Smart way to boost food security, Bhandara is a young farmer from Pakpattan, a small district of South Punjab. He completed his fellowship on climate change and water from LEAD in 2013.

Smart way to boost food security

Currently, he is serving as the vice president of the Australia Awards Alumni, Pakistan and also playing his part as the member of various districts, divisional, provincial and national committees formed by the government. His areas of interests include rural development, tertiary-level governance, community politics and sustainability of small and landless farming Climate-smart agriculture is a key to achieve food security, said Aamer Hayat Bhandara, a progressive farmer and co-founder of Agriculture Republic and Digital Dera. Smart way to boost food security, “Pakistan is among the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. We need to adapt and build resilience to climate change, increase crop productivity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Heat tolerant crop varieties, mulching, proper water management, boundary trees and appropriate housing for cattle are the need of the hour, Smart way to boost food security, “There is a need to take effective measures to get yield according to the actual potential,” he said, adding that the growers should be enabled to use quality inputs and adopt best farming practices to minimise the pre- and post-harvest losses. “Food safety is essential for our national security. We can say that food safety and national security are synonyms,” he said, adding that the reliance of an agrarian country like Pakistan on the import to fulfil the food requirements is alarming. “There is no issue of nuclear assets security, as we have an exemplary command and control system. But, unfortunately, our food security is under threat,” Bhandara said, while referring to the recent statement of US President Joe Biden.

The obsolete agricultural practices and slow pace of diversification towards oilseed, pulses, beans and grams were forcing an agrarian country to import a number of food items. “There is an issue of low productivity and quality due to inputs’ affordability, which include raw materials, advanced technologies, information and advisory and financial services,” he said. “We are fast losing agricultural land to housing societies. Smart way to boost food security, The only pragmatic approach can be to ensure availability of enough land for agriculture and taking measures to enhance yield to feed an increasing population. Climate-smart agriculture is the only solution to our present and future problems,” Bhandara is a young farmer from Pakpattan, a small district of South Punjab. He studied politics and journalism from Bahauddin Zakriya University, Multan; followed by a course on pro-poor market development in the rural areas from the University of Queensland, Australia. He completed his fellowship on Climate Change and Water: Managing Uncertainties in South Asia from LEAD in 2013. Smart way to boost food security, Bhandara was also part of the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) on the United States Agricultural Technology Practice in 2021. Smart way to boost food security, He currently serves as the vice president of the Australia Awards Alumni, Pakistan. Having an interest in politics, he was elected the member of the District Council (local government) in 2016. He is serving as a member of various districts, divisional, provincial and national committees formed by the government. At present, he is part of the Resource Mobilisation Committee, Higher Education Commission, Price Control Committee and District Peace and Aman Committee. His areas of interests include rural development, tertiary-level governance and community politics, sustainability of small and landless farming. He regularly contributes to Op-eds and writes articles on the issues of agriculture policy and climate change in various national and international publications. As a public representative, his advocacy efforts are focused on health, education, and climate and food security, especially in the area of the water-food-energy nexus.

Following are the excerpts of an exclusive talk with him:

Your first venture?

I started giving a helping hand to my father in farming and managing agricultural produce in 2005. At that time, all my cousins had left farming after subletting inherited agricultural land. On completing my education in 2007, I became a full time farmer managing procurement of inputs, sowing of crops, harvesting and business of food grains. Having knowledge of the issues related to climate change, I became a progressive farmer, while adopting the climate-smart agriculture practices. On getting desired results, I started helping small farmers of my area in taking benefits from the artificial intelligence and adopting good farming practices to get better yield.

Your achievements?

I am an accessible person who is always ready to give a helping hand to the community. I think awareness about the latest farming techniques is the key to get better results. Proper guidance can enable the small farmers to get more yield for extra income. It is the key to ensure food security.

Tell us something about Agriculture Republic and Digital Dera?

The Agriculture Republic, a think-tank, has set up Pakistan’s first Digital Dera at a remote village of Pakpattan district in collaboration with the Internet Society Global. Desktop computers and tablets have been made available at the Dera, which have been equipped with a fast broadband connection in an air-conditioned atmosphere powered by a solar system. It can match any computer lab in the country as far as connectivity speed and equipment are concerned. The facility is available to all the farmers from Pakpattan’s rural areas to find solutions to their farming challenges, learning about the latest agriculture technology and extension services offered by various members of the Agriculture Republic community. The users of the Digital Dera have access to digital farming and learning resources and what the internet has to offer to the agricultural community powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) but not to the social media tools that consume, rather waste, time of the people without offering anything positive. The facility not only helps the farmers learn new farming techniques but also connect them with the agriculture experts to get advice on various issues being faced from plantation to harvesting of various crops.

Problems faced by the farmers in the flood-hit areas? Possible consequences? What should be the way forward?

The people have lost all their belongings, including inputs for the next crop. Sindh is worst affected where a vast agricultural land is still under water, and as such, there is no question of sowing the Rabi crops. As the farming community has no money to purchase inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, sowing is also not possible in areas where the floodwater has receded. The situation is likely to worsen and may even trigger a wider food insecurity. Writing off or deferring the payments of bank loans will be insufficient, as most of the farmers borrow money from the informal sector. The middleman will insist on the payment of loans. Even if he postpones the payment, he will not provide money to purchase inputs for the next crop. The unprecedented increase in the prices of agricultural input is also a big issue. The prices of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides have doubled. Smart way to boost food security, There is a need to take effective measures to bring necessary inputs for the small farmers. The seeds, fertiliser and pesticide companies have earned a lot in the past and it is time to pay back. The government should play its due role in this regard. It should also mobilise research institutions to identify alternative crops. There is a need to develop a strong liaison between research institutions and relevant stakeholders.

