Sugarcane is a profitable cash crop in Pakistan and plays an important role not only in agriculture but also in industrial economy of country. Pakistan ranks 5th in the world in terms of area under sugarcane, 11th by production and 60th in yield. It provides employment to nearly 1.5 million people. Its share in GDP and value addition is 0.7 per cent, 3.2 per cent respectively, while per capita sugar consumption is 25-30 kg/year. Its production was reported 62.5 million tons for the year of 2012-13.
Average size of land holdings of Pakistan farmers is decreasing day by day due to constant increase in human population. Therefore, in order to meet the ever-increasing food demand such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, sugar is of major importance. This is long duration crop which occupies the land for more than 12 months from sowing to harvesting; in this situation medium and small farmers cannot afford to wait for such a longer period due to the poor economic conditions as well as higher pressure for food to feed their families. Consequently, they tend to reduce the cultivation of sugarcane and increase per unit area for other corps.
Since increment in the area under these crops is not feasible due to limited availability of agricultural land, the only option is to increase the crop productivity on the existing land. In this modern era of quick and substantial technological change in the production systems of both in irrigated as well as in rainfed areas of Pakistan.
Moreover, the evinced intercropping has one of the most efficient and profitable production systems throughout the sugarcane growing areas and particularly for medium and small land holders with minimum land disturbance and inputs resources.
Intercropping has been recognized as a potential system for the augments of productivity over space and time in subsistence farming situations. There is generally a trend toward high yield under intercropping. The productivity of land could be improved significantly by growing intercrops in the space left between sugarcane rows. There will be a greater opportunity to grow successful intercropping during the early growth stages of cane. Because sugarcane crop remains in the field for more than12 months and the space between sugarcane rows range from 50 to 90 cm providing sufficient possibility for plentiful weed growth which draws huge amount of nutrients and moisture from the soil. Hence, more space and availability of sunlight for a longer period in the early phase of sugarcane crop provides an opportunity to grow successfully intercrops without any negative impact on sugarcane which not only suppress the weeds capturing the incoming sunlight more effectively so minimum sunlight radiation will be available for germination of weeds.
September sown sugarcane plantation occupies more area as well as more duration compared to February sown so farmers have no chance to grow any other crop both of the rabi and kharif seasons. Autumn-planted sugarcane is very appropriate for intercropping because of its slow growth rate during the winter due to occurrence of low temperature. This period can safely be utilized for growing appropriate rabi intercrops which can mature at the end of April without causing damage to the main sugarcane crop.
Food legumes (pulses) are the big source of vegetable protein in Pakistan. While per capita consumption of legume in Pakistan is found 15.7 kg per annum. Major food legumes of Pakistan are chickpea, lentil, mash bean and mung bean. Currently Pakistan is importing 0.336 to 0.52 million tons of food legumes worth of Rs. 12.7 to 15 billion per annum. There is a continuous increase in the import of food legumes.
Lentil ranks second as food legume in winter after chickpea in Pakistan. Mostly grown in all provinces but major contributing province is Punjab. The production as well as area under production has been decreased which is about 40 per cent mainly due to shifting of farmers from main lentil areas to other crops. The area under cultivation of lentil during 2012-13 was 19.6 hectares while the yield was 9.7 tons. Total area under major food legumes in the country is about 1.5 million ha. The lentil cultivated on 5 per cent of the total area under food legumes and contributes 5 per cent to the total pulses production.
Lentil could be a best option for intercropping in autumn planted sugarcane. The total area under sugarcane is approximately 1 million hectares out of which one/fourth is autumn planted. This autumn planted sugarcane has great potential for intercropping of lentil. So, lentil crop as intercrop in autumn planted sugarcane can not only increase the output per unit area a, but also can provide mid-season income which eased the burden on the already depleted income of the farmers and can provide them with an option for better input management for remaining sugarcane growing season.
The authors are associated with the Agro-Biology Laboratory, Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.