The Agricultural Technology Gap | Political Economy

Agricultural Technology Gap

Agricultural productivity in the country has stagnated due to lack of optimal technology application. Most commentators tend to blame academia and the research community for this.Admittedly, there are some research gaps, but more
Clearly there is a lack of skills, innovation and adoption.

There are many ways of looking at the challenges: land and water development; agricultural machinery and precision; seeds and agrochemicals; farm services and credit; processing and value addition; markets and agribusiness; urban-rural transformation; public policy and governance ETC.

Machine operations require economies of scale that are often beyond the reach of most small farmers. The uptake of scale-neutral technologies (seeds, fertilizers, animal feed, chemicals) has had a major impact on crop and livestock production and productivity. However, far more needs to be done than is being done.

We failed to keep pace with emerging applications. Seed replacement for wheat is very slow – about 20% per year; it should be at least 50%. The balanced use of fertilizers is completely missing. Nitrogen is the main fertilizer used and our soil lacks many nutrients. Agrochemicals are often used imprecisely and the timing of operations is not given due attention.

The link between land allocation and technological improvement in the canal colonies (after 1880s) is an interesting study. Land development follows the gravity-driven flow of river irrigation water. At that time, the relationship between average land holdings and water allocation (supply control/ warabandi /min/acre time slot distribution) is effective for a planting intensity of 60%. Now, with nearly six generations of land fragmentation and 200% planting intensity, the irrigation system is struggling to function optimally. Water scarcity is caused by excessive and costly groundwater abstraction.

The shift to efficient irrigation requires energy, pipes and farm water storage structures that most farmers cannot afford. A comprehensive system overhaul is needed to shift the supply from canal irrigation to a demand-driven supply. As urbanization increases, there will soon be greater competition for water allocation and pricing mechanisms, which is not good for agriculture.

Farm practices must be water efficient to cover the cost of water volume and delivery systems. Current investments in HEI need to be revisited to be compatible with reality rather than allowing elite capture.

Animal traction is all but gone, and tractors are standard farm horsepower. Tractors currently account for nearly half of the required horsepower. At present, tractors are equipped with very few implements, which are not enough to meet the requirements of modern mechanization (ploughing, plowing, planting, spreading, spraying, harvesting, drying, leveling, and transportation).

The future lies in the next generation of mechanization: the use of precision farming equipment and the application of data science and drones. There are good reasons to offer a comprehensive rental service to replace current tractorization.

Efficient irrigation requires energy, pipes, and farm water storage structures that are out of reach of most people. A complete system overhaul is needed to convert canal-fed irrigation to demand-driven water supply.

Sir William Roberts, former headmaster of the Punjab Agricultural College and Research Institute, Lyallpur (Faisalabad), wrote a paper in 1925 emphasizing the need to create a seed industry in the country long before the Green Revolution of the 1960s. By that time, the use of hybrid corn seeds had already been practiced elsewhere. He gave up academia to start Roberts Seed and Ginning businesses with Khanewal and Rahim Yar Khan. The seed industry was nationalized and transformed into Punjab Seed Corporation in the mid-1970s.

A similar seed company was established in Sindh. These seed companies are now almost irrelevant. There are nearly a thousand private seed enterprises. However, we fail the system when it comes to delivering quality torrents.

A major breakthrough in maize yields was the result of the introduction of hybrid seeds by multinational corporations. There are isolated examples of other crops, including hybrid rice and vegetables. In most cases, farmers continue to use homegrown seeds that do not even meet the seed definition. The maize experience shows that once farmers see the benefit of buying better seed, the rest of the technology will be introduced, ie. Proper seeding, fertilizer and chemical application.

The Seed Act 1976 was enacted to regulate the supply of quality seeds. Genetically modified crops did not exist back then. The Seed Act was amended in 2015 to accommodate genetically modified crops and provide the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 2016 to incentivize innovation (intellectual property rights).

The impact of quality seeds on crop productivity is divided into three parts, IE Genetics/science, conditioning and breeding and delivery to farmers. The science part is pretty standard, except that there are a large number of public sector breeding programs with overlapping roles that could be integrated with better coordination.This regulation has its limitations, especially after the age of 18day Amends limited scope of federal law. For the seed industry to be successful, attention needs to be paid to the coordination of federal and provincial roles. The most disturbing part is the ongoing counterfeit seed breeding and delivery business.

In the advanced world, governments act as distant watchdogs, and there are associations working hard (guarded jealously) to achieve quality assurance. Seed management is an essential element of quality assurance. The International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) provides a non-governmental quality assurance platform for associations and seed companies worldwide. There is only one ISTA laboratory in Pakistan located in the seat of the Federal Seed Registration and Certification Department. Another is being considered in Faisalabad.

Pakistan is also lagging behind in adopting the Cartagena Protocol, which provides a global standardized framework for the safe use of genetically modified crops. There is a steady stream of indigenously developed genetically modified traits. To harness the potential of these technological gains, we must learn from global best practices.

There is a provincial network of soil and water quality testing laboratories. Major fertilizer manufacturers also offer soil and water testing facilities. Nevertheless, fertilization is still dominated by urea and diammonium phosphate. Potassium and micronutrients, which are sorely lacking in our soils, have very limited applications.

Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers falls within the realm of “diminishing returns” while exacerbating environmental degradation. The time is ripe to introduce measurement tools that use image processing for precise applications. The use of agrochemicals prescribed and distributed by the mushrooming dealers needs to be tightly controlled.

In conclusion, we have knowledge and recipes, but we lack proper packaging. Awareness and capacity building is a continuous process of assimilation. One option being worked out is to corporatize agricultural supply and services by default. This should be attractive to banks and lenders who would otherwise grow weary of lending to farmers who lack the absorptive capacity. There are also good examples of rural entrepreneurship and job creation.

The author is the Vice Chancellor of Faisalabad Agricultural University

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