Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa needs agri­cul­ture ex­ten­sion

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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

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