Digital innovations: emerging frontiers of enhanced agri production – Daily Times

Though, Pakistan is the largest producer of Kinnow,placed at 4th position in production of cotton, mango, chickpea,and milk,5th in date, sugarcane and apricot, 7th in wheat and onion, and it has surplus food and fruits. Nearly half of the population is malnourished or not enjoying a healthy life due to food insecurity and unhealthy food and life habits. Thus, Pakistan is spending 2 percent of its GDP to deal with health related issues which is considered double than its spending to arrest the energy crises. Today, nearly all public institutions of the country are striving hard to make a substantial headway in meeting the challenges of UN-SDGs. Out of all 17 SDGs, number 1 and 2 are about “no poverty” and “zero hunger” they are directly related to agriculture.The shrinking landholding pattern does not leave much space for technology to be implemented, as around 55 per cent farmers own less than five acres of land. The number increases beyond 93 percent if the land ceiling is taken to 12.5 acres. These farmers do not invest in any form of technology, as it does not make any commercial sense for them to sustain.On the other hand, rapid growth of residential colonies in big cities is also putting enormous pressure on the existing cultivable landthereby erecting new challenges for peri-urban agriculture and environment.

China, India, Brazil and other countries are striving hard to digitize their existing technologies and making them popular at grass root level by an effective use of smart IT gadgets.According to PTA, there are 161 million cellular subscribers in the country with around 68% having android phones. The small landholders need to have small agricultural implements, quality seed, awareness of use of balanced fertilizers and other inputs coupled with financial requirements.The University of Agriculture Faisalabad is striving hard to get prototypes of small agricultural implements and processing units from China in a bid to do reverse engineering of such Chinese technologies and enable the local engineering companies to manufacture small implements for small farmers to limit the cost of production and enhance the productivity and profitability.

India and other countries plant wheat, maize, cotton and rice on bedswith sowing drills,which not only save upto50 percent of water and enhances15 to 22 percent of production, but we are lagging far behind them and doing a dismal share of sowing with this technology. We need to have small video clips along with backup service and make it popular in the farming community that will enhance the productivity and save 50 percent of water.

Use of drone technology will give agricultural industry a high-technology makeover with planning and strategy based on real-time data gathering and processing. Technologically advanced countries have covered a long distance in precision agriculture that needs to be implemented in Pakistan after making small but comprehensive video clips,which would demonstrate the complete technology application with easy subtitles in Urdu language.

Digitizing the Hydroponic and tunnel agriculture technology would be another frontier for crop and profit enhancement as in Pakistan, there are very few farmers associated with the system, which have huge production potential than the conventional one. The biggest advantage of this soilless technology with a proper setup, plants are matured up to 25 percent faster and produce up to 30 percent more than the same plants grown by conventional method.The UAF scientists have designed an indigenous hydroponic technology, which is cheaper and efficient than the imported one. This technology with a minimum investment provides a huge relief to the farmers of small land holdings.

Designing of small-scale Biogas plant for nearly 50 households would be another technological intervention in the rural dwelling by using the sewerage sludge. China has been successful in energizing the rural areas through this technology that provides clean and hassle-free biogas to rural and peri-urban population. There are some video clips available on internet but they lack precise information. If we transform the sewerage sludge into clean biogas, this will not only address the disposal of sewerage but also enable the locals to energize their houses.

Sindh, Balochistan and GilgatBultistan are producing a huge amount of date and apricot, but due to non-existence of value addition and processing units in the area, a major chunk of this produce goesin wastage.Digitizing the value addition process with backup service detailswould play an instrumental role in transforming their lives.

In Pakistan,average yield of crops against per unit of water is much lower than the international level, and the yield obtained at the research farms and by the progressive farmers is much higher than the average production. The water conservation in Barani areas is another frontier to be explored as during rainy season water needs to be stored at farm level by digging ponds with plastic surface so that stored water may not suffer seepageand be used during dry days.

Like China and Turkey, ensuring pure and quality cottonseeds to the farmers and makingsome headway creating some resistance against the pests can lead to a 30% increase in cotton yield that will significantly impact allied industries and export earnings. To gain 30 percent increase, the low hanging fruit is to ensure the farmers with provision of certified quality seeds and make them aware of the better irrigation and water allocations; this can add 3.1 to 4.6 billion dollars to the pocket of 1.7 million cotton farmers of the country.

If we want to harness the benefits of farm mechanization, we need to learn lesson from China where small implements are playing an instrumental role in small landholdings with enhanced income and prosperity. This will open new window of prosperity for small farmers of whom, new generation does not want to be a farmer, will see more attraction in agriculture due to high value agriculture.

The writer is the vice chancellor of University of Agriculture, Faisalabad


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