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Pakistan Agriculture overview

Pothwar's agricultural potential

By Dr. Sardar Riaz A. Khan

POTHWAR plateau parallells the outer Himalayas and lies between the rivers Jhelum and Indus. It includes all of Attock and Rawalpindi districts except parts included in Murree zone , besides 75 per cent of Chakwal district, 15 per cent of Jhelum district and 20 per cent of Mianwali district.

It is about 250km long and 100km wide with elevations ranging from 200metre along River Indus to about 900 metre in the hills north of Islamabad with an average elevation of 457 metre.

The climate of Pothwar comprises of semi-arid in the southwest to sub-humid in the northeast. The rainfall is erratic. The monsoon rains are usually accompanied by thunderstorms and occur as heavy downpours resulting in considerable surface run-off and soil erosion in the hilly areas and uplands.

Most of the annual rainfall in the semi-arid region occurs during June to September period. in Northeast about 70 per cent of it occurs in summer. The winter rains occur as gentle showers of long duration and more effective for soil moisture re-plenishment then the summer rains.

Most of the agricultural soils have developed from wind and water transported material comprising of loess, old alluvial deposits, mountain out-wash and recent stream valley deposits. Their texture mostly varies from sandy to silt loam and clay loam comprising from poor to fertile lands. The plateau has a flat to gently undulating surface broken by gullies and low hill ranges.

About 60 percent of the land area has been highly eroded leaving the rest as a flat land which constitutes the main cultivated area. Of the total area of 1.8 million hectares, 0.77 million hectares is cultivated, the remaining is mostly grazing land. Again, of the cultivated area only 4 percent is irrigated, while 96 percent is under rain-fed agriculture.

The irrigated farming system is currently practised on a relatively much smaller scale from small and mini dams and tube-wells. A natural lake namely Namal lake is located in the extreme southwest of Pothwar. Part of water from this lake is pumped for irrigation of adjacent areas but most of it is conveyed through a tunnel through the Salt Range to irrigate lands near Mianwali.

The major rain-fed crops grown in Pothwar are wheat, gram, groundnut, millets, sorghum, oilseeds, fodders. Maize and sunflower are grown on higher rainfall areas. Vegetables and orchards are grown where access to cities and irrigation water from dams and tube-wells are available. Very little of natural vegetation remains except at a few protected and inaccessible areas which have remnants of over thorn thicket savanna, while in higher precipitation areas dense forests occur in scattered pockets.

Livestock production is also one of the major economic activity in Pothwar which has over 25 percent of total livestock population of the entire barani tract of Punjab. Sheep and goats are the predominant species followed by cattle, camels and donkeys. Buffaloes are kept mostly in sub-humid areas or areas where water is readily available. Although various breeds of cattle, sheep and goats are found in this tract but it is the home of Dhani breed of draught cattle and Pothwar breed of goat.

Suggestions: Keeping in view the above-mentioned background, the following suggestions are made for development of Pothwar:

Intensive precipitation, steep slopes and erodible soils without adequate protection have led to extensive soil erosion and reduction in agricultural productivity in Pothwar uplands. The soil conservation technology is well established, but in spite of the efforts of various concerned government departments and projects costing billions of rupees during the last 54 years, soil erosion still continues to be serious menace.

The government should constitute a highly expert scientists committee to evaluate the impact of soil conservation efforts thus far, determine various constraints and recommend new effective technology based on the past experience. Targets of soil conservation and the progress be monitored strictly.

Feasibility to live with those which are not economical to reclaim be studied as saline agriculture technology has been developed for those salt affected soils which are not economical to reclaim.

Agricultural credit be given to farmers who are mostly small for reclamation of their eroded soils. The return of loan may be allowed on easy instalments when their lands become productive. Alternately the Department of Soil Conservation may take their erosion effected reclaimable soils on lease and reclaim it.

Harvesting of available surface, ground and rain water is essential for quantum leap forward in agriculture. Storing run-off water of hill torrents in small and mini dams has good potential for irrigated agriculture.

The Small Dam Organization constructed a number of small dams including Papin dam in Pothwar, but the life span of these dams was reduced due to silting up by the rain and torrent water inflow from the hill slopes and uplands. The Departments of Small Dams, soil Conservation and Forestry should be made jointly responsible for management of watersheds of the existing and future dams for prolonging their life.

Again, surface storage may not be possible everywhere but perennial and non-perennial rivers and streams running through Pothwar plateau carry substantial water especially during monsoon season. The feasibility of lifting this water through hydroturbines or hydra-ramp pumps be studied. A single pump may lift water upto 30 metre height on the side of river or stream having cultivable area at 60-70 litres per second besides producing 5 kw of hydro-power.

Installation of such pumps on seasonal streams may help to lift and store water in storage tanks or ponds during rainy season and to use it as supplemental irrigation to increase the yield of rain-fed crops.

The drainage of the Pothwar is primarily through the Haro, Soan, Kansi, Bunhar and Kahan river system. They flow mainly in a southwesterly direction to the Indus River. As a result there is good potential of using groundwater in riverine and river plain areas of pothwar.

Turbine wells may be installed for bringing more area under irrigated agriculture. Besides, the approach to agricultural lands in these areas is difficult and the means of communication needs to be improved for efficient production and marketing. The government should ensure that the cost of these turbine wells is reasonable as it is projected much higher than the actual cost due to corruption in our system thus causing problems for the interested farmers.

Again, indiscriminate land levelling with bull-dozers be avoided. Before land levelling operations, the depth and nature of the soil be analysed. If the sub-soil is rocky, stony and gravelly then the surface soil should not be disturbed. Natural vegetation such as grasses, forest or orchard trees be grown on such soils to prevent their erosion. Where sub-soil is normal such as in most of the riverine areas and river plains there land levelling may be undertaken followed by the required agricultural practices to maintain soil fertility.

The timely availability of improved seed, fertilizer pesticides and credit is one of the major problem of the farmers, especially the small and subsistent level farmers who cultivate larger farm area resulting in lower crop yields.

The policy should be developed to provide all these inputs at the door steps of the farmers well before the sowing season of the crops. This can be done by opening distribution centres within each five-mile radius after calculating the input and credit requirements of the farmers within each distribution centre as has been successfully done in Indian Punjab.

The Barani Agricultural Research Institute, Chakwal, is doing a good job in spite of its limitations. It should also lay emphasis on drought-related physiological research such as to stress wheat seed with supra-optimal but sub-lethal temperature for a specific period before sowing. It will harden the embryo within the seed and it will not only germinate faster but will also resist drought which is a common feature of barani areas.

Due to increasing mechanised agriculture in the Pothwar as in the rest of the country, the need for draught bulls has significantly decreased. In their place high milk yielding breeds of cattle such as Sahiwal and Red Sindhi be encouraged as their milk yield is much higher than the local Dhani cows.

However, production of Dhani cattle may be continued to meet the requirements of beef and draught cattle of Punjab which still used some 500,000 draught bulls. Similarly high milk yielding Nili-Rav and Kundi buffaloes be encouraged in irrigated areas. Nevertheless the major livestock problems in Pothwar are poor breeding, poor health, malnutrition and inefficient marketing which need immediate attention of the planners.

Poultry production also has a good potential in Pothwar The availability to the farm family of high quality protein in the form of meat and eggs is one of the cheapest and best way to improve the nutritional balance of rural diets in rain-fed areas. However, in those areas not economical for commercial poultry farming due to unsuitable marketing conditions or harsh environments increasing of domestic poultry farming be encouraged.

courtesy Daily  Dawn, 24 May, 2002 

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