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Agri Overview

Farming potentials in arid land                                   Home
By Dr S.M. Alam & Rizwan Manzoor

THE arid land constitutes about 88 per cent of the country's total geographic area of 79.61 million hectare (mha). Out Of this, 40.9 mha are arid including 10.5 mha of arid sandy deserts and 29.3 mha semi-arid. The Northern Areas fall into these two categories.

Although l6.65 mha has been brought under irrigated agriculture, nearly 70 mha still remains arid and semi-arid lands where arid agriculture is practiced.

Agriculture here is dependent on scanty and erratic rainfall with major economic activity revolving around livestock production, over-grazing of range-lands and growing of dullard crops. About 94 million heads of livestock out of the total 110 million are supported by these range-lands. These provide 60 to 90 per cent of feed to cattle, sheep, goats and camels, while bovines receive half of their feed from here. The dry-land wheat contributes 10 per cent of the total national wheat production.

These areas produce 27 per cent maize; 56 per cent sorghum and millets; 52 per cent barley; 90 per cent guar seed; 77 per cent gram; 89 per cent pulses; 24 per cent rape and mustard; 89 per cent groundnut; 100 per cent castor bean in addition to drought resistant vegetables and fruits.

In spite of this contribution, greater priority is given to the irrigated agriculture as dryland is considered a high risk enterprise. Various projects for the development of these areas could not achieve the targets due to corruption and mismanagement.

Mixed and shattered national economy, debt liability of $38 billion, and an expected 208 million increase in population by 2025 should spur the policy makers to attain self sufficiency for which all natural resources need to be exploited. We need to develop our dry land agriculture without further delay.

Of the total 22.96 mha cropped area, 5.14 mha is rain-fed with 9.29 mha culturable wasteland which can be brought under rain-fed till the irrigated agriculture is extended to these lands. Almost 54 per cent cultivated area of the NWFP, 50 per cent of FATA, 54 per cent of Sindh, 50 to 60 per cent of Balochistan, and 94 per cent of Azad Kashmir is rain-fed with much lower yields than their achievable potentials.

About three million people depend on range resources for grazing their livestock which suffers from poor health, malnutrition, poor breeding programmes and inefficient marketing system. Such issues need immediate attention of the government.

The depleted range-lands need to be improved by deferred and rotational grazing; control of undesirable species; range reseeding; planting leaf forage trees, shrubs, grasses and following silvi-pastoral system. Programmes to tackle these constraints should be implemented through community participation. These should be monitored to evaluate the impact and an action if necessary. The four types of crop production systems in dry land farming are rain-fed, khushkaba, sailaba and hill torrents.

Out of the annual 180 MAF rainfall, about 50 per cent is lost in run-off. Even if it is taken at 20 per cent, the average loss comes to 36 MAF which is a huge loss the nation can ill-afford. The existing water harvesting practices collect 20 to 30 per cent of rain water, while the modern ones are capable of saving 90 per cent.

The cultivated area receives water equal to 300-500mm from the actual 100mm rainfall. Fair yields of cereals, oilseeds, fruits and forages are obtained from this run-off. About 50mm of water harvested in addition to incidental rainfall helps in increasing the yield of maize, sorghum and millet by 95, 96, and 107 per cent, respectively.

Research indicates that the arid areas in Balochistan have increased the yield of dry land wheat by 200 per cent through catchment technique. There are 14 hill torrent areas with annual conservation potential of 18.6 MAF at 1,204 sites out of which 60 to 70 per cent can be used for the development of cuturable wasteland.

The highest development potentials exist in Balochistan (7.86 MAF) followed by the NWFP (4.5 MAF), the Federally Administered Areas ( 2.8 MAF), Punjab (2.7 MAF), and Sindh (0.78 MAF). Presently, major part of these flows go waste. Major areas for the development of hill torrent agriculture are the Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir, FATA, Hazara, Kabul, and Bannu areas, D.I. Khan, D.G. Khan, Kachi basin, Kirther range, Karachi, Sehwan and Petaro hill torrents. Previous structures failed as they were not based on sound engineering principles.

The surface storage is not feasible everywhere. Rain water flows from mountain slopes to deep streams and rivers. This can be harvested for irrigating the areas along the streams and rivers by lifting water through power-driven turbines and hydra-ram pumps.

The technology developed by China is successful for crop production on mountain and hilly areas. A single pump may lift 60-70 litres of water per second at a height of 30 meters, besides producing 5KW of hydro power. These pumps do not require electricity or diesel.

In uplands and low lands where such streams are not perennial, water may be lifted and stored in tanks or ponds during rainy or short flood seasons and used as supplemental irrigation during the closing or post monsoon season.

Courtesy: The DAWN

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