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January 22, 2019

Without access to innovations, small farmers to remain underproductive


January 22, 2019

HYDERABAD: Innovations based on scientific research are central to achieve the dual objective of increasing agriculture production and improving livelihoods of rural people, an agronomist of international fame said on Monday.

“The first concern is that farmers do not have access to innovations. Small farmers, being a major section of agricultural producers, have to cope with little land and with opportunities of production that are close to, or below, economic viability,” Prof Urs Geiser, department of geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland, said speaking at an agriculture moot.

The two-day 4th International Conference on Agriculture, Food and Animal Sciences (ICAFAS-2019), jointly organised by Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam and Higher Education Commission (HEC) Pakistan, is underway at the varsity.

Geiser said this situation of marginality was also restrictive to the farmers’ individual capability to access the experts that would provide research-based agricultural advice. “There is a small number of farmers, who have access to this kind of emerging technology. It is a complex issue for farmers to take expertise on new technology in the fields of food and agriculture,” the Swiss agronomist said.

He also talked about the agriculture development, living conditions of farmers, food production and marketing. During the inauguration session, the known experts drew a wider picture of climatic variations globally, its impacts on food products, food security, crops productivity, threats to overall biodiversity, and growing risks of human health. They pointed out that increasing population has created a huge need for food supply and the global nations were struggling to meet the demand by employing state-of-the-art technology.

Prof Mushtaq Memon, a livestock expert from Washington, US, said contribution of agriculture to Pakistan GDP was 19.5 percent out of which livestock contributes 58 percent. “We are working in Pakistan, especially Sindh province, to learn about different diseases plaguing the livestock sector, and to adopt preventive measures and make the life better and protected,” Memon said.

Citing Brucellosis, a highly contagious disease, which causes abortion and infertility in both human and livestock, he said 70 percent infectious diseases in humans had been transmitted through animals via their milk and meat.

Dr Mujeebuddin Memon Sahrai, vice chancellor SAU, urged upon the youth to take it seriously to promote agriculture and food products, which was the need of the hour as the world nations were struggling to protect natural resources.

“In the face of climate change, growing population needs food security,” Sahrai said. The vice chancellor said the recommendations put forth by experts in this conference would be duly be shared with the policymakers in agriculture, livestock, and other sectors, as well as international partners.

“If those suggestions are made a part of policies then they would go a long way in encouraging public and private sector organizations,” Sahrai added. Dr Aslam Uqali, vice chancellor Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET), said the world was rushing to compete in the field of entrepreneurship.

Uqali said Sindh province had natural resources. "We have variety of food products; we have best fruits, but irony is that despite these rich resources, we are importing many things from the world. We have to make efforts to work on utilising these resources,” the MUET VC said.

He called on the youth to move towards the entrepreneurship development, especially in the field of agriculture for the livelihood opportunities. Though growing soil infertility and mysterious plant diseases have destroyed many date-palm gardens in Khairpur district, some farmers are however still keen to raise new gardens in the date producing areas.

Wazir Ali Phulpoto, running date-palm plants’ nursery near Therhi, Khairpur district, says they are receiving orders from farmers to supply for plantation. He believes the month of February is the start of the plantation season, which continues till September-October, depending on weather conditions.

Phulpoto, who had set up a stall at an exhibition, organised as part of the conference, said he came here to display his date-palm plants to show the importance of this valuable fruit. In Phulpoto’s understanding, Sindh has as many as 32 varieties of date-palm plants, having different taste, size, and yield of fruits. There are nurseries, where these plants are available for sale.

Khairpur district is the hub of date products and hundreds of people are associated with date-palm farming, working in different capacities ranging from watering, taking care, and picking to the last stage of cooking, drying and packing the products.

The other stalls displayed variety of food items, including pickles of fruits, both preserved and fresh, vegetables, and others. Some stalls displayed date products at the exhibition, where sellers claimed to have a dozen of products, including a variety of pickles prepared from dates. Date is said to be nutritious and rural people use it for herbal products to treat different health problems.

Various booths of products ranging from agriculture and food technology, poultry, dairy, and fisheries to plant protection and animal sciences also attracted visitors from overseas. Delegates mainly scientists and experts from China, Switzerland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia are participating in the conference. Besides these, known scholars from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Kashmir, Agriculture University Faisalabad, and other parts of the country are also in attendance.

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