Farming for our future
A notable British scholar Thomas Robert Malthus predicted in 1798 that food production will one day be unable to cater to the needs of a rising population, and consequentially an apocalypse will unfold. While his prediction has still not materialised due to the scientific advancements, the productive capacity of our planet has been able to develop exponentially faster than the global population. Yet, the institution of science which enables human civilisation to improve productivity and efficiency of agriculture, now teaches us that current agricultural practices are unsustainable.
Having the sixth largest population in the world, steady food production in Pakistan holds a paramount value. The fact that its economy is agricultural-based makes it even more important that our primary sector keeps on producing not only to feed its people and provide employment, but also to generate enough gross domestic product (GDP) and exports to keep our purchasing power parity at a global scale intact.
A transition should be made to ensure that our agriculture continues to provide a steady and stable source of income to its burgeoning population. As the farming sector is directly affected by the health of our land, it is equally important that our land is kept arable for the future.
Sustainable agriculture requires integration of different natural and ecological sciences into agriculture production in the interest of making land productivity and food production more stable and available for future use. Making the sector more sustainable would require that all inputs into the farming process remain sustainable, and it would also require interdisciplinary integration and coordination of different stakeholders including farmers, civil servants, general population and policymakers, who all work towards ensuring that the farming sector becomes more sustainable.
In Pakistan, there are quite a lot of problems, which are hampering transition to a more sustainable farming sector, and these need to change.
Perhaps the most important impediment faced by the sector is soil impoverishment and malnutrition. Crop farming requires certain essential nutrients in soil, and in absence of these fertilisers are needed to provide nutrition to crops. Many arable land areas lack holistic soil nutrition, and hence, human intervention is needed. Yet most fertilisers used in Pakistan are general based, and do not address the different nutritional needs of soil in different areas. As a result, Pakistan’s consumption of fertilisers per hectare is substantially higher in comparison to the rest of the world, while land productivity is not increasing as much as the fertiliser consumption.
Arable land produces best when it has proportionate levels of soil nutrition and as such farmers should coordinate with scientists to use more tailored fertilisers. This will reduce the declining land productivity in Pakistan. Furthermore, soil erosion is another problem, materials and techniques such as organic material, no-till farming and a key line design should be used which effectively reduces soil erosion and degradation.
Water is the most important resource for farming, and is needed in a steady supply. Our rivers including the mighty Indus and its tributaries supply fresh river water in abundance, yet much of it is wasted and a water supply infrastructure, which substantially reduces waste while simultaneously broadens spatial availability of water, is needed. The introduction of educational programmes by NGOs and the government to teach farmers how to best make use of their water and use it more prudently and sustainably can also be more constructive.
Moreover, making a transition to a more agriculturally sustainable economy would require constant energy to ensure that tube wells, tractors and other mechanised systems work unhindered. Using non-renewable energy with heavy ecological footprint is unsustainable which challenges the future of our agriculture industry.
Many countries such as Brazil have made a transition towards more environmentally friendly energy consumption, and Pakistan, too,
should introduce new technology in this sector which will enable us to be less dependent upon oil, CNG and other expensive fuel for farming.
We, the people, should also actively indulge in making a transition towards a greener agricultural sector. We should spend more on organic produce, which is far more wholesome and healthier than processed food, while consuming less quantity over quality. We can also consume more of locally produced food, which has substantially lower carbon and ecological footprint. These little steps to support the sustainable agriculture will go a long way and everyone should take them. After all, we owe it not only to our motherland, but also to our future generations. —S.A