Archive for March, 2011

Netherlands to help Balochistan in agriculture, water management

Post Source: DAWN

KARACHI: The Netherlands would help Balochistan province in the development of agriculture, education and water management sectors. This was said by Ambassador of the Netherlands, Joost Reinties during his meeting with a delegation of the Balochistan Economic Forum (BEF) here on Thursday. The delegation was led by President BEF, Sardar Shoukat A.K Popalzai. 

The ambassador informed that the Netherlands would extend assistance for various sectors including agriculture, mining, health and education. He further said that help would be provided for water management in the province which is facing a drought like situation for years.

Meanwhile, Sardar Shoukat said that the delegation tried to change the perception of Balochistan with regards to the law and order situation in the province.

The BEF delegation included Sardar Mohyuddin Mohammadzai, chief of Mohammadzai tribe, Babu Gulab, former nazim of Gawadar, and Ashraf Iqbal Baloch of the Gawadar Chamber of Commerce. Tarek M. Khan, Honorary Consul General of the Netherlands in Karachi, was also present during the meeting.

Earlier, the ambassador had said that his country is supporting 340 public schools in Quetta, Mastung and Qila Abdullah especially the girls’ primary schools. He further added that an amount of more than 10 million euros is being spent through NGOs for the development of the province.

‘Pakistan needs mega dams for agriculture’

Post Source: The News International

Jawwad Rizvi
Monday, March 28, 2011
PAKISTAN has one of the best irrigation systems of the world along the fertile plains which can produce exportable surplus agricultural products if the potential is utilised properly. This was stated by Chinese agronomist Guobao Yuan while talking to The News here on Sunday. He is visiting Pakistan for exploring new avenues of agriculture potential. Mr Yuan said Pakistan needed to construct mega water reservoirs which would irrigate its agricultural land with water from glaciers of Himalaya and also help overcome the energy shortage faced by the country. Guobao Yuan, also the chairman of Hubei Provincial Seed Group China, said that in some cases, Pakistan land was more fertile and agricultural conditions more conducive as compared to China.

“We learned from our experience that in some crops per acre yields of some seeds in Pakistan is 30 percent higher than China which is very attractive even to Chinese who are getting one of the highest production yield of the world,” he said. However, he stressed the need to increase spending in research and development, science and technology in order to increase the crop productivity in Pakistan. “We have achieve the milestones in agriculture sector by only spending on research and development, science and technology which delivered as China is feeding its all population which is largest in the world with its indigenous agriculture production,” Guobao Yuan said. He said that the Chinese government, during the last five years, had given over $70 billion in agriculture input subsides to its farmers while it also spent over $50 billion on water and irrigation sector of the rural economy. This had a positive impact on the rural economy and enhanced its production which was crucial for Chinese government with growing population, he added.

Mr Yuan said the Chinese government to successfully fulfil its duty to give food to its population focused on agriculture sector. “If we produce sufficient agricultural produce, it means our population will be fed well”, he said.

Talking about recent visits of President Asif Zardari and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to China, Guobao Yuan said both the dignitaries had given importance to the agriculture sector and signed agreements with firms and government for expansion of agriculture sector of Pakistan. “During Asifís visits, an agreement was signed with Sindh province for expansion of hybrid oil seeds and hybrid rice seeds which will enhance production of land and also increase the income of poor farmers,” he added. Talking about the Sino-Pak cooperation in seeds development, he said it would be helpful in two ways for Pakistani farmers. He said that seed development would increase the production of the Pakistani farmers 30 to 50 per cent while in second phase, Pakistan would help export its developed seeds to neighbouring countries, including India, and other parts of world ranging from S Asia to Middle East and Africa.

