By Khuda Bakhsh and Dr. M. Ashfaq
Poverty in Pakistan, specially in its rural areas, is deep and widespread. One effective way of fighting rural poverty is to encourage vegetable cultivation. Vegetable cultivation would engage rural labourers in different farming practices such as sowing, weeding, hoeing, harvesting, packing, etc.
Moreover, vegetables are cheap sources of essential nutrients like vitamin, protein, iron, etc. As vegetables constitutes a small percentage (2 per cent) in total cultivated area in Pakistan, little consideration is given to research work relating to the use of inputs, new practices, etc.
In agriculture research is restricted only to major vegetables while other vegetables are ignored. Vegetables like cauliflower, carrot, turnip, and many others result in higher returns per acre and they also involve labour intensive farming practices.
Vegetable growers are facing production and marketing constraints such as inadequate funds, non-availability of good quality seeds, price fluctuations and inefficient marketing system.
Vegetables demand bigger labour force for various activities which is not there. According to the findings of a research conducted in Multan district, vegetables create more employment opportunities as compared to cotton and wheat for unemployed labour force, particularly for unskilled rural people in a short period of time.
The results of the accompanying table shows that the most labour intensive crop among the selected ones is cauliflower employing 64.63 labour days per acre. Other important crops in terms of total labour employed from sowing to marketing are carrot, turnip, cotton and wheat.
While considering labour used by activity type, the most labour absorbing activity in all vegetables is harvesting. Labour used for harvesting/packing, storing, etc. is the highest in cauliflower production, while cotton and wheat crops require less labour as compared to vegetables.
Total number of labour days in crop management is the highest for cauliflower and the lowest labour days are recorded for wheat. Similarly, weeding/hoeing practices engage 9.19 labour days in cauliflower, 6.64 labour days per acre in cotton and only 0.61 labour days were recorded for wheat crop.
Labour used (labour days/acre) by activity type in vegetables, wheat and cotton
* Crop management includes input application and preparations of protective structures such as bund making, raised bed formation etc.
The study showed that vegetable cultivation created more job opportunities as compared to the cultivation of major crops such as wheat and cotton. Rural labour force comprises mostly unskilled workers.
They are unable to find jobs elsewhere and use of capital-intensive technologies in the production of wheat and cotton is also replacing unskilled labourers. In such circumstances, various farm activities carried out during vegetable production provide productive employment opportunities to unskilled and replaced labourers.
Mostly, vegetables are being cultivated in the vicinity of cities. Vegetables cultivation not only provides productive employment opportunities to
unemployed workers who are unskilled and illiterate but also supplies food to the labourers and other citizens living in the big cities.
Vegetable cultivation requires high investment and farmers lack financial resources because the size of landholding is mostly small. Private and public sectors should extend financial help to the resource-poor farmers so that they could be able to apply properf inputs and plant protection measures in time. In this way, food security and unemployment problems could be mitigated.