New technologies: not only lip service but practical
approach is crucial
By Zafar Samdani
The latest buzz expression in official circles of the
agriculture sector is water conserving technologies. Every
one you come across or the dignitaries whose staff scripted
insight has added drip and sprinkler irrigation to the
existing list of laser levelling, zero tillage and bed and
furrow cultivation, speak on the efficacy of these
technologies with great gusto.
This certainly shows their concern for Pakistan's
agriculture, a commodity rapidly on the increase among
official managers of the sector as also other luminaries who
are entitled to front page coverage in print media and prime
space in state owned television regardless of their
relevance to issues on which they dilate.
However, the sum total of their expertise is playing for the
rural gallery and a lot of lip-service but the scarcity of
actual positive development for a majority of the farming
community. The talked about facilities are neither on ground
nor mostly in the pipeline. They are often either wish list
or loud thinking.
Propagation of the first group of conservation technologies
has now been carried out for about a decade but they are
still to reach the bulk of farmers of the country. The
reason is not far to seek.
Owners of small tracts of land lack the resources to invest
in them; they must continue practicing, due to financial
constraints, cultivation methods that have become
superannuated by most countries that regard agriculture as
their lifeline or accord it importance.
The scene would not change without effective and committed
intervention by the government. Local administrations
created under the military regime should have been providing
support and assistance to small farmers but it is becoming
increasingly clear that the foremost purpose of the new
district level set-up is harnessing political support and be
the authorities' vehicle and means for controlling people.
With politics as top priority, backing for other ends has
become unimportant for political and bureaucratic
administrators of the system. As a result, the planned
supply of implements of new technology to farmers on
priority basis has failed to materialize. These technologies
remain the preserve of resource rich farmers.
There has been a lot of talk of assisting farmers but little
concrete evidence of sustained effort is to be seen on the
ground. However, as promoting agriculture is included in the
mandate of district governments, one can hope that they
would start attending to this issue in the near future.
The first group of technologies, land levelling, zero
tillage and bed plantation are easy to disseminate for
experts and assimilate for users as they are not greatly at
variance from present culture of cultivation; farmers have
been able to adjust to them without much difficulty, more so
because they could watch these implements in harness in the
fields of prosperous farmers or the government-managed
experimental lands in their areas.
The case of sprinklers and drips is different. Their use for
different crops is specific and, to uninitiated farmers,
complicated too. For instance, drip technology can be
applied to both cotton and sugarcane but equipment and usage
is not the same for the two crops. This is true of other
The firstly consideration is cost. They are not regarded as
expensive. But cost of every item differs from individual to
individual. What is regarded as inexpensively available
technology by some farmers can easily be beyond the
resources of many others.
A few thousand rupees are peanuts for big owners but it is
big money for the majority of small farmers. Affordability
of technology is the starting point. Many farmers would
become stranded at that outset. The Zarai Tarraqqiati Bank (ZTBL)
has extended loan facilities to the farming sector and some
commercial banks are also in the field for the same purpose.
Hopefully, they would play a positive role in converting
farmers to conservation technologies by making the purchase
of equipment easy for prospective users and devise a way for
supporting the poorer segment of the sector without putting
it under extra pressure. But the real problem would begin
once the implements are available to farmers.
Sprinkle and drip technology is not as simple as other
conservation technologies because they have more than one
version and variety; it is not a matter of switching on and
Farmers would have to be educated and trained for using
them. This is a requirement for all technologies and a
little more for sprinkle and drip. The question is: who
would train farmers?
Guiding and training farmers is generally the responsibility
of extension staff of provincial departments of agriculture.
One would not want to comment on the quality of what they
deliver but even if their reputation for generally trying to
make a positive contribution is not questioned, their
professional acumen about new technologies cannot be denied.
Their knowledge of conventional and traditional agronomic
practices and competence for helping farmers may have been
useful but they have certainly not been trained to meet the
challenges thrown by the technological developments.
For the new conservation technologies now being promoted by
officials - come to think of it they are not exactly new and
have been in use by leading agricultural countries for many
years, extension staff is mostly as much at sea about
deploying them as any layman, or, at best, just a few shades
better; that is not enough. Training is thus a crucial
factor. The trainers need to be trained to put them in a
position to be of any help to farmers.
This is not to be done over a day. A certain period of time
would be needed after the realization of the need for
training has dawned on the managers and training of trainers
has been initiated. A beginning is yet to be made in these
So references to drips and sprinklers are nothing more than
sop and are no more effort at conveying an impression that a
lot is being done while ground conditions remain essentially
Still, there is no reason to doubt that the sincerity of the
government but this does pose the question whether the
managers have properly and minutely planned what some
leaders of the government are announcing from every forum or
are some people just jumping the gun because they can do so
due to their exalted positions.
This would create a mess up instead of boosting productivity
and conserving declining water resources. The introduction
and wide use of these technologies require comprehensive
planning, mapping out needs of farmers who can afford them
on their own or cannot benefit from them because of lack of
know how for their application. This is a task to be jointly
undertaken by the federal and provincial governments.
Policies should also be devised for local manufacture of
implements and facilitating their supply to farmers on an
affordable arrangement. One also hopes these technologies do
not open floodgates of imports in the name of promoting the
Huge supplies of drips and sprinklers would be required if
the country uses them extensively to conserve water and
boost produce. As such, their local production is as
essential as training of the extension staff and farmers in
Last but not the least, the district governments should be
involved in the promotion of these technologies and methods
sold be evolved for measuring their contribution.
Courtesy: The DAWN