IN 2014, a multicrop zero tillage planter for rice and several zero tillage ‘Happy Seeder’ machines were imported from India under the Agricultural Innovation Programme (AIP).
These machines were tested on farmers’ fields in five districts of the province by experts from the Punjab Agriculture Research and Extension Department, Engro Fertilisers and machinery manufacturers.
It was found that the seeders helped farmers to plant wheat and apply fertiliser in one operation in combine-harvested, unploughed fields, without burning rice residue. The technology also helped farmers manage standing as well as loose rice residue without burning.
Moreover, farmers attained an additional 200kg wheat on a hectare and reduced 70 per cent cost of cultivation in comparison to traditional practice.
So, after successful tests, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) worked with private machinery makers the following year to help them manufacture the first locally-modified versions of both seeding implements.
A zero tillage seed drill manufacturer of Faisalabad modified the Happy Seeder to help farmers sow wheat directly into heavy rice residue fields and thus avoid burning the residues and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the AIP project — led by the CIMMYT and supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — the seeders were manufactured and sold to farmers in 2016-17 on a cost-sharing basis.
In the rice-wheat area of the province, more than 80pc rice fields are combine-harvested that leaves large amounts of residues, whose burning by farmers during October and November aggravate the smog issue
The widespread residue burning in Pakistan and India during October and November is one of the factors that aggravate the smog issue in Punjab. Other major contributing factors of smog or air pollution in the region include dust, smoke emission from bricks kilns, factories and vehicles.
Farmers and research partners are satisfied with the locally manufactured seeders that support conservation agriculture, cut costs and avoid rice residue burning in rice-wheat farming rotation that cover more than 1.7m hectares in Punjab.
In the rice-wheat area of Punjab, more than 80pc rice fields are combine-harvested that leaves large amounts of residues on the field.
After rice harvest, farmers typically burn residues, generating large noxious clouds, and drive tractor-drawn ploughs over fields repeatedly to prepare seedbed. They then sow wheat through broadcast seeding, a method that involves scattering seed, either by hand or through machines, over a large area.
Burning rice residues not only results in loss of nutrients but also increases greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study, burning a tonne of straw releases 3kg particulate matter, 60kg carbon monoxide, 1460kg carbon dioxide, 199kg ash and 2kg sulphur dioxide in the air.
Since the 1990s, public research programmes in South Asia have been working with the CIMMYT and advanced research institutes to test and promote a slew of innovative practices, including reduced or zero tillage, which allow rice-wheat farmers to save money, better steward soil and water resources, cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop the burning of crop residues.
Meanwhile, wheat sowing campaign in the country briskly is progressing. Conditions at the beginning of the Rabi season were not encouraging for wheat crop. Less or no rains during September and October delayed in some places and affected wheat sowing operations in rain-fed (barani) areas. However, rainfall in November infused a new life in the sowing season.
According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department forecast, 10pc to 15pc less rains are expected during October-December as compared to the normal level of this period, which may affect wheat production, particularly in the rain-fed areas.
Similarly, the country has to face a shortage of irrigation water during the current Rabi season because of less storage in dams owing to about 25pc less monsoon rains from July to September.
The Federal Committee on Agriculture has fixed this year’s wheat target at 26.46m tonnes on an area of 8.95m hectares, compared to 25.75m tonnes and 9.05m hectares a year ago.
The government intends to increase per-acre crop yields of wheat and promote the area of sowing of oilseed crops. However, drought conditions coupled with shortage of irrigation water will be key obstacles to achieving the target.
Considering 9m hectares area with a seed rate of 120kg per hectare, wheat sown will be around 1m tonnes during the current Rabi season, according to CIMMYT’s Country Director Dr Muhammad Imtiaz.
In Punjab, two kinds of wheat varieties have been introduced during the current season under the USAID-funded programme. The recommended seeds are Barani-17 and Anaaj-17 for Punjab and Khaista-17, Wadan, Pasina, Nifa-Aman and Kohat-17 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to the CIMMYT, new wheat varieties and quality seeds amounting to 130 tonnes were distributed through a network of national partners to stallholders, including women beneficiaries.
Under the AIP, the CIMMYT has provided seed and trainings to more than 27,000 wheat growers across Pakistan. Another 5,000 wheat growers will be reached out during the current Rabi season.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 4th, 2017