By Khuda Baksh and Dr Bashir Ahmad
Majority of the population in Pakistan lives in rural areas where poverty is deep and widespread. Moreover, land less class and small farms are increasing with the passage of time.
These are becoming inefficient for growing wheat, cotton, rice, sugar cane, etc, as these crops require lot of finances, while small farmers are unable to meet such prerequisites.
One of the reasons of migration from rural to urban areas is the lack of employment opportunities for small farmers, since the opportunity to work on farms is diminishing due to mechanization and technological development.
These rapid technological changes are affecting farm practices. In such an era, the need to help landless or small farmers is increasing. Information on the cropping system and employment opportunities need to be generated for them.
A suitable option for them is growing vegetables as these are short-duration crops fetching higher returns. Expanding their cultivation can provide essential dietary nutrients at low prices and reduce unemployment, which in turn would reduce rural poverty.
Vegetable production is diversified in terms of species. More than 36 species are grown and consumed in summer and winter. Major species of vegetables are potatoes, onions, chili, melon, tomato, and cucumber.
Main vegetable area is concentrated in specialized districts in the peri-urban areas of Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar. Production of potato is specialized in Okara, Sahiwal, Sialkot, Kasur and around Lahore.
Despite high returns, non-availability of irrigation water is hindering expansion. There are a large number of other factors, such as the traditional farm management practices, non-availability of infrastructure, lack of funds, absence of marketing channels, high degree of pest and disease problems, lack of accurate information on pesticides, high cost of irrigation, shortage of labour, lack of access to institutional credit and loan, and the non-availability of inputs, which discourage production.
Lack of government support is also an important factor. The above mentioned constraints vary from region to region and province to province. There is a need to study these constraints in a regional context.
A study conducted in Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalpur identifies important production and marketing constraints in muskmelon cultivation due to disease and insect attacks.
Around 90 per cent of the respondents reported disease and insect attacks as the foremost factor for low yield. The second is inadequate funds. Muskmelon growers have small holdings with limited financial resources.
They could not purchase inputs on time. These farmers lack financial resources, and the access to institutional credit and loans is limited. Vegetable production requires cash for inputs at various stages, while farmers depend on input dealers.
Transportation is a major constraint. Muskmelon being highly perishable commodity needs to be marketed in a short period. If storage facility is not available then farmers are sure to lose. Shortage of canal water is another limiting factor.
Farmers purchase tubewell water to irrigate their fields whose cost is prohibitive. Shortage of canal water exaggeratates financial restraints of small farmers who already face liquidity crunch.
Low price of produce during peak harvesting period of muskmelon seriously affects financial condition of these farmers. These indicate inefficient marketing system. There exist a large gap between the pre- and post-harvesting prices of muskmelon. The late growers suffer due to fluctuations.
Another problem is the availability of quality seed. Certified seed is rare while adulteration is in abundance, affecting production. Mostly, seed is imported and significant quantities are smuggled into the country. These seeds are adulterated at local levels to earn more profit.
The muskmelon crop is susceptible to disease and insect attacks. Diagnosis at the right time is most important in crop management practices. Delay causes disaster thus hitting the producer.
Consultation with the Extension staff helps in the selection of spray. Use of resistant or tolerant varieties of muskmelon and other vegetables can be viable alternative for farmers for controlling insects or diseases.
Currently, the Extension Department is focusing on major crops such as cotton, wheat, rice, etc. Other minor crops such vegetables are being ignored. The department should provide necessary information for vegetable production and controlling disease and insect attacks. They should check adulterated inputs in the markets.
As vegetable growers hold small chunks of lands, institutions do not provide them loans. Therefore, farmers depend on non-institutional credit and loans. These institutions and individuals exploit them. There is a need to provide institutional credit to resource-poor small farmers.
Courtesy: The DAWN