Balochistan’s agriculture sector is performing better than before — despite the perennial water shortage problem — as the law and order situation has improved and farmers are taking advantage of agricultural research and innovation in technology.

In the last four years, signs of improvement in farm productivity have been most visible in the production of fruits, vegetables and fodder though some key food crops have also recorded a nominal rise.

Farmers and officials of the agriculture department attribute the rise to adoption of better farming techniques, economised use of irrigation water and, to some extent, rain harvesting in rain-fed farming areas.

Total output of fruits in the province increased from 1.08m tonnes in FY12 to an estimated 1.21m tonnes in FY16, showing a cumulative 12pc growth in four years. Higher production of apples has been a key contributor to this growth, officials say, adding that intensive research in the fruit seed-line and better orchard care made this possible.

Production of all vegetables (including potato) in Balochistan had begun faltering after touching a peak of 525,000 tonnes in FY12 but officials claim it is estimated to have returned to the same level in the last fiscal year.

They say that output of other smaller crops, most notably castor seeds, has also been on the rise with improved cropping methods and availability of better marketing opportunities.

Extensive research in castor seed farming in the 2000s had boosted its per-hectare yield, thereby attracting an increasing number of farmers to the crop in the last four, five years. Production of vegetables and other smaller crops has been showing promising signs because many farmers now prefer hydroponic cultivation of vegetables, officials say.

Balochistan’s share in major food crop production is very nominal although the province does produce all of them on a limited scale. In their case, too, a fluctuating growth trend remains in sight.

The production of wheat has risen from 843,000 tonnes in FY12 to about 900,000 tonnes in FY17. This has happened not just by bringing more land under wheat cultivation but also due to increased per-hectare yield that went up from 2170kg to about 2270kg in the last four years, official stats reveal.

Wider use of the high-yielding varieties, better distribution of irrigation water and trimming of pre and post-harvest losses are said to be behind this achievement, media reports suggest.

Owing to water shortages rice and sugarcane production remains erratic in Balochistan. Nevertheless, the per-hectare yield of rice has gone up from 3,089kg in FY12 to about 3,280kg in FY16 and its production has also increased from 529,000 tonnes to about 580,000 tonnes, according to the estimates that are yet to be finalised.

Basmati growers have switched over to more profitable activities including fodder cultivation. Since late 2013, with an improved security situation and a greater availability of irrigation water, animal farming in the province has started showing progress. This has led to more demand and production of fodder crops. Output rose from 986,000 tonnes in FY13 to about 1.1m tonnes in FY14.

The production of gram and some other pulses is, however, not picking up markedly because of improper timing of switching of crops and an inadequate supply of certified seeds.

Despite the annual increase in agricultural budget outlays in the last few years, investment in research and development is still limited. In the past four years, the bulk of the agricultural development budget went to projects in agri-infrastructure, livestock and fisheries. But part of it has also been employed in conducting research on food crops.

The Balochistan government, in collaboration with federal agencies, is also carrying out agricultural research projects with the help of foreign agencies.

The provincial agriculture department’s own research wing has also recently conducted extensive research on soil fertility and soil health. Once the findings of the research are finalised, it will help improve soil conditions in the province and would lead to higher yields of cereals, officials say.

Source: Dawn News


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