Under performing sugar crops research institute

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Sugarcane research in a shambles
By Tahir Ali Khan
August 29, 2011

http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/29/agriculture-and-technology-sugarcane-research-in-a-shambles.html

KHYBER Pakhtunkhwa’s Sugar Crop Research Institute in Mardan is handicapped for paucity of funds, shortage of research staff and meagre seed production capacity, according to its officials.

“About 80 per cent of our limited budget is consumed by wage-bill and the rest is spent mainly on land preparation, cultivation and harvesting at the SCRI and two other research stations at Harichand and Dargai. There is virtually nothing left for research and development work,” said Sartaj Ali, farm manager at the SCRI.

While there are no funds for purchasing new equipment and machinery, load-shedding and low voltage often damage the precious equipment installed in early 1990s.

The institute is spread over 96 acres. One-third of the 70 acres available for cultivation is kept fallow while the rest is under cane cultivation. “But only 15 acres are under seed multiplication that produce around 440 tons of quality cane-seeds. This is clearly insufficient for the province. And in its subsidiary, Harichand farm too, 10 of 20 acres available for cane-seed multiplication remains unused for want of funds,” he said.

“The SCRI has developed 22 cane varieties so far. Some of these varieties have increased yield and income of farmers.

“Sugarcane farmers in 75 per cent areas grow CP77/400, a seed variety developed by SCRI. Sugarcane requires abundant water, more than required by rice crop. So we have developed SPSG-394, Mardan 92, and NCO310 as well for water stress areas. Most of these varieties have 12 per cent of sugar recovery ratio, the highest at world level,” he added.

“We are trying to bridge the huge gap between yields of farmers, institute and progressive farmers. While our average yield at the SCRI is about 32-36 tons, progressive farmers obtain around 40 tons per acre while per acre yield of common farmers is not more than 16-20 tons,” he said. “Their efforts in this regard have failed due to weak extension service and liaison with farmers as a result of shortage of staff and resources at our end and ignorance and lack of cooperation and coordination at the farmers’ side,” he added.

The staff shortage has also undermined the research work at the SCRI. Lack of service structure and opportunities for promotion as well as poor remuneration have discouraged many a talented people to join as research officers and encouraged the existing ones to leave for lucrative offers elsewhere.

“Over half of the 20 research officers’ slots are lying vacant. Country-wise, the situation is even worse. Over 260 of the 350 research officers in the SCRIs countrywide have left. Another problem is that 60 per cent of the existing research officers, recruited in 1973-74, are retiring in the next three to four years. There is no replacement for them in sight, he said.

Responding to a question on the causes of low cane yield, Ali said: “Most farmers resort to intercropping of wheat and cane which reduces output. Most of the farmers use less than the recommended four tons seed per acre, resulting in less plant population. They also do not use enough fertiliser and pesticides. Moreover, they still grow old varieties and delay cultivation and harvesting of cane for better prices.

Regular watering, inconsistent rains and abundant poplar trees around field also reduce yield and cause termites problems as well. Another issue is that of small landholding. Land fragmentation reduces cropped areas and compels farmers to do inter-cropping and makes commercial and mechanised farming impossible,” he added.

“Farmers should grow early cane varieties (CP72/2086, CP80/1827, Mardan93 and CP85/1491) as these mature in September/October and provide better sugar recovery (12 per cent) and price, an opportunity to cultivate wheat in time and save ratoons from frost and cold,” he added.

According to him, globally, education, research and extension are looked after by the universities. “In Pakistan too from 1982 till 2006, research work was the responsibility of universities. This expedited the process of sanctioning the project. But in 2006-07, during the previous MMA government, research was handed over to the department, not a good decision,” he said.

“The agriculture department has launched Rs30 million project for sugarcane seed production through chip buds, chip nodes and standardisation of technology in KP but it needs to be speedily and effectively implemented.”

