SWAT’S agricultural potential still remains unutilised for want of supporting infrastructure facilities.
Agriculture in general and the horticulture sector in particular has been hit by the high prices of agriculture inputs, lack of cold storages and food processing facilities.
Enormous crop yield losses, transportation as well as marketing blues and use of substandard pesticides/ fertiliser perpetuate subsistence farming and poverty in the area.
Most farmers, especially small ones, take advance loans from commission agents and enter into contracts with them before season. They have to sell their produce at pre-determined prices which are usually far lower than the market price at the harvesting stage.
The government needs to help growers find new markets by creating linkages and liaison between them and the local and multinational companies,” says Ihsanullah Khan, a farmer and social activist from Swat.
Swat is the natural hub of quality walnut, honey, soybean, delicious trout, and of both seasonal and off-season fruits and vegetables and a strong plant nursery production that ranks third in the country. But the government has not focused on these potential sectors, and the farmers remain deprived for lack of money, expertise and marketing linkages, substandard packaging, absence of value addition and processing plants.
Farmers and residents in the cooler/upper parts of Swat still go without wheat cultivation as the ordinary wheat seeds can’t mature there and the research scientists have so far failed to develop any specific early maturing/cold-resistant seed for the area, according to a grower.
Swat accounts for around 50 per cent of the KP’s walnut population but the lack of official support and continuous deforestation without fresh re-plantation, have badly affected the area.
“A family with 50 canals of land can grow around 250 walnut trees on its sides. And even if per tree yield is just 50kg, it would earn the family around Rs2.5million at the current market rate. The tree usually grows on mountain ridges and thus won’t impact on cereal crops,” said a farmer.
There is also vast potential for potato but lack of potato processing units that could produce potato chips or frozen French fries, is amazing, he says.
Large size, good taste and quality are the hallmarks of Swat potato. Average yield per hectare which is 12 and 17 metric tons in KP and the country respectively, is around 20MT in Swat, but farmers avoid the crop for flawed marketing. Before the 2010 floods, Swat produced approximately 60 tons of trout in its 22 fish farms that was mostly consumed locally. Last July’s floods ravaged most of these hatcheries.
However, the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority with the assistance of a USAID project worth $1.2 million is repairing these hatcheries.
The local farmers also need a robust crop insurance system, a subsidised easy-credit scheme, financial support for the expansion of agriculture extension and farm engineering networks in the area, promotion of off season vegetables through ‘tunnel farming’ and training and support for small household businesses-fruit drying, production of fruit jams and fruit juices and women-centred livestock projects.