Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs agriculture extension
Worldwide agriculture practices have undergone tremendous developments with the use of modern technologies for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and packing crops. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, only about 20 percent of farmers use modern technology in agriculture. The traditional practices result in low yields, unnecessary wastage of precious water and almost 40 percent loss of the agricultural output.
There are a number of reasons which cause the farmers to stay away from modern agriculture practices, formally called agriculture extension. The term “Extension” was first used in England in 1866 as a system of University Extension. It was picked up by Cambridge and Oxford universities and followed by others. In the Indian sub-continent, Agriculture Extension started in 1902 with the establishment of the Department of Agriculture in the Punjab. Agriculture in Pakistan plays an important role. It contributes about 24 percent of GDP, provides employment to more than 50 percent of the population and earns about 70 percent foreign exchange. Agriculture Extension in the country is run by the public sector with the following mandate. • To educate and motivate the farmers for adoption of improved agriculture technology of crop husbandry evolved by the agriculture research for obtaining highest return per unit area on sustainable basis. To make the country self sufficient in food. To improve the living conditions of small scale farmers. To generate an exportable surplus of agriculture production. The Agricultural Extension Service is not only meant to act as a carrier of improved technology from research to the farmers but also provides questions of immediate importance from farmers’ fields to agricultural researchers. In this way, it is aimed at keeping the agricultural scientists abreast with real field problems. Extension service is thus a vital link between the researcher and farmer.
Unfortunately, the farmers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are still deprived of the benefits of agriculture extension. Generally farmers reject innovations on the basis of their conservative approach, ignorance, financial position and poor skills for any new adoption. The required expertise and profuse networking of extension personnel is missing in the province. Instead of reaching the farmers to resolve their problems, the extension staff is found waiting for the farmers to approach them.
The role of media is also criticized by the agriculturists, according to whom the farmerspecific radio and TV programmes, agriculture extension shows and film shows for villagers are absent these days. Importantly, the infrastructure of extension service lacks in terms of shortage of personnel with a meagre 2,129 field staff assigned to a huge area of around 1.4 million farms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This means that about 527 farmers are attended by a single technical official. In such a backdrop, neither the quality of the farmer’s education nor the quality of farm output can be satisfactorily maintained.
It also impacts the evaluation process of the extension program, which is roughly carried out by indirectly judging the crop yields and cash returns to farmers. The absence of direct evaluation results in faulty data management of agriculture sector.
Along with the evaluation, soil testing practice is of utmost priority. The importance of soil testing can be inferred from the following soil categories. The soil in any country, based on its composition, has been divided into eight categories. The first has the least limitations for agricultural use and can give high yield of crop with proper management. Categories II and III have relatively more limitations for farm use and need better management. The problems are severer in category IV soil which, though capable of producing a few marginal crops, has little ability for improvement. Soils from categories V to VII are not suited to arable farming but can be used for range land or forestry. Soil of category VIII is barren.
But with the application of best quality fertilizers and pesticides, low category soil can be made productive. As a lamentable fact, the facility of soil testing is not available to the farmers in the province. This is due to the dormancy of model farm service centres, which were established in 2007-2008 in most districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The extension services need to be retained in their original practice. Alternatively, as a form of community participation, farmers organizations can be established which are better accepted at micro levels. The public and private sectors need to collaborate in order to establish agricultural machinery pools and management centres to look after vital development bodies like the Agriculture Extension Service