WEB DESK: Speaking at a consultative meeting on precision agriculture the other day, Vice Chancellor of the University of Agriculture at Faisalabad noted the unhappy reality that inefficient farming methods are making our cost of production higher than in most other countries, creating difficulties for the farming communities.
And, of course, poor farming techniques leading to poor crop outcomes threaten Pakistan’s future food security. Just across the border Indian Punjab boasts nearly double the rate of per acre yield than in this country after having embraced efficient agricultural practices and co-operative farming. Here too, as the participants of the consultative meeting noted, progressive farmers are getting 80 maunds per acre – for wheat crop – against an average per acre production of 28 maunds. The gap between the potential yield and what the small farmers manage to produce is much too large.
One of the prevalent misconceptions is that the higher use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides – all expensive inputs – is the only way to increase productivity, whereas variables like soil and crop characteristics also happen to be vital determinants.
The practice also raises concerns about implications for human health. In fact, critics of chemicals-driven high yield policy in the Indian Punjab point out that a particularly worrisome side-effect of the excessive use of cacogenic elements containing chemicals is the rise in various life threatening diseases among consumers. In other words, too much reliance on artificial fertilisers or other toxic chemicals to destroy pests or unwanted vegetation without proper assessment is inadvisable.
Hence the need to look for smart techniques that reduce the cost of production, increase yields, and are safer too. That is where precisions agriculture offers solutions. It may not be possible at this point in time to introduce precision engineering technologies employed by farmers in advanced countries, such as GPS equipped crop yield monitors, and sensor systems to measure plants chlorophyll levels as well as water condition. But there are other simpler, low cost techniques that can help increase productivity, like smart sprayers and controllers suggested by discussants at the consultative meeting. Equally import is the need for better management of soil and crop variability.
For that the agricultural science community and relevant government departments in the provinces ought to get their respective act together. They need to address immediate issues first such as a common complaint that the seeds for various crops gradually lose quality while the experts fail to come up with newer answers. And that even though on paper officials are supposed to be on hand to conduct soil testing for its suitability to a particular crop, help is not always forthcoming.
Considering the looming threat of water scarcity and food shortages in the not too distant future, it hardly needs saying that necessary precision agriculture technologies and other methods ought to be adopted before it is too late.
Source: Business Recorder