VEGETABLES, though, only second to staple when placed on national food security list, are facing enormous problems that are causing fall in production, and their post-harvest losses, already alarmingly high, are increasing.
Value addition industry, which helps control these losses and earns additional money for the sector, is almost non-existent. Hybrid technology is yet to be introduced in the vegetables seed sector.
There has been no breakthrough even in traditional seed technology or managments pactices, which could help the sector grow. These are some of the major problems, otherwise the list can still go on further.
All this is happening despite increasing population and multiplying national demand for vegetables every year. The growing gap between demand and supply keeps rising.
The rising price trend is further fueled by receding writ of the government, where every seller is allowed to fix his/her own prices and fleece the poor.
National statistics of vegetables production tells the story how the secor is being allowed to sink in the mire. During the Kharif 2005-06, vegetable production stood at 1.2 milion tons. It dropped to under one million tons in next four years (2009-10).
Similarly, Rabi (2005-06) production of vegetable crops, which was 2.2 million tons, came down to two million tons last year (2009-10). (These figures exclude potato and onion production). During these four years, population grew and the demand for vegetable increased.
How the officialdom deals with the sector is evident from the initiative Punjab took last December, when vegetable prices shot through the roof in the province — proud producer of 65 per cent vegetables in the country.
The Punjab chief minister announced a provincial plan to double vegetable production and bring prices down to half in the next three-four months by sowing them on all available land under the provincial government and improve supply side management.
A media campaign followed, and an initial allocation of Rs2.7 million was made. The time for the project is already up, but not a single penny has been relased so far. No one in official circles even mentions the plan, which received so much attention four months ago.
The country needs to increase production by developing new seeds and technologies. The most essential step is to improve seeds pool of roughly 30 vegetables that are produced in Rabi and Kharif seasons. Most countries in the world including India, did it long ago, and were reaping the benefit. They not only improved their traditional seed stock, but also went into hybrid, which simply multiplied their production.
Pakistan, however, is still to encourage any such initiative — both on traditional seeds and hybrid. That is why no local company has dared into vegetable hybrid seed yet. All the so-called vegetables hybrid seeds, which are still scant in use, are coming from the Far East and no one knows about the parentage and gene strenght of these seeds. The country is risking so-called hybrid seeds despite suffering badly on cotton, because untested hybrid seed import for years. It now seems to be repeating the mistake on other fronts.
In addition to multiplying yield through hybrid seeds, they also developed, what is known as, ‘stay green’ factor in seeds. This factor delays over-maturing process, and vegetable stays green and usable on the plant for longer period. It gives farmer time to stagger harvesting and sale of the crop. In our country, with the usage of traditional seed, the crop, once matured, very quickly over-matures and rots, generating pressure on farmers to harvest and sell it immediately.
It robs the farmer of any manoeuvrebility in time for harvesting and sale. The stay green seeds are common in the world now, and there is no reason why we should not benefit from this breakthrough.
In the country, essential research has stalled on almost all vegetable seeds, leave alone trying to bring in new factors like stay green. That is where the government needs to work.
The government can help the sector and farmers greatly by controlling post-harvest losses, which are ranging between 35 -40 per cent. If the government can build cool chain infrastructure, it can bring losses down to five to 10 per cent, improving national supplies by a substantial 30 to 35 per cent. That bring the prices down for urban dwellers, alleviate poverty in rural areas and boost vegetable exports.
Luckily, most crops are produced here in geographical clusters. Over 80 per cent potato is produced in one district in Punjab; entire citrus crop is concentrated in Sargodha division, and entire mango is produced in southern Punjab. It makes it easier to develop infrastructure to control post-harvest losses and save the common man from rising prices, which are now spinning beyond their financial reach.
Courtesy: The DAWN