Linola: a potential oilseed crop

By Hafeez ur Rehman and Dr Shahzad M.A. Basra

THE indigenous oilseed crops contribute 26 per cent of the total oil consumed in the country. The rest is imported incurring a huge expenditure in foreign exchange. Low acreage under cultivation, poor yield potential, competition with major cash crops and high input requirements are some of the constraints in growing oilseed crops and achieving self-sufficiency in edible oil. The shortage of edible oil can be overcome by increasing yield potential of oilseed crops or by introducing new varieties. Linola is a new oilseed crop developed by converting linseed from an industrial quality drying oil in low demand into one of high quality edible oil suitable for widespread use in polyunsaturated products.

 

High linolenic acid (45-65 per cent) contents, usually an oxidatively unstable fatty acid makes it unsuitable for kitchen use. Newly introduced linola has increased high quality polyunsaturated oil rich in linoleic acid from 20 per cent to 60-70 per cent similar to sunflower, safflower and corn oil in composition making it a suitable edible oil.

It can be grown wherever flax and linseed varieties perform well, and also in other cereal growing areas. Due to its adequate moisture requirements, wind and frost tolerant characteristics, the crop had better adaptability to cooler environments than other polyunsaturated oilseed crops such as sunflower and maize.

 

Although linola is a comparatively new crop, its cultivation methods and agronomic requirements are not different from those of flax and linseed crop. Hence it is easily understood and is well known among growers. It can be easily grown on light textured well-drained, moderately fertile and humus rich soils.

 

Slow early crop growth and limited branching resulting in poor competition with weeds are some of the agronomic problems faced by this crop. To tackle with the problem, effective seed priming techniques are being used. However, weed control requires little attention at seedling establishment, but the crop usually smother out weeds in the later crop stages hence no chemical control is required.

 

As linola is not grown as cereal therefore it is not susceptible to cereal pests and diseases and is commonly grown as a break crop in a cereal rotation. However, pests and diseases need to be monitored closely. One of the advantages of growing linola is that it prepares the soil for successive crop by breaking up organic matter.

 

The crop has also high compatibility with cereals and can be planted without any competition and similar practices can be used for harvesting as for cereals and other small grains. Unlike canola or mustard species, one of its major advantages is that the crop does not lodge or shatter at maturity and can be left standing in the field for some time. After seed harvesting, the straw can be used in paper making industry which further adds to its benefits.

The crop produces light golden premium quality oil with excellent oxidative stability. The oil is used in small quantity in margarine and other cooking, salad and frying. Ground linola seed is used as component flour in baking for improving bread quality and shelf life.

 

Its seed contains mucilage which lowers blood cholesterol, and is also a rich source of lignans, a group of anti-carcinogenic compounds. Like linseed meal, its seed meal can be used in ruminant feeds. Nonetheless, linola seed is currently being evaluated in these markets.

 

Linola has high adaptability under our local climatic conditions and its preliminary testing and comparative assessment with linseed or other oilseeds are being evaluated by researchers at crop physiology department, university of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

There is a dire need to overcome the looming oil crisis in the country and saving precious foreign exchange by promoting such crops. The government should subsidise input rates and announce high support prices in order to bring more area under its cultivation.

Managing wheat support price

Post Source: Dawn economic & business review

By Mohammad Hussain Khan

HARVESTING of wheat has started in Sindh, particularly in lower part of the province, with government`s procurement target fixed at 1.3 million tons that is lower than last year`s 1.5 million tons. However, the growers expect a bumper crop and want the target to be scaled up. Around 2.2 million acres were brought under wheat crop in the vast katcha area of the Indus River with the growers taking advantage of increased fertility and huge silt deposits the Indus brought in the wake of floods last summer. According to reports, weather conditions and water availability even in non-perennial areas remained favourable for the crop.

 

Last year wheat was grown over 10,92,000 hectares against the target of 10,31,000. According to provincial agriculture officials, this year the area would cross 1.1 million hectares with an expected yield of 3.7 million tons. The growers have been stressing the need for better management of the produce as the province lacks proper storage facility. Timely procurement, appropriate preservation and fumigation of the crop are some of the important measures needed to benefit growers and consumers. Currently harvesting is in progress in lower Mirpurkhas, Tando Mohammad Khan, Pangrio and Kunri. It would pick up pace once the labour force is free from sugarcane harvesting which is at its fag end.

