THE Sindh agriculture department plans to set up 200 farmers’ field schools to train growers in the best farming practices using modern implements to raise crop productivity.

The project titled ‘Adoption of Farmers Field School Approach’ in agriculture extension for disseminating farm technology among the farming community is included in the provincial annual development plan 2012-13.

The 3-year project is designed to increase per acre yield and to ensure food security, and get better economic returns for small growers. It envisages season-long training for some 25 farmers in each school. Every taluka will have two such schools. About 5,000 farmers will be trained in the latest crop production technologies as well as integrated pest management (IPM) methodology.

The provincial government is redirecting its policies in the farm sector to close the gap between cultural practices used by few innovative farmers and the majority of traditional growers through transfer of already proven technology.

Under the project 100 agriculture officers/field assistants will be selected from the existing strength of trained staff of the extension services. They will be first provided training to refresh their knowledge and then assigned the job to run two field schools in their jurisdiction. They will train farmers in schools situated right in fields two days each week. The Rs55 million project is expected to raise crop production by 15 per cent, an official study estimates.

The Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) has welcomed the idea, but asserted that before the implementation of the programme, the agriculture department should set up farm advisory centres in each taluka to suggest solutions to the problems faced by the growers’ community while nursing its crops.

SAB Secretary General Mahmood Nawaz said farmers need guidance in case of a pest attack or on how to manage sensitive plant nurseries of paddy etc. in the event of water shortage.

He said there should be some institution to advise farmers on how to repair their fields on the right and left banks of the river Indus damaged by floods and rains so that they may restart growing crops.

The SAB official maintained that most growers were now well versed in using modern farm implements such as mechanical tillers, tractors, laser land-leveling equipment and drip irrigation system etc. “What they really need is practical guidance to raise productivity,” he added.

Secretary General of Sindh Chamber of Agriculture Nabi Bux Saithio said the role of extension services officials in helping growers had been insignificant. They are seldom seen in fields inquiring about the health of the crops and suggesting solutions to the problems faced by growers from time to time.

Citing an example, he said these officials were not informing the growers about the latest seed varieties developed by the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) and the Tando Jam University. These institutions have conducted research and evolved 50 fine varieties of seeds for sugarcane, wheat and cotton crops which were not disseminated to growers.

Mr Bux said the growers were being denied the benefits of subsidised tractors provided by the government by certain dealers.

In a meeting with Secretary Agriculture Ejaz Ali Khan last week, he said a dealer of Belarus tractors had suddenly raised the price by Rs145,000 per unit from the rate quoted to the government at the time of draw for the subsidised tractors.

The price quoted by the Belarus tractor dealer was Rs8,80,000 which included Rs300,000 subsidy from the government. The dealer is now demanding extra amount under the pretext of increase in dollar rate.

Mr Ejaz promised strict action against the dealer for backing out of the original price which might include blacklisting him for future tractors’ draws.

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