By Dr Badaruddin Soomro via The Dawn ‘Pakistan Cultivable’ ABOUT FOUR million acres of Pakistan cultivable land in Sindh are not being brought under plough mainly due to various administrative and financial problems. These lands should be given to unemployed agriculture graduates, 50 acres each, on lease basis initially for five years. This will not only generate employment for almost 80,000 agriculture graduates but also increase agricultural production.
At the same time, it is necessary to divert the attention of the agronomists towards agriculture research. In that context, research is the oil of this engine without which farming cannot stay sustainable. Consistent generation of knowledge through research makes agriculture a vibrant sector.
Everyday new challenges and threats emerge for agriculture crops. New races of pathogens, insects, and climate vagaries require development of suitable and resistant varieties to overcome these harmful factors. Evolution of a variety takes a minimum of 10 years before it is released to farmers.
Even though the role of agriculture research is vital for crop production, this sub-sector has remained almost neglected for the past so many years.
Sindh has about 13 mono-crop and multi-crop research institutes and over 26 research stations. Having dealt closely with the functioning of these research units, I have found that while these bodies have a large number of competent scientists and adequate availability of infrastructure, operational funds allocated to run these institutes/stations are meagre. The funds given are hardly enough to meet the salary of the staff. The result is a complete halt to research activities. It is necessary to give due importance to agriculture research by implementing the following recommendations:
• Pay scales of research scientists should be made at par with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission scientists. Almost 100 per cent operational funds should be provided to each institute with complete autonomy to their heads.
• Competent scientists should be recruited to lead special programmes like plant tissue culture, bio-pesticides, and crop hybrids. Leaders of these teams should be given incentives. Retiring experienced scientists and researchers should be rehired on contract basis with special assignments.
•Research should be conducted for all ecological suitable crops grown in different ecological zones of the province for evolving new crop va rieties with higher yield.
• There should be active coordination between Agriculture Research and Agriculture Extension so that acquired knowledge is consistently disseminated from Agriculture Research to Agriculture Extension and finally to farmers. The entire coastal belt (0.4 million acres) should be brought under oilseed crops like coconut, oil palm, Salicornia and Jetropha which produce diesel oil.
Agriculture engineering: Agriculture implements are essential for cultivation processes like spraying, harvesting and thrashing. Department of Agriculture Engineering Works, under its Director General, with its offices and workshops have been set up all over Sindh.
About 12 huge workshops are available with the department, where not only the available technical manpower but also most of the agricultural machineries are lying idle. This setup is not being used for the welfare of the farming community.
It is suggested that district workshops should be renamed as Farm Machinery Institutes and training should be imparted to farmers to operate farm implements at these institutes. Necessary repairs of farm machinery should also be carried out here on subsidised rates to facilitate growers.
Machinery available for precision land levelling should be used for leveling farmers fields for demonstration purpose.
Tractors, bulldozers and thrashers should be provided to farmers on rental basis.
A close collaboration should be established with national and international farm machinery institutes (FMIs) to introduce new innovations in the field of farm machinery. FMI at Narc and Parc has developed a number of new technologies which should be introduced to farmers on an urgent basis.
Water management: About 56 per cent irrigation water is lost in channels and watercourses. A lot of inefficiency exists both in provincial and national water management projects.
The first on-farm water management project, executed with the financial assistance of World Bank, got a great boost because of its efficiency and acceptation by the farming community. Later, several such projects were launched with international assistance but the results were not satisfactory. Corruption and indifferent attitude of farmers have made these programmes a failure.
The following suggestions will help improve management of water: The water management wing of the Agriculture Engineering Department should be made a separate department exclusively focusing on water management projects.
Soft terms and conditions should be offered to farmers under internationally funded projects with more emphasis on the lining of channels and minors where more than 40 per cent water is normally lost.
And before launching the programme, it should be ensured that precision land leveling has been carried out by farmers. These steps will to a great extent minimise the water losses bringing more land under irrigation.
The writer is former chairman of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council. Green Climate Fund and Developing Countries.