LAHORE: Availability of water at the right time and in the right quantity is the more crucial issue for Pakistan’s agriculture than shortage or high prices of fertilisers or other farm inputs, says Punjab Director-General Agriculture (Extension) Dr Anjum Ali Buttar.

Speaking to Dawn on the issues currently being faced by the agriculture sector, he expressed his concern at the increasing shortage of the most important farm input – water – as a result of climate change. He says either there are no timely rains, particularly in the rivers’ catchment areas, or there is downpour but the whole water goes wasted for a lack of storage capacity.

“Countries with water storage capacity of less than 30 days face the same kind of challenges in agriculture as we are facing now.” He says Punjab is still facing 50pc shortage in river waters and this issue, coupled with unusual heatwave, is stressing Kharif crops.

He calls for reviving the Punjab tradition of developing ponds at village level as a short-term measure to overcome the water shortage at crucial stages of crops. By harvesting rainwater and the canal water supplies, when it is not needed during monsoon, in the ponds, the farmers may meet their emergency water requirements from these small storages, he adds.

Bigger reservoirs may be, and should be, developed at a later stage, he says. He says the department is also working on introducing farm methods that could reduce consumption of water by crops such as rice. “We are carrying out experiments such as direct seeding at our research facilities and their success will help overcome the need for abundant water to sow rice and other crops.”

The DG says the country is producing 6.2 million tonnes of urea which is enough for domestic needs but the smuggling of the compost due to a huge difference between the local and international prices is leading to the twin menaces of hoarding and smuggling of urea.

His department, he says, is conducting raids against the unscrupulous elements involved in hoarding urea and other fertilisers or overcharging the farmers. Since May 9, 2002, a fine of Rs20.377m has been imposed on hoarders and those found involved in overcharging in fertilisers with 258 FIRs launched and 67 arrests made, he claims. He says the government is also importing three million tonnes of urea to meet the increasing local demand. He says application of urea during monsoon is ‘overuse’ of the input because rainwater serves the same purpose as what is obtained from the compost – growth of leaves.

Dr Buttar says they need to promote the usage of phosphoric fertilisers as it is lower than international standards but these fertilisers develop grain in the crops and thus help improve per acre yield.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2022

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