LAHORE-Food security is a major concern in developing countries like Pakistan with 220 million population, which is growing at the rate of three percent annually.
Though growing population demands more food, Pakistan was hit hard by climate change as the recent flash floods washed away standing crops and agrarian yields. It created shortage of vegetables and other commodities, and the country had to import a number of essential food commodities during the current fiscal year. Secondly, Pakistan’s import bill was increasing automatically due to frequent fluctuation in currency rate, which was not only causing unusual hike in prices of food and other essential items but also leading to many economic constraints. Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) experts say the situation might continue for the next few years.
Climate change and unpredictability, caused by natural disasters and severe weather conditions — rain, cold, drought, heat, etc — have a negative impact on conventional agricultural cropping patterns, which call for replacing those with modern techniques, which are cost-effective and give high yields. With an intensive farming pattern, horticulture is relatively manageable and more productive, particularly for geo-sensitive regions, and farmers with small landholdings. When compared to conventional crops, farmers’ net returns per unit of land are significantly higher, and it can provide substantial income to farmers facing economic risk.
Similarly, Urban and Peri-urban Horticulture (UPH) must be considered an essential component of the agricultural production system in order to meet the ever-increasing food demand of urban areas, with an emphasis on creating employment, food security, and income for the poor in urban areas. Promotion of horticulture could help overcome food insecurity and other economic constraints. Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) Vice President (VP) Jahanara Wattoo and PBF Sindh Chairman Mir Murad Ali Talpur expressed these views, while talking to media here on Sunday. Jahanara Wattoo said that according to the World Food Programme, more than 48 percent Pakistanis were food insecure and the insecurity was high in the formerly FATA with 67.7 percent, Balochistan 61.2 percent and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) 56.22 percent. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) discovered severe food insecurity in 10 Pakistani districts necessitating immediate action, and crisis-level food insecurity in 28 other districts. Food insecurity had also been severe in Thar region of Sindh due to ongoing drought. In a similar vein, Pakistan’s analysis of its food security reveals an alarming situation: The availability of food for residents of 56 districts was extremely limited, she maintained. Jahanara Wattoo said that over 70 percent of the population was directly or indirectly associated with 22 million hectares agriculture sector, asserting that only six percent of the total land under cultivation was dedicated to horticultural crops, 3.5 percent to fruit, two percent to vegetables, and 0.5 percent to ornamental plants. “Out of the total area planted with vegetables, potatoes make up 17 percent, chillies 15 percent, onions 12 percent, and 30 different kinds of vegetables make up the rest,” she explained.
PBF Chairman (Sindh) Mir Murad Ali Talpur said Pakistan had the potential to grow a wide range of crops because of its diverse climate and the focus must on development of staple food, grains and other cash crops. “Cultivation of horticultural crops in urban and peri-urban areas will the change the way people eat fruit and vegetable, and this will not only lessen our reliance on conventional agricultural produce but also the guaranteed high-quality food through horticultural crops will boost farmers’ earnings,” he added. He disclosed that since horticultural products were highly perishable, improved infrastructure, storage facilities, an effective transportation system and an effective distribution system were required to guarantee supply freshness and quality for urban areas, which might increase the cost to end users. However, by introducing technologies that individual families could manage, the UPH could provide the opportunity closer to consumption areas and supply chain management could be put in order for horticultural product. Mir Murad Ali Talpur said that conventional farming yields were of low quality as it involved too many inputs, which also caused many pre and post harvest problems. Contrary to this agri patterns, he said, new horticultural technologies focused on integrated disease and pest management, organic cultivation using biological resources, kitchen gardening, minimal or zero tillage, high-density planting, bio-fertilization, fertigation, drip irrigation, protected cultivation like greenhouses and tunnels, and the use of hybrid seeds and improved cultivars, thus significantly boost Pakistan’s fruit and vegetable production.“If you look at the price and production statistics of last few years, you can observe that certain horticultural products have higher prices during a specific time of year when the demand and supply balance is off because of low or no production,” he asserted.
Murad Talpur further said that multiple cropping cycles in a single unit area were now possible due to early maturing hybrid varieties, and it enhanced farmers’ financial security. The gap between demand and supply could be bridged by a small shift in production paradigm, resulting in year-round price stability for end users.
PBF Sindh chairman said, “It is absolutely necessary for the authorities and the government to intervene in the form of training and empowerment of the farming community with regard to technology adaptation, the provision of high-quality seeds, ensure inputs availability, and microfinance opportunities. In this regard growers will be motivated to shift toward high-value horticultural crops by means of subsidies for peri-urban horticultural farms, ecological zone-specific crop calendars, technology transfer, and farmer capacity building.” PBF office-bearers also urged the government to take concrete measures to develop and strengthen existing supply chains in order to guarantee the freshness, quality and reduction of losses after harvest.