 

The present price of wheat in the open market is at around Rs975-1,000 per 40kg against the government`s support price of Rs950. With the harvesting coming in full swing, wheat prices may drop below the procurement price. Consequently the middlemen and hoarders would reap the benefit and some of the crop may be smuggled.

The food department has decided to open procurement centres from April 15, while the growers demand the procurement drive to start from April 1. It has sufficient wheat stocks from last year which has kept flour prices stable in the market.

 

Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) general secretary Mehmood Nawaz Shah points out that in the international market wheat price is rising for the last several months. He says wheat price in the international market at $330 per ton is equivalent to Rs28,350 per ton or Rs1140 per 40kg. Shah says the support price has not been increased over the last three years. The government can purchase the crop at Rs950 and export it for Rs1150 per maund. “PASSCO should also be acti- vated and directed to purchase wheat from Sindh to support the growers” he said.

 

According to Director Sindh Food department Talib Hussain Magsi, procurement centres would start functioning from April 15 as the department is not ready to buy wheat with higher moisture level. “We set target as per federal government`s directive,” he said. Wheat purchase would start after the crop gets fully matured, he adds. “We can only store 670,000 tons of wheat in our indoor storage system. The rest would be kept under the open sky,” he says. The food department has purchased 85,000 gunny bags and some of them were already with the procurement department, he says. The government plans to ban inter-city movement of wheat in Sindh to ensure the procurement target. But SAB president Abdul Majeed Nizamani, opposes the idea on the ground that it would open gates for corruption and the food officials would have a field day. He says that districts which have surplus production, as far as their target is concerned, would have to send crop to other districts. The government should avoid banning crop movement, he pleads.

Food grain exports in a rising market

Post Source: Dawn economic and business review

By Ahmad Fraz Khan

THE rising world food prices since July last year are triggering fears of unrest in developing countries. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Food Index has touched an all-time high figure of 236 points – 2.2 points higher than its January level, which, in itself, is a record. The February figure was 36 points higher than the average increase throughout 2008, when high cereal prices tested social and poverty limits of the poor, and stoked off food riots and export bans by some states. Cereal prices rose 3.7 per cent over January average, meat by two per cent and dairy by four per cent.

The FAO Food Index – a compilation of sugar, cereals, oils, meat and dairy products – averaged 90 when the organisation first started tracking food prices in 1990.

 

The upwards swing in the world food price began in July when floods in Pakistan, drought in Russia, Australia (and later torrential rains) and Canada and wildfires in Russia shrank the food supply chain. Couple it with rising oil prices, which for the first time in last three years, have gone past $100 per barrel – even its Futures are being traded for over $100 per barrel – and disastrous 2008 scenario gets completed.

 

Most of the world food experts believe that the American bio-fuel policies are to be blamed for the current crisis. Once oil prices start rising, the Americans start diverting maize to ethanol production, disturbing the entire cereal basket, where wheat starts going into poultry feed and prices assume upwards swing. Once maize and wheat prices go up, they attract more money into their futures and increase speculative pressure on their trade. Meanwhile, high oil prices throw additional money into food trade and double the pressure on prices. After a while, the process becomes self-perpetuating.

 

With the United Nations and other food bodies firing the warning shots, the states around the world have started awakening to the situation. Pakistan, fortunately, can benefit from the situation. It has wheat and rice stocks that it can sell in the world market and make some money. The major challenge for it would come from domestic governance rather than world cereal market going in tail spin. That is what the government should now be preparing for; calculate cost-benefit ratio and try to save its poor from falling into hunger trap. Pressure on Pakistan’s economy would come from high oil prices, especially for its inability to muster enough political will to pass international prices on to domestic consumers. It is one step forward and two steps backwards policy on oil pricing in the last two months. There is no doubt that oil pricing formulae is skewed and is anti-poor.

