ISLAMABAD: The Internat­ional Fund for Agric­ultural Devel­opment (IFAD) has said that around 1.4 million farmers in Punjab have benefited from a 19-month digital agriculture project that guided them to receive crop-related advice from agricultural specialists.

According to a statement released by IFAD, the advice was tailored to each stage of the cropping cycle — from how to prepare the land, select seeds, and sow crops for the best yield to how to apply fertiliser, irrigate fields and control disease.

The farmers also received tips on how to become more resilient by using animal manure, tobacco spray, and biopesticides instead of commercial products that were no longer available due to disrupted supply chains, the IFAD said.

In partnership with the Climate Forecast Applications Network, a local weather forecast system was developed to inform farmers what to expect in the coming days.

IFAD’s project guides farmers, provides crop-related information

The statement added that nearly 200,000 farmers were now getting voice notes with regular updates and advisories, including when to plant seeds and dig channels to divert floodwater. Another 300,000 cotton farmers were receiving advis­ories on environment-frie­ndly pest management methods.

The project was launched to provide information to the farmers to withstand the Covid crisis, during which farmers were unable to cope with the new challenges presented by the pandemic, such as finding substitutes for agricultural inputs that were no longer available or cost-effective produce with constrained resources.

In Punjab, traditional gender norms constrain women from accessing farming advice, even though they were often responsible for taking care of the household’s animals, it said.

“Through ‘digital agriculture,’ it was easier for women to receive this information,” the statement added.

However, while 104,000 women received informational messages, more needed to be done to ensure their access to mobile phones which were often only accessible to men in a household, IFAD said.

Combined with other factors, these digital tools were changing how people in Punjab farm. A study found that 34 per cent of farmers who used the platform adopted at least one new farming practice recommended by the programme, the statement claimed.

More than 40pc of the farmers credited the digital advisory services for this change.

The IFAD also said the project’s results made a case for long-term investment in digital agricultural extension, and it was working on other projects, such as a national poverty graduation programme to offer digital services to help Paki­stan’s rural poor improve their food security, nutrition and climate change resilience, using a fraction of the resources needed for face-to-face agricultural advice.

“For the IFAD, this shows why digital agriculture needs to be at the very heart of its work. As the world’s poorest people face spiralling food and energy prices, cost-effective interventions, like digital advisory services, can help them make the best decisions for themselves and their businesses,” the statement added.

Due to the rising global hunger and climate change which was impacting the agricultural output, the IFAD will spend $1.55 billion during 2022-24 to combat poverty and hunger among the 3.4bn people who live in rural areas of the developing world, said the statement.

The IFAD annual report released last week said that the Fund has “doubled down on its commitment to the world’s poorest rural communities in 2021, increasing support to reach 128m small-scale farmers and vulnerable people, of whom 49pc of direct beneficiaries were women and 22pc were youth.”

The IFAD’s member states have recognised the role of the Fund in tackling hunger, poverty and effects of climate change by committing a record $1.55bn to the agency’s 2022-24 core resources with the aim of doubling its impact by 2030, it added.

“A crucial part of delivering on this ambition will be its ability to expand the size of investments in rural areas. If the final mobilisation targets are achieved, it will enable the IFAD to expand the programme of work to $11.1bn during 2022-24,” the report added.

The report estimated that more than 418m people suffered from hunger in Asia alone, representing more than half of those living in hunger globally.

Nearly 3m people in the islands of the Pacific were also suffering from hunger, said the report, while adding that transforming food systems was the Fund’s key objective in the region.

The report said that by the end of 2019, the IFAD had invested $2.6bn in the region’s ongoing portfolio for 59 projects in 20 countries.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2022

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