fight waterlogging, old irrigation system and low yield must also be learned. For instance, if take an example of using fertilizers in Pakistan, per hector usage of NPK is 170 kg, but the recommended is 300 kg per hector. Hence, in fertilizer application problem is poor nutrition application and incorrect fertilizer case. Lack of management on the part of the farmer is a huge problem.
International compulsions & inconsistent government policies
Pakistan fell back into the clutches of IMF after the change of regime back in 2008. Since then IMF has told Pakistan to reduce agricultural subsidies and impose agriculture tax. Therefore, Pakistan fails to practice a long-term policy whether of flexible loans, subsidies or of agriculture tax. Moreover, Pakistan is a WTO signatory as well; therefore, she has to follow those compulsions as well. In the wake of these challenges of international nature, farmer of Pakistan that is illiterate, less equipped, under trained and technologically poor can only rely on policies of government to protect and grow them. Therefore, weak and inconsistent policies of consecutive governments in Pakistan have caused serious problems to Pakistan’s agriculture sector.
Lack of accountability
The marketing facilities for agricultural products in Pakistan are still far from a satisfactory level. Our cultivators cannot get just prices for their produce due to defective marketing organization. Moreover, the chain of middlemen between the producers and ultimate consumers take a heavy share of their produce .Thus the cultivators do not take much real interest in increasing their product too. Hoarding and smuggling has become a culture. Creating farce crisis and causing price hike has become a routine matter. That benefits only middlemen; both producer and consumer suffer badly due to this. Lack of proper check and balance and accountability is a fundamental feature of lack of good governance in Pakistan. This is also affecting agriculture sector as well.
The agricultural activities are to be performed in rural areas, but most of the villages in Pakistan have no road or railway links with markets. So, farmers have to face innumerable hardships to sell their products. Pakistan is also facing grain storage problems at large scale throughout the country. The people often store their grains in godowns, which cause time to time damage to the seed. Thus, hundreds of thousands of tones of crops have to be stored in temporary facilities that afforded inadequate protection and pilferage. The hazards may occur because of improper ventilation, lack of control over temperature and humidity, high moisture content in seeds, lack of control over rain due to broken walls, floors and ceilings, spoil and un-cleaned godowns, lack of spray and fumigation etc. That results in increased number of dormant seeds, sprouting and rotting, increase of insect damage and bird contamination.
Pakistan is a cluster of more than 170 million people. Though Pakistan is the most urbanized country in South Asia, yet it is an agrarian economy. Fluctuating policies, the influx of MNCs and private sector have forced the rural labor to find better economic opportunities in urban centers. But unfortunately, they have added to the poverty only. Pakistan is suffering from energy and water shortage and food inflation has been touching double figures. Realizing these ground realities Pakistan needs to look seriously into its agricultural problems. 2010 floods played havoc with the agricultural lands. Changing climatic conditions; rise in temperature and changing patterns of rainfall are also adding to the agricultural problems. No matter how long-lived and deep-rooted are the problems of agriculture in Pakistan, they can be solved with due deliberation into them.
The report was published in 15th September, 2018 edition of The Daily Patriot. A leading English newspaper in Pakistan.