FARMERS and the private sector have joined hands to cultivate hybrid vegetables and adopt innovative growing techniques to raise crop yield in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Takht Bhai, Mardan, farmers opting for technique of growing hybrid vegetables, see it as a route to their prosperity.
On a visit to the area, this scribe witnessed lots of u-shaped stands and scattered open sheds scattered that had been prepared with sticks and plastic wire, cobbled together, to support the structure for hanging vegetables. (see picture)
Taufeeq Ahmad Khan, a local farmer, said the sowing of imported hybrid of bitter gourd called Karail , and not the local variety Karaila , was started three years ago.
“Farmers are usually too conservative, often ignorant and also poor to adopt new technologies and strategies but once their utility is established, they adopt them quickly. Seeing financial advantages, more and more farmers are following suit. The private sector guided us to adopt high-yielding variety of bitter gourd,” he said.
“It is highly rewarding for farmers as they continue growing vegetables for around nine months. An acre of imported hybrid bitter gourd sown this way earns a farmer around Rs400,000. Besides, vegetable like tomato or fruit like watermelon can also be sown alongside it on the ridges in the field. This can fetch them another Rs200,000,” he added.
Gul says local seed of bitter gourd when sown on ridges in the field usually gets destroyed quickly by excess of water, heat, drought and diseases. “Besides it can resist adverse climatic conditions and diseases, being a short duration crop. The local bitter gourd also has negligible income for farmers as compared to hybrid bitter gourd.
“ It is also more resistant to diseases and climatic conditions and the vegetable is comparatively healthier,” he said.
According to Khan, the method is simple and can be easily adopted by any one. “As Karail had to be kept above the ground to save it from degeneration, one has only to bear a one-time expenditure of around Rs40,000 for building the structure using sticks and plastic wire. The vegetable hangs from it which can be collected easily. This structure can be used for next three to four years if protected. Considering the advantage of this technology, it is a negligible amount which farmers can happily spend to increases their incomes a lot,” he said.
“The second vegetable or fruit grown alongside bitter gourd is of short duration. It continues its output till winter when frost decomposes its roots. But if necessary measures are taken to protect it against chill and moisture, it will continue yielding even in winter,” he added.
Adoption of these techniques together with guidance on establishment of market linkages with packaging and processing industries can benefit the farmers. Growers in other areas can take advantage of the experiences of their counterparts.
Farmers say the government and private seed dealers can help the farmers by providing them with seeds on deferred payment.
Imported hybrid seeds of vegetables are available in the market but the farmers said if hybrid seeds are developed locally and provided to them, it would be better. These will surely be cheaper and easily adaptable to local ecosystem.
If local labour and fields can be used by the multinationals to prepare new seed varieties, why can't we do the same ourselves. The numerous public seed research farms could be used for developing hybrid seeds for vegetables.
The government and private sectors can reduce dependence on import of seeds by developing hybrid varieties for vegetables and fruits themselves. But it will also have to be disseminated to farmers as soon as possible. For this purpose' a pro-active strategy will be needed by the agriculture department to contact farmers at their doorsteps.
The province is gifted with diverse climatic and ecological zones which is well suited to all types of vegetables and fruits. About 47,000 hectares produce approximately 0.52 million tons of fruit and 38,000 hectares produce around 0.356 million tons of vegetables.