ONLY about 20 per cent of farmers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa use modern technology in agriculture. This is because either most of them have no money, or if some of them have, they are ignorant and not inclined to use it.
The agriculture extension services staff has not made growers aware of the advantages of the modern farming technology or motivated them to use it.
Agriculture worldwide has undergone tremendous developments and various technologies are used for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and packing crops. But most of our local farmers are still stuck to traditional ways of agriculture, resulting in low yields, wastage of assets like water and 30-40 per cent loss of farm-produce.
Farmers either reject or adopt innovations on the basis of their awareness, interest, experience, product cost and their financial position. They are usually too conservative, ignorant and poor to adopt new technologies and strategies, but once the utility of the system is established, they quickly adopt it. But it requires expertise, profuse contacts and sufficient strength of extension personnel, which unfortunately are lacking.
Instead of following a proactive approach in its interaction with growers, the agriculture extension officials primarily wait for them to come to it with their problems to get them solved. One wonders why this can’t be the other way round i.e. the directorate staff reaches the farmers at their doorsteps to do the required job.
“Agricultural extension department is mandated to provide research technology to farmers, convey growers’ feedback to agricultural researchers and keeps them abreast of the field problems for further improvement in their research work. It is supposed to contact and train farmers, check sale of fake fertiliser and pesticides, collect data and prepare reports on crops and extension materials for farmers, supporting donors and dealers.
But the extension directorate has given up these functions. Its officials now seldom visit fields and farmers. There is no interaction and liaison with farmers to know their problems and needs,” said Haji Niamat Shah, vice-president of Anjuman-i- Kashtkaran, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to him, till the recent past, officers regularly visited farmers and fields. There were daily farmer-specific radio and TV programmes, agriculture extension shows and melas and film shows at village levels, and spraying and pruning of orchards by extension officials.
Fruit plants were also provided to farmers but there is nothing of this sort these days,” he complains.
The extension service has suffered both from insufficient capacity and commitment as well as paucity of staff. Out of 2,654 personnel of the department in 2004, there were only 38 technical officials while field staff numbered 2,129 who had to cater to the agriculture needs of around 1.4mn farms in the province.
When an official had to attend 527 farmers on an average, how could extension duties like making frequent contacts with farmers and checking of pesticides and fertiliser dealers for quality be satisfactorily carried out?
Though there is no direct evaluation of the extension impact - it is indirectly judged from crop yields and cash returns to farmers etc.. There is no authentic data to show as to whether high prices of farm produce have benefited growers more or the middlemen and commission agents?
In 2007-08, model farm services centres were developed for extension purposes but these bodies are now dormant in most of the districts. There is no separate statutory law to govern its functions under which they could be registered.
The department needs to invest on strengthening its information technology section as its website is not updated and still displays figures of 2006 on achievements of agriculture extension services.
The lack of service structure and chances for promotion is discouraging new talent to join the directorate and the existing ones are also leaving their services.
There is a need to establish genuine farmers organisations at village level as community participation is generally better at micro level.
The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and inputs centres at villages where farmers could get these things and also guidance on subsidised or deferred payment.