Pakistan’s saving grace during this volatile period would be its high wheat and respectable rice stocks. Here, the fear is that they may end up being smuggled, rather than exported. The Afghan and Iran routes are notorious for these kinds of activities. Being porous, as they are, and government’s inability to monitor them could be a source of big trouble. That is precisely where it needs to work for the country’s advantage rather than letting a few making money at the cost of the state and the people.

 

As most of the independent experts believe, the country can earn anything close to $2 billion each on its wheat and rice export heads. Its textile export luckily also grew by 23 per cent in first half of current fiscal. Earning additional $2 billion would be crucial because they would directly compensate it for economic cost that it would have to pay for the high cereal prices. On the second plank, it needs to run a regime of agriculture incentives that enable to take advantage of high cereal prices, which are expected to sustain the trend for next five years. The government must benefit from the country’s natural endowments and it must be exploited to full advantage. It should re-assess every major and minor crop in new international and domestic perspective and develop a long-term vision for it.

 

The world is also moving towards niche markets, where the country’s real potential lies. Its four seasons allow it to grow all kinds of herbs, horticulture, floriculture, livestock and foods. Most of the countries in the world have excelled in one of these fields (floriculture of Holland, horticulture of Chile and Thailand and dairy products of New Zealand are case in point) and built their economy around it. Pakistan’s failure, despite all that natural potential, is unexplainable. The current international cereal crisis could, and must, be turned into an opportunity.

Commodity prices drive up rural income disparity

Post Source: Dawn economic and business review

By Nasir Jamal

RISING agricultural commodity prices are driving the biggest increase in the country’s rural incomes in decades. The size of the additional incomes transferred into the rural economy is estimated to be in the vicinity of Rs300 billion — or even more. Cotton prices have risen by 173, sugar by 133,rice by 40 and wheat by 65 per cent in three years from June 2008 to January 2011, writes Amjad Waheed, chief executive officer (CEO) of the NAFA Fullerton Asset Management Limited, in his analysis posted on the company’s website. “What the urban Pakistan calls inflation is income to the rural Pakistan,” he notes. The increase in the rural incomes is believed to be currently supporting the country’s industrial and services sectors. The surge in the commodity prices, according to economic experts, has put a lot of disposable cash in the hands of growers, spurring consumption. There is plenty of evidence to show that the growers are spending their cash on cars, motorcycles, tractors, electronic goods, weddings and so on.

But is the current spike in the commodity prices benefiting everyone living in the villages, particularly in Punjab and Sindh which together contribute more than 90 per cent to the country’s agricultural output and where more than two-thirds of the country’s population lives?

“Whereas a large chunk of this income has ended up with the agriculture elite, there are signs that some of it has trickled down to the small farmers as well,” according to Waheed. Others argue that the transfer of additional cash has widened income disparity in the rural society even if many small farmers have also benefited from the soaring crop prices because the “trickle-down” has been uneven and limited.

Leading economist Hafiz Pasha says that the medium to large farmers have gained significantly from the escalating commodity prices because they had “marketable surpluses”, and they are now buying cars and other consumer products. By implication he means that smaller farmers who do not have sufficient marketable surpluses have not benefited much from the higher prices.

Ashfaque Hasan Khan, dean and principal of the NUST Business School who served as a special finance secretary in Musharraf government, says the income disparity in the rural areas has widened as a result of the rising crop prices.

“Only 40 per cent of the rural population is engaged in the crop sector and a vast majority of them are small landholders. This means only a small portion of population in the rural areas has gained from the increasing crop prices,” he elaborates.

In Punjab, for example, less than half of the rural population is engaged in the crop sector. Some 90 per cent of it falls in the category of small farmers with landholdings up to 12.5 acres.

