Opinions

Poverty eradication through sustainable added-value agriculture in Pakistan

Plants and crops have always been, and will continue to be, of vital importance for humankind. Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use are key factors. Plants and crops are an essential source of food, feed, fiber, fuel, fun, freedom, raw materials, and energy. Plants, especially biomass crops, will be one answer, and they are a further essential key in renewable energy strategies of the future.

Dr Aqeel Ahmed Bazmi

Poverty is rampant in the rural areas of Pakistan, where people are in a state of deprivation with regard to incomes, clothing, housing, healthcare, education, sanitary facilities and human rights. Pakistan is an agricultural country and agriculture generates nearly 60 percent of the country’s GDP and provides employment for 43.4 percent of its workforce.

Most importantly, 65.9 percent of the population living in rural areas is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Rising population, shrinking agricultural land, increasing demand for water resources, widespread land degradation and inadequate infrastructure appear to be major concerns of the agriculture sector in Pakistan. There exists a strong linkage among the population growth, agriculture growth and poverty alleviation. Out of 79.6 million hectares in the country, only 22 million hectares (18 million irrigated and 4 million rain-fed) are available as cultivable land in Pakistan. Land availability has become a constraint in increasing food production and supply.

The diminishing supply of per capita arable land, combined with rapid population growth is resulting in rising urbanization. Bringing additional land under cultivation through provision requires adequate and efficiently managed water resources. Development economists say that industrialization cannot achieve the goal of prosperity without the simultaneous transformation of the agricultural sector, the source of sustenance of the bulk of the nation’s people. Therefore, in the presence of an ever increasing population, a rise in agricultural productivity is imperative to support the growing needs of the people.

The impact of population on agricultural production includes low land per capita, intensive use of land, and a higher household income generation dependency ratio on land. The two most important driving forces behind the land degradation in Pakistan are limited land resources and increase in population. Land shortage and poverty, taken together, lead to unsustainable land management practices.

As different sectors – food, feed, fiber, and fuels – compete for land, the yielding potential of the future non-food crops has to be as efficient as possible in order to minimize the competition for land. In the long term, bioenergy crops provide the largest potential. This development can be driven by: additional productivity increases, further liberalization of agricultural markets and the introduction of high-yield bioenergy crops. Furthermore, Freshwater, Forestry, Flora, Fauna and Fun (tourism) are also the factors which compete for land. Sustainable production of food, feed, fiber, fuel, freshwater and industrial products in the future will depend for its success on a future-oriented, knowledge-based and added-value agriculture – that, finally, will enable freedom and safeguard global peace. As Food-Fuel, is a global challenge for the 21st century, so agriculture is a new global mega-trend in the coming decades, and will be triggered by sustainable food and energy production.

It is ironic that Pakistan has yet to take advantage of its coastal zones, comprising of 550 km coastline of Balochistan and 330 km shore line of the Southern Province of Sindh. Some of its areas are best suited for oil palm plantation with suitable temperatures between 24°C to 35°C. In case of less rainfall, its substitution can be humidity and availability of canal water.

Plants and crops have always been, and will continue to be, of vital importance for humankind. Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use are key factors. Plants and crops are an essential source of food, feed, fiber, fuel, fun, freedom, raw materials, and energy. Plants, especially biomass crops, will be one answer, and they are a further essential key in renewable energy strategies of the future.

Nevertheless, powerful breeding programs are at present rudimentary or in an early phase for the more than 40 plants which are described as potential energy crops. Agricultural biomass production, and especially biofuels production, must not compete with food production, but should increase diversity and make feasible the beneficial use of often destructively exploited land resources. But caution is necessary. If the population-food supply balance is to be maintained in future, long-term planning will be essential.

All this needs reduced use and re-distribution of resources – in other words, “Do more with less”. This can be achieved by bringing together the agricultural, environmental and energy policies. In recent years, public and political sensitivities to environmental issues and energy security have led to the promotion of renewable energy resources. Promotion of renewable energy production will bring the greatest land-use changes.

