Natural Organic Agriculture: A Sustainable Approach To Resilient Agriculture

The reliance of the Indus River and its tributaries on snowmelt and monsoon rains influences the timing and amount of water available for irrigation.

Natural Organic Agriculture: A Sustainable Approach To Resilient Agriculture

As of 2022, the agriculture sector of Pakistan contributes 22.9% of the GDP and employs 37.4% of the workforce. It is responsible for providing raw materials for the industrial sector and ensuring food security for the rapidly expanding population. This sector is also one of the largest consumers of locally manufactured industrial products such as pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers and small-scale agricultural machinery.

Despite being the backbone of the national economy, the agricultural sector is facing serious constraints ranging from insufficient irrigation resources to outdated farming techniques and a lack of credit facilities. The harsh climatic changes and subsequent environmental degradation in recent years have also proved to be a serious blow to the already shrinking agriculture sector of Pakistan.

This article is going to provide a comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by the agricultural sector of the country and possible paths forward to make it a more productive and efficient sector of the economy.

Challenges of the Agricultural Sector of Pakistan

  • Inadequate supply of water

Despite having one of the largest irrigation systems in the world, encompassing an area of 16 million hectares, the country is grappling with the insufficient and inefficient supply of water for irrigation purposes. The Indus River and its tributaries are the primary sources of irrigation for the agricultural sector. Other sources of irrigation include groundwater, dams, reservoirs, and canals.

Lack of maintenance and poor management of irrigation infrastructure lead to water losses through leaks and breaches. The reliance of the Indus River and its tributaries on snowmelt and monsoon rains influences the timing and amount of water available for irrigation.

Global warming and changing precipitation patterns leading to droughts and floods are also a growing concern for the irrigation system.

Moreover, our agricultural sector lacks the use of modern technologies such as drip and sprinkler systems for irrigation purposes. The use of centuries-old irrigation systems not only results in wastage of water, but it may also overwater the crops, affecting their growth and causing fertilizer runoff into freshwater sources, contaminating them.

  • Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, and Natural Disasters

The agricultural sector faces adverse impacts from climate change, with natural disasters like floods, droughts, and earthquakes disrupting crop production. For example, the extraordinary heat wave in March 2022 had an adverse impact on wheat yield and mango production.

The detrimental consequences of climate change have continued into 2023, with severe frost in January negatively affecting the potato crop in the key potato-growing districts of Punjab.

Moreover, fluctuating monsoon patterns and winter rainfall pose significant challenges for rain-fed farms, as they often experience a lack of rainfall when it is needed and excessive rainfall when crops require drier conditions.

Natural disasters also prove to be detrimental to the agricultural sector by pushing millions of rural households into poverty and food insecurity. The earthquake of 2005, the flood of 2010, the drought of 2013–2015, and the recent megaflood of 2022 are just a few examples of the susceptibility of Pakistan to natural disasters. The June–August 2022 floods wiped out 1.7 million hectares of agricultural land and 800,000 heads of livestock.

Najy Benhassine, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan, said:

“In recent years, Pakistan’s agriculture sector has suffered from losses in crop yields and livestock, damage to irrigation infrastructure, and food shortages due to climate change, particularly severe droughts in the Punjab province”.

  • Population Explosion

Rapidly increasing populations, coupled with unpredictable climatic conditions and subsequent low-yield crops, present a grim state of affairs. This is alarming for a country that is already facing acute food insecurity.

Pakistan has been placed in the 99th position out of 129 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI). According to the United Nations, the current population of Pakistan, as of May 2023, is estimated at 240.5 million and is projected to reach 403 million by 2050. The mere thought of feeding almost 160 million more mouths is a shivering prospect.

  • Lack of Credit Facilities

Access to credit is a critical issue faced by farmers, especially those in rural areas. The cumbersome loan application processes and collateral requirements imposed by banks make it difficult for poor and uneducated farmers to obtain these loans.

The demand of the banks to pledge agricultural lands in exchange for loans proved to be a serious deterrent for farmers. In the absence of financing from the formal channels, the farmers are compelled to go to the middleman, who manipulates them in many ways, including very high financing rates.

Also, the limited access to credit hampers their ability to invest in modern farming techniques, purchase quality seeds and fertilizers, and improve the overall productivity and yields of the crops.

