PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa farmers are treading into tunnel and net farming as the two techniques have paid dividends to growers in the central and southern districts of the province alike, according to stakeholders.

Off-season vegetable production has becoming popular with horticulturists after some of their colleagues in Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, and Swabi districts profited from off-season tomato and cucumber yields during the past couple of years, according to an official.

“The way forward is tunnel farming as it provides answers to depleting farming area and increasing demand for vegetables due to population growth,” said Fazle Mabood, director at the Directorate of Agriculture Extension, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Taking a clue from Punjab where tunnel farming had been under practice for quite some time, said Mr Mabood, the high-and-low tunnel farming had seen its advent a couple of years ago in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The agriculture extension department, he added, had started imparting technical expertise to vegetable growers in Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Swabi, and Nowshera districts.

However, the concept, he added, was being adopted only by those farmers who could afford to invest money in purchasing pipes and plastic to erect high and low tunnels as per their priorities.

“Some progressive farmers have already switched over to tunnel farming and they got good results from their off-season tomato harvest last year,” said Mr Mabood.

His words were echoed when Khalid Khan, a farmer from Swabi district, said a local vegetable grower in his area made significant profit from off-season tomato last year.

“He (the tomato grower) got 2500 kilogram tomato produce from a plantation of on an area of just 13 kanals,” said Khalid Khan, president of Kissan Board, Swabi.

He said the grower sold the crop at Rs 400 per 40 kilogram, which, according to him, was better than the tobacco crop income last year.

A Peshawar grower, said the official, sowed off-season tomato last November at Baanda Sheikh Ismail in Nowshera and marketed the crop, in February this year, at a time when the local market was short of tomato supplies.

Tomato is a summer crop as, according to Mr Mabood, its plantation starts in February/March and the harvest season falls in May/June.

The new trends in farming, introduced with the advent of tunnel and net farming techniques, have given a new turn to horticulture in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Mr Mabood said horticulturalists in the southern districts of Karak, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, and Lakki Marwat, where vegetable production had not been popular with the farmers, had embraced tunnel farming, planting off-season vegetables.

The low tunnel farming, he added, had been under practice in some parts of Akkora Khattak and Jehangira area (district Nowshera) for 6 to 7 areas whereas high tunnel farming had also been applied in some area.

The Kissan Board’s representative said the farming technique could turn around crop patterns in Swabi district over the next few years. Tobacco growers, particularly small farmers, would surely switch over to vegetable production.

“This would protect them from the manipulative practices of cigarette manufacturers and the middlemen who exploit small growers to their own advantage,” said Khalid Khan.

Based on information collected by Kissan Board, he said, small growers in the tobacco rich Swabi district were inclined to switch over to off season vegetable production, embracing tunnel farming.

In this respect, according to him, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) had shown interest in providing financial support and arranging technical expertise for the growers interested in the switch over.

“Arranging investment for procuring pipes and plastic to develop tunnels would not be a problem as non-governmental organisations would surely extending a helping hand,” said Mr Khan.

He said the contacts between his organisation and the USAID had gone well.

However, it could not materialise after the donor agency, he added, wanted the interested farmer(s) to specify at least one acre for developing tunnels.

“We were ready to begin with one kanal (for setting up tunnels) whereas the Agency insisted for eight kanals each of the landholdings small growers cannot dedicate an acre for the tunnel farming because they have small landholdings,” he said.

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