Billion Tree Tsunami project in KP was a good project which added 350,000 hectares of trees both by planting and natural regeneration, in an effort to restore the province’s depleted forests and fight the effects of climate change. Same effort should be spread across the country Recently, Pakistan Government officially launched the ‘Clean and Green Pakistan campaign. The campaign targets to clean the air, rivers, land and make Pakistan green through tree plantation in the next 5 years.

This awesome effort needs the consideration of the sustainable land use strategies. Among the cultivable land, almost 60 per cent is found in Punjab and about 30 per cent in the Sindh. The irrigated plains are used mainly for the production of cotton, rice, and sugarcane, while wheat is the main crop in the rain-fed areas. It is ironic that Pakistan has yet to take advantage of its coastal zones, comprising of 550 km coastline of Balochistan and 330 km shore line of the Southern Province of Sindh.

Some of its areas are best suited for oil palm plantation with suitable temperatures between 24°C to 35°C. In case of less rainfall, its substitution can be humidity and availability of canal water. The import bill of edible oils is costing the national exchequer about Rs 50 billions of hard earned foreign exchange. Pakistan has all the necessary ingredients to go for massive oil palm plantation and succeed only if we get out of the edible oil trap. The edible oil requirement is about two million tons per annum, while the local production is only 0.634 million tons per annum, which is only 30 per cent. Seventy percent of edible oil is imported every year.

It is expected that the edible oil requirement will increase by 6 to 8 per cent per annum. It is essential, prudent and imperative that Pakistan should go for oil palm plantation as it spends about Rs 50 billion on the import of 1.400 million tons of edible oil annually and its share of palm oil is about 1.200 million tons per annum. The palm produces three main economic products i.e., palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake. Palm oil extracted from the fruit mesocarp. It is mainly used for food with some industrial applications. Palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel or seed. It is mainly used for cosmetics, detergents and shampoo preparations. Palm kernel cake is the residue from the kernel after extraction of oil; it is a useful animal feed.

Oil Palm biomass can also be utilized to produce bioenergy. Fibre from the empty fruit bunches (EFBs) can be used for pulp and paper production, and to make panel products. When composted, the EFBs make good organic fertilizers and soil conditioners. The EFBs are used to produce bunch ash, a high value potash fertilizer. Palm oil mill effluent (POME), which is rich in nutrients, is recycled back to land. POME, after biological treatment, is increasingly applied to oil palm land for fertilizer and moisture benefits. Biogas production can be harnessed for heat and electricity generation. Palm-based diesel is a clean and ‘green’ fuel that promises to be a source of renewable energy. A new technique eliminates the traditional practice of burning felled palms during replanting.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are further key challenges at the beginning of the 3rd millennium. Global warming is creating a drag on production of the world’s leading food and feed crops, as well as of raw materials for biofuels. Agriculture is the industry whose fate is most closely linked to climate. Plantation and forests are the key factors to cater the climate change.

A balance of land distribution among food, non food (energy) crops, plantation, forests and tourism landscapes (fun) is essential for sustainable future-oriented, knowledge-based and added-value agriculture. Sustainable water resource management is closely linked with land use in all of these forms.

So, this is the need of the time that Government of Pakistan (GOP) should take initiative to re-analyze all the parameters that will play an important role in successful non-food cropping systems in the agriculture of the country alongside the existing food crop systems and formulate the policy for sustainable land use for food, feed, fiber, fuel, freshwater, forestry and fun. I may term it as “The 7F Plan”. The 7F (Food, Feed, Fiber, Fuel, Freshwater, Forestry and Fun) plan could be a comprehensive roadmap to integrate the agriculture growth, industrial production, energy mix, climate change, tourism and water resource management, which in turns will contribute towards poverty eradication through GDP growth and job creation. Integrating 7Fs will be an energy and price incentive process rather than individually focusing on each sector. GOP may establish a separate directorate for 7F Plan for survey, analysis of parameters, policy formulation and implementation.

The writer is an Associate Professor in COMSATS. He can be reached at engr_abazmi@hotmail.com

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