What challenges the agriculture sector is facing and how to overcome them?

Housing societies are encroaching on agricultural land at a fast pace. The conventional crops continue to dominate the sector with a slow pace of diversification towards fruits, vegetables, flowers, oilseeds, pulses, beans and grams. The prevailing scenario is forcing Pakistan to import a number of food items.

We need to draw a red line to save enough agricultural land needed to ensure food security. Then, the only pragmatic approach can be to take measures to enhance yield and to feed an increasing population and enhance exports. The farmers could get more yield by using certified seeds, quality inputs and adopting best farming practices.

Impact of recent surge in fuel prices and electricity tariffs on the agriculture sector?

An increase in the fuel prices has considerably enhanced the input cost, as the majority of the farmers use diesel-fired engines for extracting groundwater for irrigation purposes. High electricity tariffs and fuel prices have not only increased inflation but the prices of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and agriculture machinery, too. The prevailing scenario has made it tough for the farmers to make both ends meet, while growing the next crop.

How global inflation, high freight charges and the rupee depreciation have affected the agriculture sector?

Inflation, high freight charges and the rupee depreciation have enhanced the landing cost of imported agriculture inputs and machinery.

Trade deficit is a major issue. Can agriculture and livestock sectors help overcome the prevailing crises?

It is a huge challenge, as we rely on imports to fulfil energy and food needs. There are enormous opportunities to substitute imports in oilseed, pulses, beans and grams through promoting cultivation and the use of modern technology. Through diversification and investment in the value-added products, Pakistan can enhance exports of fruits, vegetables and processed food items. The government should identify areas and encourage sowing of palm oil, sunflower and other oilseeds to save the precious foreign exchange. A major portion of milk is destroyed owing to the lack of awareness and unavailability of required infrastructure. Technical and financial support to the small farmers can help minimise milk wastage in the rural areas. Processed milk and the value-added milk products can earn good foreign exchange for the country.

How do you see the existing agriculture marketing system?

The present system facilitates the middleman to exploit hapless small growers. There is a need to revive the system after due consultation with the stakeholders. The government should introduce electronic receipts and ensure proper monitoring of the bidding process.

Your take on the impacts of climate change on agriculture and a possible way forward?

Climate change has emerged as the most threatening issue, which is making our rainfall patterns erratic. We are not sure when we’ll have rains or drought, which is affecting our sowing season and impacting agriculture. Record rainfall this monsoon season has caused unprecedented flooding. There is a need to make our agriculture and water sector resilient to climate change. The mitigation and adaptation should go simultaneously to get desired results. We need to increase green cover, build dams and natural water recharging sites. We also need to focus on research to introduce heat and drought-resilient and water efficient varieties. There is a need to revive the old practice of inter-cropping to get additional crops without compromising on the yield of the other one.

Burning of crop residue is adding to the pollution. Possible solution?

Yes, pollution is an issue. The industries are using substandard fuel. Unfortunately, the farmers and brick kilns are the ultimate targets of smog-related actions. The burning of crop residue is a normal practice for decades on both sides of the Pakistan-Indian borders. Now it has gained attention due to smog. If the government really wants to stop burning of residue, it should facilitate the farmers in getting “Pak Seeder” for sowing wheat. The equipment costs Rs0.3 to Rs0.4 million and could be given to the farmers or group of farmers on easy installments. The second option is smashing rice residue with “disc harrow”. It will also help increase the land fertility that will ultimately reduce the requirements of chemical fertilisers.

What are our water challenges and possible consequences?

Water scarcity, water pollution, over-abstraction of groundwater, water governance, wastage and unsustainable water use in rural and urban areas are the major issues. Continuing the prevailing practice will prove disastrous for the country. There is a need to ensure judicious use of water resources, improvement in the efficiency of the agriculture sector by adopting practices such as drip irrigation, replacing water guzzling crops with less water consumption and drought-resistant varieties. Water metering is the only option to minimise wastage in major cities and conserving the precious resources for the coming generations.

Our aquifers are depleting at a faster pace due to excessive pumping. What steps should be taken to conserve the underground water?

There is a need to maintain a balance between groundwater pumping and recharging. We should develop natural recharging sites such as doongi grounds, parks and greenbelts along roads to harvest rainwater and make it a part of aquifer. We need to revisit our agricultural practices to minimise the use of water pumped through tube-wells. Water-efficient crop varieties should be introduced to conserve the precious resources. We also need to promote the culture of rainwater harvesting to minimise our reliance on the underground water.

Your take on the establishment of recharging wells?

Natural recharging sites such as doongi grounds, parks and greenbelts below the level of roads have disappeared with the passage of time and that is why groundwater level is gradually dropping, which will prove disastrous in the future. i  think we need to establish doongi grounds, parks and greenbelts below the levels of roads to recharge aquifers instead of setting up such wells. The passage of rainwater through natural layers will help remove all the hazardous pollutants before it becomes a part of the aquifer.

How can we tackle the issue of water wastage?

Water worth billions of dollars is wasted downstream Kotri Barrage every year. We need to build small and large reservoirs to minimise the threats of floods and storage of water for agricultural purposes and power generation during dry seasons.

How can we rationalise our energy mix?

Our energy mix is not sustainable due to heavy reliance on the imported fossil fuel for power generation. Pakistan has an abundance of natural resources such as water, solar and wind. We have the potential to generate enough electricity through hydel resources, which can easily fulfil our growth requirements for the next two to three decades. As such there is a need to build dams to fulfil our future irrigation and power generation requirements.

Source: This news is origiginally published by bolnews


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