MULTAN: Agriculture, being the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy, is faced with numerous challenges and development of residential societies on fertile land is one of the major causes affecting agricultural productivity.
Around 68 percent of population living in rural areas of the country is directly or indirectly linked to agriculture sector as this sector contributes nearly 20 percent share in gross domestic products and more than 60 percent in export goods.
Therefore, it is a challenging task for the government to not only employing the full potential of present agriculture land but also enhance its area by bringing more land under cultivation.
But, it has been witnessed in recent years that instead of adding more land to existing one for agricultural purposes, massive development of housing societies on rich agriculture land is shrinking already available land.
This tendency is rampant in the vicinity of most of major cities across the country where thousands of acre agricultural land has been converted into housing societies. If this trend continues in future couple of decades or so, the country’s fertile land would be under extreme pressure of population growth.
“With the growing population, need for housing units is also growing. This tendency is resulting in expansion of cities to the adjacent rich agriculture land,” said Vice Chancellor Nawaz Sharif University of Agriculture Dr Asif Ali.
“No doubt that we need more housing units with rise in population but it does not mean to use our agricultural land for this purpose,” he added arguing that in countries like Singapore where plain land is not available, the structure are built vertically.
Dr Asif opined that the government should pay proper heed to housing sector introducing a comprehensive plan wherein the alternate options are introduced and new cities on barren land should be established instead of using fertile land for housing societies.
“By developing societies at fertile land, we compromise bio-diversity, landscaping and irrigation infrastructure”, regretted.
He said the farmers have to toil for years to make land fertile and it is unjust that when this land starts giving production to the optimum, the owners sell it to developers to earn more money.
“What we are earning today by selling fertile land will land us in serious trouble of meeting food needs of our population already growing at the pace of around two percent annually,” he added.
Since, Pakistan is already facing the issue of low agricultural productivity as compared to other countries in the region, shrinking fertile coupled with climate change would be more challenging.
For example, in Pakistani Punjab, the average per acre yield of wheat is nearly 31 maund as compared to 45 maund in Indian Punjab. Same happens in case of other crops wherein the produce is lesser than other countries in the region.
“In this scenario we need multi-pronged strategy. On one hand we need to enhance productivity and one the other hand identify land for constructing more housing units,” he pleaded.
“Our agriculture sector is already facing various challenges including poor seed quality, substandard and costly inputs, imbalance use of fertilizers, excessive use of pesticides, soil infertility and soil erosion,” Dr Asif said. “In this situation, rising trend of urbanization and establishment of housing societies at fertile land would be lethal for agricultural sector.”
He said, before establishing new cities, there should be proper study of the site, ecological balance and presence of underground water. Moreover, every society must be directed to ensure sufficient tree plantation in these settlements.
The unplanned expansion of cities on fertile land is also damaging fruit plants as witnessed in Multan where hundreds of mango trees were cut down for using the land for housing purpose.
“Mango orchards are beauty of South Punjab. We have best mango varieties that are also exported to other countries for earning foreign exchange,” said Laique Sheikhana, a progressive farmer.
“But, in the race of constructing housing societies and earning more money, mango trees have been eliminated on hundreds of acre fertile land,” he added. “A mango orchard takes years to be developed but it is cut down within hours. This is too cruel and would make us suffer in future in terms of edible items.”
He suggested that government should strictly ban developing of housing societies on fertile land and allocate them alternate and less fertile land for the purpose.
If we see the major cities like Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Bahawalpur and the small towns, establishment of housing societies is rampant with the developers and the policy makers least bothering to the emerging challenge of national food security.
“If this trend continued unchecked, during next three to four decades, we shall be spoiling thousands of acres of our agricultural land,” said another farmer Mian Ishnaaq Watto.
He said besides fruit orchards, most of the land adjacent to city areas is used for vegetables cultivation. “With the development of housing societies on this land, we shall face shortage of vegetables.”
“It can be never termed as wise to destroy our edibles chain for the purpose of constructing residential units,” he added. “Will these houses be for any use when we shall be falling short of meeting our edible items needs.”
Therefore, it is imperative for the authorities to devise a mechanism wherein the developers develop societies to meet the need of housing units but not at the cost fertile agricultural land.