Many like AgriForum Pakistan Chairman Ibrahim Mughal contend that smaller farmers could not benefit from the soaring commodity prices not only because they did not marketable surplus but also because they had to pay a lot more for inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, diesel, and so on.

“An overwhelming majority of small farmers buys inputs on credit and, thus, is forced to pay a much higher price than those who pay cash for these inputs,” claims Mughal. “Even if they have cash their cost has gone up manifold, offsetting the gains of
higher crop prices.”

There are people who are of the view that smaller landholding have helped a more equitable distribution of additional incomes among the growers in Punjab compared to the farmers in Sindh where landholdings are very large.

Salman Shah, former finance minister, says the additional incomes generated by higher commodity prices have been distributed more evenly in Punjab compared to Sindh.

Opinion is divided over the gains accrued by landless rural labour from the rising commodity markets. At the same time, it is difficult to say in the absence of credible study or signs that the commodity price hike has helped reduce poverty in the rural areas.

Shah is of the opinion that the landless labour in the villages has also benefitted from the new economic prosperity being experienced in  rural areas and their wages have also gone up. But he says only a comprehensive study of the impact of commodity prices on the rural society could give answers to many questions.

Pasha is also of view that the wages have increased in the villages. However, the food prices have also spiraled upwards at the same time to offset the benefits of higher wages. “It, therefore, is difficult to say if the transfer of additional incomes has helped to reduce rural poverty or not in the absence of a proper scientific study,” he argues.

Many fear that the growing agricultural commodity prices may rob the farmers of the incentive to boost their productivity. Mughal says the rising prices and decreasing productivity is not good for the economy.

“Our productivity per acre has decreased significantly over the decades whereas India has successfully managed to substantially boost its crop output. The new wave of economic prosperity in the rural areas should not be allowed to take our focus off the need to boost productivity. That will be disastrous for the economy as well as people,” he warns.

While the soaring prices have brought a semblance of prosperity to the rural areas, it has added to woes of the urban population where poverty levels are rising and the quality of life suffering. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased by 55 per cent over the last three years whereas salaries have not risen accordingly, according to Waheed.

“The urban population that relies on manufacturing growth and trading, or earns fixed salaries has generally experienced a deterioration in its standard of living, and is not happy about it. Large scale manufacturing growth has declined by about one per cent over the last three years whereas the wholesale trade has risen by a marginal four per cent,” he says, underlining the impact of rising price inflation on the urban consumers.

How to harvest rainwater in Tharparkar

Post Source: Dawn economic and business review

By F. H. Mughal

WHILE it rained heavily in 2010 in Tharparkar, the stored rainwater dried up relatively quickly due to high rate of evaporation and inadequate storage facilities. What happened there with regard to rainwater storage was bound to happen with the prevalent practices. The Thar people need to understand some basics of harvesting rainwater. Since, Tharis are too poor to undertake this venture, some well-organised NGOs need to step in to help them to avoid this unfortunate episode of losing precious rainwater.

 

Rainwater harvesting systems have advantage of delivering water directly to households. Roof-water harvesting is accumulation of rainwater falling on the roof. The water is collected in tanks or jars. Since the tank is located right next to the house, the household women are free from the trouble of fetching it from distant source. The tank is normally at the ground level. If an underground design is used, the tank should be placed more than 15 meters uphill from any pit latrine. The roof has to have material that does not absorb the rain, nor pollutes the run-off. Tiles or concrete-lined roofs are suitable for the purpose. The larger the roof, the greater will be the runoff. Because of evaporation and other losses, only 90 per cent of rainwater that falls on the roof is collected.

