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EDITORIAL: Progressive farmers are getting wheat yield of up to 80 maunds per acre while our national average wheat output is about 31 maunds per acre. That is a huge difference and has rightly attracted the attention of concerned quarters. Of the pleas and proposals to bridge that gap, quite a few are just routine propositions made at the advent of the Rabi season, but the one made by the University of Agriculture Faisalabad is a novel one, though essentially symbolic in nature. The university has decided to send some 20,000 students to villages in Punjab to apprise farming community of modern trends and experts’ recommendations to boost per acre productivity. They will educate farmers about proper utilisation of water, availability of high yield seeds, application of appropriate fertilizers and right insecticides. But even when the university gesture is a step in the right direction, it is too little to make big difference on the ground. The target fixed for the upcoming wheat crop is 30 million tonnes as against 27.5 million tonnes for 2020-21, out of which the share of Punjab would be 20 million and rest of it is expected to be produced by other provinces, mostly by Sindh.

That Pakistan today is teetering on the brink of food insecurity is a fact. Of course there are natural causes, including drought which negatively impacts per-acre efficiency of wheat crop; but that is only a small part of the problem. The bigger part of the problem is unfriendly, if not hostile, attention that the agriculture sector has received from successive governments, although it merited prime attention of every government. About 38 percent of population is employed in the agriculture sector. A one-fourth of our geographical land is used for cultivation of five major crops, dominated by wheat. And then there is the extensive irrigation system. Agriculture accounts for 19 percent of GDP and the agri-based exports comprise 80 percent of Pakistan’s total exports. Why then a university had to lead the way to grow and harvest better wheat crop. Although we do hear concerned ministers and officials propounding an argument that knowledge-based economy is the need of the hour, why then these expressions don’t translate into actualities?

It is good that the farmers should know how better seeds, efficient use of water and fertilizers and timely sowing can increase productivity. But what should have been done is to improve the quality of life in the villages where farmers live. Progressive farming is certainly the need of the hour, but there is not much on the ground to help generate progressive mindset there. Villagers have been moving to cities to make a life. Given that Pakistan’s population is growing at the rate of five to six million per year, food insecurity is just on the way to become a daunting challenge for the country and its people. But the students cannot go it alone. Therefore, the government will be required to step in or become involved in a difficult situation by formulating sustainable strategies aimed at intensifying agriculture output to tackle looming food security crisis.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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