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Improving agriculture extension system

Improving farm extension services

farm extensionA highly minute per cent of farmers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa use modern technology when it comes to agriculture. – File photo

ONLY about 20 per cent of farmers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa use modern technology in agriculture. This is because either most of them have no money, or if some of them have, they are ignorant and not inclined to use it.

The agriculture extension services staff has not made growers aware of the advantages of the modern farming technology or motivated them to use it.

Agriculture worldwide has undergone tremendous developments and various technologies are used for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and packing crops. But most of our local farmers are still stuck to traditional ways of agriculture, resulting in low yields, wastage of assets like water and 30-40 per cent loss of farm-produce.

Farmers either reject or adopt innovations on the basis of their awareness, interest, experience, product cost and their financial position. They are usually too conservative, ignorant and poor to adopt new technologies and strategies, but once the utility of the system is established, they quickly adopt it. But it requires expertise, profuse contacts and sufficient strength of extension personnel, which unfortunately are lacking.

Instead of following a proactive approach in its interaction with growers, the agriculture extension officials primarily wait for them to come to it with their problems to get them solved. One wonders why this can’t be the other way round i.e. the directorate staff reaches the farmers at their doorsteps to do the required job.

“Agricultural extension department is mandated to provide research technology to farmers, convey growers’ feedback to agricultural researchers and keeps them abreast of the field problems for further improvement in their research work. It is supposed to contact and train farmers, check sale of fake fertiliser and pesticides, collect data and prepare reports on crops and extension materials for farmers, supporting donors and dealers.

But the extension directorate has given up these functions. Its officials now seldom visit fields and farmers. There is no interaction and liaison with farmers to know their problems and needs,” said Haji Niamat Shah, vice-president of Anjuman-i- Kashtkaran, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to him, till the recent past, officers regularly visited farmers and fields. There were daily farmer-specific radio and TV programmes, agriculture extension shows and melas and film shows at village levels, and spraying and pruning of orchards by extension officials.

Fruit plants were also provided to farmers but there is nothing of this sort these days,” he complains.

The extension service has suffered both from insufficient capacity and commitment as well as paucity of staff. Out of 2,654 personnel of the department in 2004, there were only 38 technical officials while field staff numbered 2,129 who had to cater to the agriculture needs of around 1.4mn farms in the province.

When an official had to attend 527 farmers on an average, how could extension duties like making frequent contacts with farmers and checking of pesticides and fertiliser dealers for quality be satisfactorily carried out?

Though there is no direct evaluation of the extension impact – it is indirectly judged from crop yields and cash returns to farmers etc.. There is no authentic data to show as to whether high prices of farm produce have benefited growers more or the middlemen and commission agents?

In 2007-08, model farm services centres were developed for extension purposes but these bodies are now dormant in most of the districts. There is no separate statutory law to govern its functions under which they could be registered.

The department needs to invest on strengthening its information technology section as its website is not updated and still displays figures of 2006 on achievements of agriculture extension services.

The lack of service structure and chances for promotion is discouraging new talent to join the directorate and the existing ones are also leaving their services.

There is a need to establish genuine farmers organisations at village level as community participation is generally better at micro level.

The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and inputs centres at villages where farmers could get these things and also guidance on subsidised or deferred payment.

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Here is the original script of the article

Improving extension ystem

By Tahir Ali Khan

Agriculture development in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, besides other problems, is also suffering from weak agriculture extension system that has hindered mechanised farming and perpetuated low per acre yield -607kgs as against the national average of 1040kg per acre.

The work of the directorate general of agriculture extension -to disseminate latest agriculture technology and techniques to farmers- is made difficult by apparently scant commitment of the former and the latter’s inability or disinclination to modernise their farming.

The challenge facing the extension department is two-pronged: One, to make the research scientists to develop new varieties and techniques; two, how that is to be made available to farmers and to motivate them to use it. Newly discovered agriculture technologies and techniques come to nothing if these aren’t promptly transferred to farmers -the end users.

Agriculture worldwide has undergone tremendous developments and various technologies are used for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and packing the crops but most of the local farmers still use the old-fashioned ways of agriculture resulting in low yields, wastage of agriculture assets like water, around 30-40 per cent loss of on farm-produce and therefore less incomes for them.

