Agriculture growth over the next decade will have
to depend on increasing yields per acre rather than by bringing more land
under cultivation. This means that the growth of input productivity (seeds,
water, fertilizers) would have to accelerate. Yet the evidence shows that
the growth of factor productivity in agriculture has been declining. It
is crucial for Pakistan's future to reverse this trend and place agriculture
on the path of sustainable growth. In the pursuit of this objective, agriculture
research and extension could play a key role. In this article we will
analyze the imperatives, and identify both the issues, as well as the
institutional framework for more effective agriculture research.
It is well known that high yielding varieties of seeds
introduced at a point in time, gradually lose their potency through reuse,
changing micro structure of soils, and changing ecology of micro organisms
in the top soil. Therefore, breeding of more vigorous seed varieties adapted
to local environmental conditions and their diffusion amongst farmers
is required through an effective research and extension program.
At the moment, there is no organized seed industry
in Pakistan to meet the needs of farmers for the supply of vigorous varieties
of seeds for even the major crops. The existing institutional framework
for agriculture research suffers from a proliferation of research institutes,
which are inadequately funded, often lack professional expertise, proper
equipment and the research environment necessary to produce significant
results. Finally, there is considerable overlapping of research responsibilities
across institutes. Consequently, research has by and large failed to produce
operationally usable results much less increase input efficiency. Seed
varieties research where it has produced new seeds has involved a large
time lag in getting research to the farmers. In wheat, for example, the
average age of seed varieties is 11 years compared to 7 years for all
developing countries. It has been shown that there was a sharp decline
in growth of total factor productivity in Pakistan after 1975. According
to a study by Rosegrant and Evenson Pakistan's lower factor productivity
growth compared to India can be attributed to the poorer level of research
and extension in Pakistan compared to India.
A new dimension to the imperative of improving research
capability in the crop sector is indicated by the possibility of declining
yields per acre related with global warming. According to Qureshi, Ata
and Iglesias, given the sensitivity of wheat seed to temperature increase,
even a 2-degree centigrade increase in average summer temperatures could
mean an absolute yield decline of between 10 to 16 percent during the
21st century. With a 2.8 percent population growth, even a decline of
5 percent in yield per acre associated with global warming, could mean
serious food deficits for Pakistan. It is, therefore, necessary to develop
heat resistant varieties of food grains.
The current ineffectiveness of agriculture research
and poor diffusion amongst farmers is a cause for concern. This is particularly
so in a situation where future agriculture growth and labour absorption
will have to depend more on input efficiency than on enlargement of irrigated
acreage and input intensification which were the major sources of agriculture
growth in the past.
The following issues may be identified for research
and subsequent diffusion:
i) Development of (a) new heat resistant varieties
of wheat, (b) short duration and late sowing varieties of wheat to enable
multiple cropping, (c) heat resistant, pest resistant, short duration
and high yielding varieties of cotton, (d) development of short duration
and high yielding varieties of pulses and oilseeds to fit into cropping
pattern of late Rabi/late Kharif crops.
ii) Rehabilitation of agriculture in saline and water
iii) Improvement of barani agriculture by research
into designs of low-cost rainwater reservoirs and chalk dams for water-run
off, for irrigation and soil conservation.
iv) Efficient harvest and post harvest handling technology for different
v) Development of hybrid seeds of Maize, Sorghum, Sunflower and other
On the basis of my wide ranging consultations with farmers in the Punjab
and Frontier provinces as well as officials concerned with agriculture
research during the last two years, it can be proposed that for more effective
research and its diffusion amongst farmers it may be necessary to take
the following initiatives:
i) Restructure the existing institutional framework for seed development
in particular and agriculture research in general to (a) bring greater
professionalism, (b) improve monitoring and evaluation of research work.
ii) Focus research on improving input productivity at the region specific
level. In this context the outcomes of controlled experiments at research
institutes need to be tailored to the specific needs and conditions of
farms in the region.
iii) Maintain regular interaction between research workers and farmers
in the field by establishing an institutional linkage between research
and village level institutions for diffusion of such research. Village
level community organizations of farmers for participatory development
have demonstrated the ability for a fruitful dialogue with research and
extension institutions in the government and non-governmental sector.
Such interactions amongst farmers and agricultural researchers could redirect
research to the specific needs and conditions of farmers and also enable
a more rapid adoption of improved seeds and agricultural practices. Support
organizations such as the PRSP in the Punjab (during August to October
1998), and AKRSP in the northern areas (during the early 1990s) have demonstrated
an ability for facilitating the adoption of new knowledge and agricultural
practices, particularly in cases where such adoption requires training
and credit to farmers at the village level.