If the roof area is not big, enough water will not be accumulated to meet the household needs. In such cases, the roof must be extended. In Tharparkar, the adjoining area of a house is mostly vacant. Elevated platforms can be build with the help of some cheap material (strong enough to take the load) to collect rainwater. The roof must be lined in all cases. If the roof is horizontal, rainwater is conveyed from the roof to the storage tank through down pipes. If the roof is inverted V-shaped, or has some other shape, open channels are constructed to carry water from the edge of roof to the downpipes. In Sindh, water spouts are a common sight, which can be used to convey water from roof to the tank. For the poor households, as in Tharparkar, who are unable to afford rainwater harvesting system, bowls and buckets may be placed under the spouts to collect the roof water. The water may then be transferred to some other container.

These informal arrangements may compromise with the hygienic aspect of the collected water. Unless the receiving bowls or buckets are placed on chairs, water can be contaminated by ground splash. Likewise, if water is stored in drums, frequent dipping of cups for taking out water will contaminate it. Besides, water in drums will allow growth of algae and mosquitoes within a few days after it is filed unless they are covered.

While rainwater harvesting provides a safe and convenient source of water of limited quantity, the quantity of water may be less than the water needed. The rainwater stored, therefore, needs to be managed effectively to ensure its availability in dry season. In this context, contaminated water, from other sources, may be used to meet other requirements (e.g., for toilet cleaning, and for suppressing dust around the house).

Roof water harvesting differs from other water supply modes as in that there is no need to transport water, since it is used within a few metres of where it falls as rain. Collecting rainwater from showers seems sensible in areas struggling to cope with potable water needs. Rainwater is one of the purest sources of water available as it contains negligible impurities. The water storage component (e.g., tanks, cisterns and jars) of the rainwater harvesting system entails some costs. As is the normal practice, depending on the size of household and the affordability aspects, water is stored in 1,000-3,000 litres household tanks, with 2,000 litres tanks being most common. Since, the preferable material is ferrocement (wire-reinforced) or RCC (reinforced cement concrete), some costs will be involved. However, there is a large scope of reduction in costs, when the storage tanks are produced on a large scale, based on economies of scale.

Ferrocement is the technology of choice for many rainwater harvesting programmes. The tanks are relatively inexpensive and with a little maintenance last for an indefinite period.

In Thailand, the rainwater jar programme launched in the 1980s proved to be very successful. Some 300 million ferrocement rainwater storage jars and tanks were constructed between 1980 and 1991. The programme involved a broad range of stakeholders, including households, communities, NGOs, universities and the private sector with support from the government at local, provincial and national levels. The programme operated with revolving funds provided by the government to generate resources from the households and the communities.

As the project gained momentum, the programme shifted from government initiative to commercial jar-manufacturing enterprises. During 1986 alone, approximately 1.7 million jars were built in northeast Thailand. Increasingly, the private sector took on the production responsibility, as it was able to turn out good quality jars at lower prices due to economies of scale. While rainwater is relatively free from impurities, its quality may deteriorate during harvesting, storage and household use. During the dry season, wind-blown dust, tree leaves and bird droppings get collected on the roof. This is a major source of contamination. Poor hygiene in storing and abstracting water from tanks can also cause water contamination. However, risks from these hazards can be minimised by good hygiene and sensible practices.

Rainwater is slightly acidic and low in dissolved minerals. As such, it is relatively aggressive. Rainwater can dissolve heavy metals and other impurities from catchments materials and storage tank. This has implications for the health of the Tharis, because, if zinc, galvanised iron or asbestos sheets are used as roofing material, and if lead and copper joints or fittings are used in piping, then, coupled with the relatively high average ambient temperatures in Tharparkar (above 40 degrees C), these materials could leach from roof and piping. This will pose a serious health hazard. These materials (zinc, copper, asbestos and lead) should not be used. Iron, however, is not a health hazard at moderate levels (5 milligrams per litre), but will give a rusty colour to stored water.

Metallic tanks and oil drums hasten evaporation. For Tharparkar, ferrocement or RCC tanks are advisable. If ponds are used to collect rainwater, they should be deep to minimise surface evaporation. Additionally, trees should be planted around ponds for shade. They will also serve as windbreak system.