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and sowing, harvesting and crop packing but KP farmers, especially the majority poor/small ones, still continue with outdated ways, resulting in low crop yields, and wastage of agriculture assets like water and low incomes.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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Innovative farm schemes needed

Investing in innovative farm schemes

By Tahir Ali Khan

Dawn, 06-06-2011

http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/06/investing-in-innovative-farm-schemes.html

THE Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will present its first budget this week after the devolution of the federal agricultural departments to the provinces. The question arises: what difference will it make?

Though officials of the provincial agriculture department are confident that their development strategy reflects out of the box thinking, farmers have very little hope that it would be any different from the past. Thy say the traditional approach will prevail.

Minister for Agriculture Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Arbab Ayub Jan declined to share any details about the allocations and targets for the next year’s ADP for agriculture but said the budget would be non-conventional in its priorities and plans.

“Several new interventions have been proposed. Allocations have been approved for all of the schemes we had suggested. This has been done for the first time and we hope it would help develop farming in the province,” he said.

Ahmad Said, Chief Planning Officer of the agriculture department, said “We have suggested various innovative schemes, the details of which, I cannot share as yet. I am hopeful this year’s comprehensive ADP with several innovative steps would ensure expansion and development of agriculture. The special focus is on revival of farming in the 12 flood-hit districts,” he said.

Farmers have their own concerns. “The problems are so huge that only a revolutionary ADP, with innovative steps and enormous investments can tackle them. But there is little likelihood that any such plan will be included in the annual agriculture roadmap,” opines Naimat Shah Roghani, a farmers’ leader from Mardan.

High prices of various farm inputs have increased cost of production manifold.

“The government should extend direct subsidies on the farm inputs like seeds, fertiliser, tractors, power, diesel and tube-wells,” he said.

The agriculture sector has received meagre funds in successive ADPs despite its huge significance as the primary source of livelihood for around 70 per cent provincial population.

While the allocation for agriculture sector was increased by about 45 per cent this fiscal year over the preceding year, it came down from 2.4 per cent of last year’s core ADP to 1.9 per cent of this year’s total core ADP of Rs58bn.

Irrigation budget was 4.3 per cent of the core provincial ADP last year. Though its allocation went up by about 70 per cent, it decreased to about 4.1 per cent of the ADP this fiscal year.

Roghani said at least five per cent of the ADP should be allocated for agricultural development, which should be gradually increased to 10 per cent in the coming years.

Only about 20 per cent farmers use quality seeds and modern agriculture technology, for which agricultural research, engineering and extension directorates should be strengthened.

“For better coordination between the farmers and government and to facilitate the directorates of agricultural research and agricultural extension and to bridge the gap between farmers and research, the government should revive the erstwhile outreach directorate in the department of agriculture,” said Muhammad Khalid, an agronomist from Mardan.

“The outreach directorate reached out to the farmers at their doorstep with new farming technologies and improved seed varieties, but became dormant in 1995. Its revival is necessary to address the critical problem of coordination between farmers and agriculture researchers,” he said.

“Soil testing laboratories should be opened in all the districts and tehsils. If modern farming technology and techniques are provided to farmers, it will change their farming from subsistence to commercial/modernised one,” he added.

KP needs to bring under cultivation about 1.6 million acres of cultivable wasteland. If possible, it should distribute the state-lands at nominal rates amongst landless farmers.

This requires water for irrigation which can be met by building small dams for conserving floods/rain water for future use. Wastage of water can be minimised by lining the water-courses and canals and its efficiency increased by adopting the sprinkle and drip irrigation.

And fruit orchards could be set up in areas not suitable for food or cash crops.

Backyard or household farming can also increase people’s incomes. The government, however, will have to provide seeds of vegetable, fruit plants and animal progeny to the poor households.

Tunnel farming technique needs to be extended. For this, the government should provide the technology along with guidance and financial support to the poor farmers.

As prices of chemical fertiliser are gradually becoming unaffordable, the government can support the use of green-manure or other organic fertiliser.

According to Roghani, access to market and improved marketing is vital for increasing the incomes of farmers. At present these markets function only in two districts. More markets should be set up across the province.

Livestock sector continues to be provided with meagre budget. There should be some special programme for the livestock farmers, especially women, who should be given free animal offsprings and poultry initially.

Around 60 per cent area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is suitable for olive cultivation. If an olive plantation project is launched and farmers get plants and technical support from the government, oil import bill could be reduced.

Modern laser technology could be used for land levelling. Mechanised farming is vital to increase per acre yield; for small landholdings, common facilities need to be provided.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs more farm credit facilities. It accounted for only 3.4 per cent of the country’s agriculture credit of Rs233bn in 2009. Only six per cent farmers here have access to farm credit against 21 per cent in rest of the country.

“Interest on agriculture loans needs to be decreased and its process simplified,” Roghani said.

The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and input centres at villages where farmers could get these things on subsidy and deferred payment, apart from guidance.

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