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

Farmers either reject or adopt the innovations on the basis of their awareness, interest, experience, the cost of the product and their own financial position. Though farmers are usually too conservative, ignorant and poor to adopt new technologies and strategies but once their utility is established, they quickly adopt it. But it requires expertise, profuse contacts and sufficient strength of extension personnel, which unfortunately are lacking.

 

The current extension service does not suit the requirements of modern age and has weaknesses both in structure as well as methodology: poor use of electronic and print media for transmission of messages, lack of expertise of front-line extension workers, scanty staff strength and thus poor mobility, resource constraints and inadequate opportunities for training and national and international exposure for farmers and officials, and weak linkages between line departments and farmers and educational institutions, and so on.

 

Rather than following a proactive approach in its interaction with growers, the agriculture extension primarily waits for them to come to it with their problems to get them solved. One wonders why this can’t be the other way round i.e. the directorate reaches to farmers at their doorsteps itself rather than the former case.

 

Small farmers have limited access to extension officials and they lack resources, courage and urgency to approach the research and extension systems and are kept from technology adoption their poverty and ignorance.

 

With agriculture having been mostly left to the provinces under the 18th amendment, there can be no better time for major overhauling of the extension system to ensure more efficient extension. This obviously requires substantial increase in resources for the directorate and renewed commitment on part of its staff.

 “Agricultural extension is mandated to provide research technology to farmers, conveys farmers’ feedback to agricultural researchers and keeps them abreast of field problems for further improvement of their research work. It is supposed to contact and train farmers, check the sale of fake fertiliser and pesticides, collect data and prepare reports on crops and extension materials for farmers, supporting donors and dealers. But extension directorate has given up these functions. Its officers and officials now seldom visit fields and farmers. There is no interaction and liaison with farmers to know their problems and needs,” said Haji Niamat Shah, the vice president of Anjumani Kashtkaran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to him, till the recent past, officers would regularly visit farmers and fields. There were daily farmer-specific radio and TV programmes, agriculture extension shows and melas and film shows at village levels, and orchards and spraying and pruning of orchards by extension officials and fruit plants provided to farmers but there is nothing of the sort these days,” he argued.

Extension has suffered both from insufficient capacity and commitment as well as paucity of staff. The extension personnel mostly lack the requisite communication skills and don’t utilise print and electronic media and other resources like mobile, telephone or internet profusely for the purpose.

For example, the directorate, apparently, has not made any special effort to identify and project the areas where foreign donor assistance or large scale public or private sector is direly needed. It is not surprising then that in the agriculture sector there is no foreign funded project in the budget. And it is understandable that most of the farmers still don’t know how and why soil testing is essential and beneficial, what to think of utilising this and other new discoveries for their advantage.

And out of 2654 personnel of the department in 2004, there were only 38 technical officials while field staff numbered 2129 who have to cater to the agriculture needs of around 1.4mn farms in the province. When an official had to attend 527 farmers on average, how can extension duties like making frequent contacts with farmers and checking of pesticides and fertiliser dealers for quality can be satisfactorily done?

Though there is no direct evaluation of the extension impact -it is indirectly judged from crop yields and cash returns to the farmers etc., there is however no authentic data available to show as to whether high prices of agriculture produce have benefited farmers more or the middlemen and commission agents?

In 2007-08, model farm services centres were enthusiastically developed for extension purposes but the bodies were neglected afterwards and these are now dormant in most of the districts. These bodies still have no separate statutory laws to govern its functions and under which it could be registered.

The department needs to invest on strengthening its information technology section as its website is not updated and still displays figures of 2006 on achievements of agriculture extension services.

Female farmers would happily attend trainings and receive inputs and services if these are arranged through female extension workers.

Acknowledging the failure of the extension system, the government rightly intends to revive the erstwhile outreach directorate in the province. The sooner this is done, the better.

