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MINGORA: The farmers in Kabal tehsil of picturesque Swat valley are hopeful, to the extent of surety, about increasing their agricultural produce by utilising the modern technique of vertical farming.

They believe that the soil is fertile and favourable for growing various crops, fruits and vegetables. There is only need for introducing the latest techniques of vertical farming, they add.

In the current harvesting season of tomato and bitter gourd, Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) introduced a structural farming method in five union councils of Kabal on experimental basis to judge both the quantity and quality of vegetables by using the method of vertical farming method.

Expert says farmers need more education and training before using modern techniques

A total of 101 farmers were first motivated and then trained to use the latest method of farming.

Experts believe that if the latest technologies and methods of farming are introduced in a scientific way and steps are taken for prevention of possible side effects, the fertile land of Swat will produce more fruits and vegetables in future.

Toti Khan, a secretary of a farmers group at Aligrama area of Kabal, told Dawn that first they were reluctant to adopt the vertical method of farming as it was a new idea for them. However, after getting the training, they became aware of the possible output of the new technique, he added.

“We have a group of 10 farmers at Aligrama. We are the pioneers of the new method of farming in their area,” Toti Khan said proudly. He added that their five-kanal tomato farm had produced tomatoes worth Rs0.37 million last year but this time they had already sold tomatoes of Rs0.6 million while they were expecting more money in the remaining season.

Mohammad Ali, 40, said that he had been associated with the farming for the last 23 years. He said that first they were using traditional farming methods and were getting few bucks.

“Now we have acquired land on lease. We are quite happy over the produce we got after using the vertical method of farming,” Mr Ali said. He added that at present there were five farmers in their group but next year he would try to cultivate tomato on a separate portion of land to get maximum benefit. Apart from tomato, bitter gourd is also cultivated by using the vertical method of farming in different far-flung areas of Kabal tehsil.

Sarzameen Khan, a 38-year-old farmer of the hilly Kotlai area, said that he had been in field since 1992. He said that he used the new method of farming this year that was introduced for the first time in Swat district.

He said that he cultivated bitter gourd in a 10-marla farm on experimental basis. He said that the crop was in initial stage but he had already earned about Rs20,000 by selling the vegetable.

“I will harvest the crop till December and hopefully it will give me more profit,” Sarzameen said optimistically.

Itbar Gul, another farmer of Kotlai area, said that they had been getting more vegetables by using the new farming technique. He added that they would use structural farming method to cultivate bitter gourd, tomato and other vegetables on more land in future.

Murad Ali, district program manager of SRSP, said that they launched a ‘green project’ on experimental basis in five union councils of teshil Kabal that was funded by Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund.

He said that first the farmers were not willing to use the vertical method of farming as it was new for them but later, when they were properly educated and trained, they agreed to use the new technique as an experiment.

Murad Ali said that they were not sure about the results but their experiment was bearing fruits. He said that other farmers of the areas were also inclined toward the structural farming method.

The government should take steps to formally introduce the method of structural farming, he said, adding that unlike traditional method of farming there were little chances of crops’ damage in the modern method as the vertical growth protected them from being damage by rain. The SRSP official said that farmers could grow more crops on a small piece of land by applying the new method. He added that production of structurally cultivated farms was 10 times more than the traditionally cultivated farms.

However, there are also some negative impacts of the new farming method in Swat that need to be addressed when the new technique is extended to other areas of the district.

Dr Hassan Sher, director of the centre of plants sciences and biodiversity, University of Swat, said that it was required to educate farmers properly before introducing any type of hybrid crop. “Increase in produce is one aspect of hybrid crops but if the farmers are not trained about the possible diseases and they do not know the proper way of nutrition, the hybrid crops may have diverse effects on the soil,” he added.

Dr Hassan said that hybrid crops required 40 per cent more nutrition than the traditionally cultivated crops. If farmers were not providing required nutrition to the crops, those would fulfil their requirement from the soil and would become exhaustive crops that could harm the soil.

“After increase in production for two to three years, chances are there that the agricultural land would turn into desert if hybrid crops are not nurtured properly by the farmers,” Dr hassan said.

He added that hybrid crops were fruitful in developed areas where farmers were educated and provided enough food to their crops. Unlike plane areas, more education and trainings were needed for the farmers of hilly areas before introducing structural farming method there, Dr Hassan said.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2014