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LAHORE: Agriculture Republic, an agriculture think tank, has proposed in the coming budget transformation of agriculture credit exclusively for the subsistence farmers who make roughly 80% of the farming households in Pakistan.

‘As witnessed in the housing sector, if the agriculture loan acquisition process is made simpler and easily accessible, it will incentivize small farmers to increase their yield and profitability,’ said the co-founder of the platform Aamer Hayat Bhandara in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi.

The platform has developed some suggestions to cover in the upcoming national budget for boosting the agricultural sector which include equipping farmers with requisite extension services and crop protection tools which can handle the issues surging because of climate change such as the incidence of Fall Armyworm. Availability of crop protection products that address new pest risks is dependent on timely review and approval of quality products with a proven track record of efficacy. Therefore, the government must consider including provisions for emergency approvals in the present regulatory framework, the letter added.

Drone technology for application of crop protection products will be a game changer in smallholder farmer geographies. However, the absence of requisite regulation and institutional oversight has been an impediment to adopting this technology in Pakistan. The benefits for the technology are manifold, including reduced usage of water, operational efficiency, increased chemical efficacy, lower volume of pesticide use. In order to create an enabling environment for agriculture drone technology, the Ministry of National Food Security must take the lead in defining SOPs for spray drone operations and immediately facilitate research activities by securing NOCs for technology import and usage, it further suggested.

Commenting upon the Federal Government’s agriculture transformation plan, the letter said plan sets an ambitious target of 8 million acres for maize cultivation. However, a clear plan to achieve the same has not been disclosed. Adoption of biotechnology, to bridge the staggering yield gap in the crop (national average 46 maunds/acre vs 120 maunds per acre for progressive farmers), must be considered by the government. Over 50% of global maize grain output comes from 14 countries that have embraced this technology. With China primed to commercialize GM maize for cultivation in 2023, over 70% of global output will be benefiting from this technology.

The global Artificial Intelligence in agriculture market is predicted to generate revenue of $8,379.5 million, increasing from $852.2 million, and is expected to witness a 24.8% CAGR during the forecast period (2020-2030). To tap the potential of growing AI technologies in agriculture and agtech startups, cellular internet connectivity is the need of the day. Future agriculture will use sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, and GPS technology which will allow farms to be more profitable, efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly, but cellular connectivity would be a prerequisite for using these innovations. Therefore, the government should encourage the cellular network companies to increase their network in rural areas and provide small farmer friendly internet plans so they can reap the benefits of internet connectivity.

To improve the dairy sector, Agriculture Republic proposed in addition to semen, the government should also introduce Embryo Transfer Technology to achieve rapid improvement of our milk yield and overall quality of dairy herd. Besides, the government should also introduce programmes on farmers training about dairy animals’ nutritional requirements, housing arrangements, and herd health.

Historically, it has been observed that in case of excess supply of fresh vegetables, farmers were not able to fetch better prices and were forced to dump their produce in open fields or canals. Therefore, given the high yield of hybrid vegetable varieties and short shelf life, mini processing plants on a district level must be established to convert excess supply to by-products for local and export markets to avoid losses. The government should involve an agriculture extension force to educate small-scale farmers about the economic benefits and modern cultivation methods of vegetable farming in order to gain maximum benefits. On the other hand, consumers should be aware of vegetables’ nutritional benefits to increase the demand and improve their health well-being, the letter concluded.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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