The lack of service structure and chances for promotion is discouraging new talent to join the directorate and the existing ones are also leaving their services.

There is a need to establish but genuine farmers organizations at village level as community participation is generally better at micro level.

 

Close partnership between the public extension system and the work of participatory NGOs will surely maximize coverage to the farmers. An agricultural T.V. Channel can be opened to corroborate the efforts of the research and extension system in transfer of technologies to the farming community.

 

There are two separate extension departments for agriculture and livestock which is unwarranted since it is costly and expose farmers to frequent visits of narrow specialists. Instead, there should be multi-commodity focused extension where different technical specialists may offer advice to farmers at their doorstep simultaneously.

The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and inputs centres at villages where farmers could get these things and guidance on subsidized or deferred payment.*******************************************

Empowering female farmers

Empowering female farmers

By Tahir Ali Khan

Dawn July 11, 2011

http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/11/empowering-female-farmers.html

 

WOMEN are deeply involved in agriculture and livestock sectors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They, however, remain deprived of access to extension services, financial empowerment and capacity-building while no facility is offered to them for training, input/services and livestock progeny.

The provincial agriculture policy 2005 and horticulture policy 2009 acknowledge that the absence of gender mainstreaming and participation, hinder the growth and development of the sector, making it less profitable for farmers, especially the poor/small growers.

While the provincial government has now acknowledged the need for empowering of women, its efforts in this direction are too feeble to make any significant impact.

In this year’s budget, a project for livelihood improvement through strengthening of gender-based livestock interventions with an outlay of Rs300 million has been launched in the province. Through this project, female livestock farmers would be provided training for rearing animal offspring and hens to help improve their skills and decision-making capacity. But only Rs15 million has been earmarked this year for disbursement for the project.

Another project worth Rs46 million is to be launched in Mardan which aims at alleviation of poverty among rural women by providing them with high calibre hens for rearing in their houses. This project will promote model poultry farms and would improve supply of poultry and its byproducts to the market.

Apart from carrying out household jobs, women also work in field preparation, cultivation, fodder cutting, weeding, drying/storing of cereals, fodder and harvesting crops and vegetables.

According to a survey carried out in five districts of KP, 82 per cent of the rural women took part in agriculture activities, spent 45 per cent of their time in fields which accounted for 25 per cent of production of major crops and 30 per cent of total food.

Around 35 per cent of rural women rear livestock and are responsible for 60 to 80 per cent of feeding and milking of cattle. Over 90 per cent of rural women keep poultry birds at home. However, they mostly apply traditional methods of rearing, breeding and management of livestock.

New concepts such as tunnel farming, modern household farming, tissue culture technology and modern animal husbandry techniques need to be used to increase production and encourage efficiency.

With expert guidance and technical, financial and marketing support provided to female farmers, agriculture would develop by leaps and bounds.

Rural women in the province have no separate agricultural extension services. Living in a backward region, female farmers would willingly attend trainings if these are arranged through female extension workers. Female veterinary graduates could be appointed for curing livestock owned by female farmers in rural areas.

They can also be provided support for opening biogas plants to cater to their domestic fuel needs that consume plenty of their incomes though other altrenatives.

The government and NGOs could empower women farmers and involve them in agriculture development by setting up a provincial body of women farmers.

The membership of female farmers in model farm services centres needs to be increased. Female farmers were part of only one MFSC in Haripur which had only 70 female farmers in the total strength of 1,600 farmers in 2009.

But with the present meagre funding, any significant progress for agriculture in the province remains a remote possibility. The share of agriculture as percentage of the provincial annual development plan has come down to 1.59 this fiscal year from 1.70 per cent in the last fiscal.

In a situation where only six per cent of the farmers in the province receive agriculture credit, the share of female farmers would be even more pathetic. The government needs to support agriculture financing by public and private sector banks to offer easy farm and non-farm loans to female farmers.

Low priority to farm modernization

Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vor...

