Agriculture is the source of livelihood of 43.5 percent of our rural population. Farmers face the greatest challenge of unification and competitiveness in advanced markets. They are restricted by absence of basic public services.
The problems faced by farmers are three-fold: poor infrastructure, illiteracy and inadequate monetary solutions including risk management etc. Illiteracy is the main problem among the farmers’ community. Farmers have no idea what’s going on in the farming industry. Neither are they aware of innovations in the agriculture sector. Rural illiteracy in the country is very high and leads to the same old traditional farming skills being transferred to new generations instead of skills acquired by means of a proper education system and adoption of innovations.
Farmers who hold less than two hectares of land cannot afford the modern machinery that is required to increase productivity. They cannot afford the expense of agricultural inputs for crop production. There are no basic facilities for farmers and hence farm operations are affected. This results in low or poor quality production with less profit to producers.
Agriculture labour is also a big problem for farmers. Many people are migrating to cities to earn money as they have no net return in farming and hence there is lack of labour on the farms. There is no proper source of irrigation, and if the source is there it is insufficient. Depleting ground water tables is another concern. Distribution of good quality seed is as important as the production of such seeds. Unfortunately, good quality seeds are out of the reach of the majority of farmers, especially small and marginal farmers mainly because of the sky-high prices of better seeds. Similarly, good fertilizers, pesticides etc are also out of reach for most farmers.
Instead of the expensive mechanisation of agriculture in some parts of the country, most of the agricultural operations are carried on by the human hand – using simple and conventional tools and implements like the wooden plough, sickle, etc because either the farmer is unaware about the latest technology or cannot afford the expense of mechanisation for his land.
Agricultural marketing continues to be in a bad shape in rural Pakistan. In the absence of good marketing facilities, the farmers have to depend upon local traders and middlemen for the disposal of their farm produce – which is sold at throw-away price and as a result there is no fair return to the farmer.
Agriculture is an important sector and requires capital. The role of capital input is becoming more and more important with the advancements in farm technology. Since the farmer’s capital is locked up in his lands and stocks, he is obliged to borrow money to stimulate the tempo of agricultural production. An effective agricultural extension service acts as a connecting link between the research service and the farming community. It provides the farmer findings of researchers workers and brings back the problems of the farmers to the researchers so that these problems can be solved as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, the extension department – especially in ‘baraani’ areas – is not paying much attention to field visits. As a result, farmers still use their traditional methods and there is no innovation in crop production. There is no proper transportation system available to the farmer at fair prices. This is needed so that the farmer can transport his produce to the market on time and without deterioration of the produce.
Like in other rural areas of Pakistan, the women of northern communities have an important role in agricultural activities. Due to the conservative nature of society women are usually not allowed to meet men other than their family members. But there is hardly any female field staff in the Department of Agriculture (Extension).
Higher rural productivity will lead to faster growth in agriculture, rural employment and funds for industrial development along with providing food to an ever-increasing population. The productivity gains being restricted to big farmers may lead to social unrest, income inequalities and political instability. At the same time, the increasingly integrated, globalised, and consumer-driven agricultural and food markets require small holders to adapt to innovations.
Technology can’t solve all problems, especially since most farmers can’t afford it. We should build some skill development programme. We should also increase those who hold land by making sure people either rent out their land or sell it to other skilled farmers. This will also need a lot of skill development among farmers. We need vocational schools and fertilizers, insecticides and high quality seeds at prices affordable for marginal farmers as well. We need to subsidise tractors and other agricultural machinery.
Rural irrigation needs to be developed. Now, the use of technology can be managed effectively in different ways in order to help out farmers. This involves direct transfer of financial support by the government to the farmers and agricultural marketing through mobile phones.
All this is possible if the extension department is strong in its linkage chain between farmers and research institutes. In this way, farmers will be aware of the latest innovations.
The writer is the director of the Attock campus of PMAS Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi.