Neglected agriculture engineering

No to agri-engineering?
Investment in latest technologies used in the 
agriculture sector can substantially increase the produce in KP
By Tahir Ali

The engineering sub-sector of agriculture in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is faced with various snags which are hindering farm mechanisation in the province.

A senior official of the Agriculture Engineering Department (AED) said that meagre funds allocations, fragmentation of land holding by division, higher rates of agricultural machinery in the market, lack of awareness in farmers, policy blues and poor control on inflation and machinery prices have checked farmers from adopting farm mechanisation.

Farmers, however, also say that government’s indifference, low annual funds utilisation ratio, lack of coordination between the public and private sector and illiteracy and poverty of farmers and shortage of machinery pools, staff and offices at the grassroot level are rendering farm mechanisation a distant dream.

Though AED’s share in the budget has been increased to 0.38 percent of total provincial ADP this year from 0.19 percent in last year with its allocation jumping to Rs0.37bn this year from Rs0.16bn in last fiscal, it’s still way short of the requirements of the sector.

With present meagre allocations, agriculture mechanisation is impossible. While the government is either disinclined or incapable to give the required resources to the department, the private sector too has neglected the vital sector in its investment priorities.

Low priorities of investment in agriculture sector both on part of the government and farmers have led to a perpetual state of subsistence farming.

The AED needs plenty of bulldozers to prepare more soil for cultivation as the already scarce under cultivation land in KP is fast decreasing for urbanisation and soil erosion.

For this sufficient funds are required. But the provincial government continues to allocate meagre funds to the vital sector. Donor agencies, therefore, should come forward and help provide the machinery.

The AED was disbanded in the province in the Musharraf regime and its bulldozers, etc, were handed over to the department of Agriculture Extension. “The AED was reinstated a few years ago. It got back its bulldozers but in pathetic condition”, said an official who didn’t want to be named.

“The department is utilising over 22 years’ old outlived machinery that needs immediate replacement. We have only 30 bulldozers in workable condition while another 15 are non-functional, though repairable. There are 7 machinery stores in KP, one each at divisional level and most districts of the province have no such facility.

And the machinery there is outdated, not replaced since 1992. The federal government had in 2009 promised to provide 100 bulldozers to the province under a project but the promise wasn’t met,” he added. 

Even today, only 9 off the 25 districts in KP have seeds grading plants and the rest still remain deprived of these facilities.

According to the official, the government will procure 25 bulldozers this year for reclamation of land in KP. “Its tender was floated last year but no responsive parties turned up. Tenders are now being issued again and bulldozers will be in our hands at the end of this fiscal year hopefully. These will help reclaim 10000 hectares of land annually.”

Only about 20 per cent farmers use modern agriculture technology. This is because either most have no money to buy and, if they have, no knowledge or inclination to use the modern farming techniques and services.

But the official said the current year ADP has several good schemes for the sector. “The government will also install 3 power winches which will be utilised for installation of tube wells. Besides, the construction of agriculture engineering workshop in Mardan will also be completed. Work on the installation of 500 dug wells (2009-12) in water scarce areas of KP will hopefully complete by the end of this fiscal year. Another project for small farmers land development worth Rs100mn also continues,” he added.

According to the ADP document, only Rs15mn could be spent by June last on the land development scheme and the throw forward amount will be Rs69mn beyond this fiscal year.

Low funds utilisation and delay in completion of the projects is another problem. In all, Rs1.19bn of total agriculture ADP of Rs1.35bn could be utilized last fiscal. Most of the schemes of the AED from last fiscal were throw-forwarded to this year.

For example the installation of dug wells began in 2009 but still continues. Similarly, the land development scheme was launched in 2010 but is far from completion as yet. The delay increases the cost of the projects besides depriving the farmers of the benefits of the projects.

Insufficient staff is yet another problem. The number of officials of the department, according to the official, was 1500 a decade ago which has decreased since then as different offices and posts were given up in downsising initiative.

AED has great significance as it provides machinery to farmers for reclamation of cultivable wasteland and addition of cultivable land that enhances agricultural produce. It also helps exploit the surface and sub-surface water resources for irrigation by use of machinery. It also provides free of cost counselling services on the farm mechanisation related problems. And it intermittently helps the government in calamities like earth-quake and floods, etc, by offering the heavy machinery lying in its machinery pool.

According to an estimate, each year 0.1mh of irrigated and 0.28mh sof rain-fed lands is feared lost to soil erosion in KP, FATA and PATA. Another 3.9mh of non-arable land is also threatened by it.

Lands in rain-fed areas in southern parts of the province, Charsadda, Mardan and most of those in the hilly areas of Dir, Swat and Chitral are threatened by erosion, especially where there are little vegetations, forests or crop cover.

Agriculture worldwide has undergone great changes and various technologies are used for ploughing the fields and sowing, harvesting and packing crops but farmers in many parts of KP are still seen ploughing their fields with bullocks and hand-harvesting is widespread, resulting in delays and losses.

Mechanised farming can increase per acre yield but small landholding in the province is the hurdle. The government could solve this problem by importing or evolving miniature and using laser technology for the purpose.

Zahir Khan, a farmer from Peshawar, said that the provincial government should procure agricultural machinery and provide it to the farming community on subsidised rates across the province. It must purchase bulldozers in large numbers and open machinery pools in the district and tehsil level with a transparent monitoring mechanism in place to ensure merit-based provision to the needy farmers.”

“These machinery pools could be opened on the basis of public private partnership and could be extended to the grassroot levels. These machinery pools have long been promised in several agriculture policies promulgated by the government. The government also should streamline the laser technology for land levelling in the province,” he added.


About Tahir Ali Khan (Official)
I am an academic, columnist, and a social worker.

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