  • Poor Infrastructure

Poor infrastructure significantly hinders the growth and development of the agriculture sector in Pakistan. There is limited access to roads, bridges, and irrigation networks, which hinders the farmer’s access to markets for obtaining necessary inputs for their agriculture and selling their commodities.

The poor storage facilities result in post-harvest losses, which further make the system inefficient and non-productive.

The unreliable and inadequate supply of energy is also a significant barrier to the development of the agricultural sector. The reliance on expensive energy sources such as petroleum, gas, and natural oil increases the operational cost and reduces competitiveness in this sector.

  • Lack of education and awareness among farmers

There is a lack of access to modern education and awareness in the agricultural community of Pakistan. Farmers are unaware of advanced farming techniques such as genetic improvements of seeds, climate-smart technologies, fertilizers, and integrated pest management strategies.

They have the least knowledge of mitigation and adaptation strategies against climate change and environmental degradation to protect their crops.

  • Lack of Research and Development

The lack of research and development in the agricultural sector has severe impacts on the quality and overall production of crops. There is the absence of soil testing facilities, which results in lower crop yields and increases the susceptibility to pests and diseases.

The use of poor-quality fertilisers and pesticides has deteriorated land fertility. Despite being the biggest contributor to the national GDP, only a small amount of financial resources have been allocated for research and development in the agriculture sector.

In the last 20 years, investment in the research and development sector has ranged from 0.11 to 0.63% of the agricultural GDP.

Solutions for the Agricultural Problems of Pakistan

  • Improving the Irrigation System

Considering the water scarcity in Pakistan, drip and sprinkler irrigation methods need to be adopted to increase crop production. Drip irrigation involves slowly dripping water into the roots of plants, while sprinkler irrigation involves watering plants in a controlled manner similar to rainfall. These irrigation methods are specifically efficient for fruits, vegetables, and cash crops.

Pakistan must also develop its capacity for recycling wastewater. Israel, a water-deficient country with 70% desert, has successfully achieved water security by conserving 90 percent of its wastewater and using it in its irrigation system.

Similarly, Singapore is also meeting 40 percent of its water requirements by recycling wastewater. Pakistan also needs to follow the lead of these countries to fulfil its water scarcity.

  • Providing credit facilities to farmers

The government must acknowledge the struggles and challenges of the breadwinners of the nation and provide them with interest-free loans and funds. Farmers need to have simple access to finance in order to quickly and conveniently acquire agricultural supplies. Reasonable subsidies should be provided on fertilisers, pesticides, electricity, and other input costs to boost agricultural productivity.

  • Development of Resilient and Modern Infrastructure

To increase agricultural output and close yield gaps, the agricultural sector should utilise the most recent technological advancements. There is a need to invest in the upgrading of transportation networks such as roads, bridges, and railways to improve access to markets and reduce transportation costs.

Cold storage facilities, dams, and other agricultural infrastructure should also be developed to lower the input costs for farmers. The research and development sector should also be boosted to improve farming techniques and enhance seed quality.

  • Adopting climate-resilient policies

Being highly susceptible to climate-induced shocks, there is a need to formulate climate-resilient agricultural policies. Extensive investments should be made to protect crops against floods, droughts, extreme weather conditions, pests, and diseases. The public and private sectors need to come on board to formulate practical and sustainable agricultural practices.

  • Educating Farmers 

There is a dire need to establish new agricultural institutes and upgrade the existing ones to impart the latest technological and business skills to farmers. They must be equipped with the latest technologies that help increase the sustainability, profitability, quality, and productivity of crops.

Furthermore, it is imperative to enhance education, healthcare, and sanitation services for the rural population, which constitutes the core of our agricultural sector. Achieving this goal requires comprehensive policy reforms and robust public-private partnerships, both at the national and provincial levels.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the agricultural sector of Pakistan is grappling with an array of formidable challenges that demand immediate attention and strategic interventions.

The technological, educational, economic, and environmental gaps need to be essentially addressed to ensure the food security of the population. With the right policies, investments, and coordinated efforts from both the public and private sectors, Pakistan’s agriculture can flourish and be a source of prosperity for the nation.

By Natasha Matloob

Student of international relations at the National Defense University, Islamabad. Major areas of interest include security studies, diplomacy, and domestic politics of Pakistan.