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KP’s low priority to farm modernisation

By Tahir Ali Khan

http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/13/kp%E2%80%99s-low-priority-to-farm-modernisation.html

THE majority of farmers in Khyber Paktunkhwa is using the age-old technique — a pair of bullocks — for ploughing its fields, instead of tractors.

Only about 20 per cent farmers use modern agriculture technology in the province. This is because either most of them have no resources to buy the services or have no knowledge or inclination to use the modern farming techniques.

Agriculture worldwide has undergone tremendous transformation and latest technologies are used for ploughing fields and sowing, harvesting and crop packing but KP farmers, especially the majority poor/small ones, still continue with outdated ways, resulting in low crop yields, and wastage of agriculture assets like water and low incomes.

Farmers usually don’t benefit from provincial government’s research endeavours and innovative technology for lack of coordination between the line departments, and the growers and the line departments.

A senior official in the Agriculture Department agrees that problems such as lack of mechanised farming, low per acre yield, inputs availability constraints etc., are also suffering from weak agriculture extension for lack of coordination between farmers and the government.

“Our researchers need to develop seeds varieties for the different climatic zones in the province that could increase both under-cultivation land and production. But there are two challenges in this connection. One is for the research scientists to develop new varieties and techniques and the second is how that is to be made available to farmers so that they could use them,” he said.

“Even if researchers fulfil their responsibilities but their products are not available to farmers or they are not inclined to use them, the problem will remain unresolved. Extension department needs to make latest research and development products and farming techniques available to farmers as soon as possible,” he added.

“It is strange the farmers still prefer outdating farming techniques that result in poor per acre yield and therefore the incidence of poverty is increasing amongst small farmers,” he said.

Mechanised farming is urgently needed to increase per acre yield but the small landholding is the hurdle. The research directorate in collaboration with local industry could solve this problem by evolving miniature engineering machinery and technology. To facilitate the directorates of agricultural research and agricultural extension in their endeavours to benefit the farmers and to bridge the gap between farmers and research, the government should revive the erstwhile outreach directorate in the ministry of agriculture.

The outreach directorate will surely reach out to the farmers with new technologies. It had done pretty good job till 1995 when it was wrapped up. Its revival is necessary to address the critical problem of coordination between farmers and agriculture researchers.

The next provincial Annual Development Programme has a new project for strengthening of outreach activities, but meagre allocation is a cause of concern.

The project was allocated Rs50 million but only Rs15 would be spent under the ADP. It means there cannot be any meaningful practical changes at least for some years to come.

Agriculture cannot be developed in the province by taking half-hearted routine measures. It, instead, requires some innovative, out of box, targeted and emergency plans to develop the sector on which around 70 per cent of provincial population depends.

An official informed that the provincial government intended to revive the outreach directorate. “The terms of reference of the directorate have been prepared and necessary allocations have been made in the next budget for this purpose,” he informed.

“This would surely expedite services, improve coordination between the stakeholders and bridge the gap between farmers and research thereby facilitating and benefiting the farmers enormously. It will regularly update the policy makers on the requirements of the farmers and will also inform the latter on any invented/imported technology or technique sooner rather than later,” he hoped.

Besides the above shortcomings, some other problems are also hampering agriculture development in the province.

In the recent past the agriculture extension directorate was being run without a full-time head.

Also, there is an acute shortage of research personnel in the directorate. The shortage of senior research officers is particularly serious.

“Many researchers are performing their duties under compulsion but waste no time when they get an offer from private companies which pay them hefty amounts. The lack of service structure and chances for promotion is discouraging new talent to join the directorate and the existing ones are also leaving their services.”

“Most of the officers are performing their duties in the same scales for 30 years despite being qualified. In a situation when the officers and officials retire in the same scale they were inducted in and they are paid comparatively far less than their research counterparts in the private sector, it is not strange if most of the existing officials too are opting for retirement, ex-Pakistan leave or leaving their service in search of better future,” conceded the official.

The government should offer incentives to attract competent people to the sector and should also announce a service structure and comprehensive relief package for the existing ones to arrest the trend of flight of human capital from the directorate.

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