agriculture and fertilizer practices in Pakistan
Mohammad Ali Khaskheli
is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy.
It has a total area of
79.61 million hectare, and the total area used for crop
production is only 22 million ha.
Of which about 18 million
ha (80 percent) are irrigated.
accounts for 24 percent of the growth domestic product
(GDP), employs 48 percent of the labour force and
contributes about 60 percent to export earnings.
Pakistan is a developing
country with the world's sixth-largest population. The
current population of Pakistan is about 160 million, which
is growing at the rate of almost two percent annually.
The major population of the
country (67 percent) lives in rural areas and depends mainly
on agriculture, and about 32 percent of the population lives
below the poverty level. GDP growth continues to depend on
The total food production in Pakistan is about 25 million
tones in 2002/03 as compared to 10 million tones in 1970/71.
However it is interesting to state that the consumption of
fertilizer per hectare in Pakistan (133 kg approx.) is
higher than the world average (94.1 kg/ha) but yield
productions are substantially lower.
This indicates to a big gap between the supply and demand of
agricultural products, which is widening day by day due to
the increasing population of the country.
Sustainable productivity in our agricultural ecosystems is
therefore an important objective. Sustainable agriculture
depends on a whole-system approach whose overall goal is the
continuing health of the land and people. Therefore it
concentrates on long term solutions to problems instead of
short term treatment of symptoms.
There are several important constraints to sustainable
agriculture and causing low productivity.
They include soil degradation (soil salinity, alkalinity,
erosion and soil fertility depletion), depletion of water
resources, mismanagement of irrigation systems, the
distribution of the land holdings and poor farming
The use of farm inputs,
particularly of fertilizers, is inadequate and inefficient.
Farm energy use is low. The availability of quality seed is
limited. Agricultural research is lagging behind the new
challenges. Agricultural extension services are not tuned to
The flow of information from research to farmers is
inadequate. Coordination between policy, research, extension
and farmers could be improved. Disbursement of agricultural
credit amounts to over Rs.50 billion per annum, but is less
than the requirements and is not reaching small farmers.
An inadequate marketing infrastructure results in high
marketing costs and losses. The fertilizer recommendations
are too general. Soil testing laboratories are not
adequately equipped in terms of manpower and equipment. As a
result, the majority of the farmers become resource-poor and
can not get benefit and therefore, our crop yields are one
of the lowest in the world.
Declining land productivity with reduced crop yields has
been also a major problem facing our farmers. The major
factors contributing to the reduced land productivity is
soil impoverishment caused by continuous cropping without
addition of adequate mineral fertilizers and manures.
Moreover, negative soil
nutrient balances (nutrient removal exceeding nutrient
application) during our cropping history have resulted in
general deterioration of fertility levels. Sustained, high
yield agricultural production can be assured once these
negative balances are addressed. Crop fertilization is the
main tool available.
Fertilizer has played a key role in helping farmers achieve
their high level of production. Fertilizers provide
essential plant nutrients which are indispensable for
producing sufficient and healthy food for the world’s
expanding population. Plant nutrients are therefore a vital
component of any system of sustainable agriculture.
Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P),
and in recent years, zinc, boron and sulfur are the
nutrients of most concern in the grain-production regions.
Unfortunately our soils are deficient in Nitrogen (100 %),
Phosphorus (90%), Zinc (70%) and Boron (55%). Potassium (K)
is generally adequate but its deficiency is emerging
Deficiencies and responses to
other nutrients such as iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), and other
micronutrients are reported for specific crops and areas.
When the soil cannot supply the level of nutrient required
for adequate growth, supplemental fertilizer applications
Prior to the
introduction of fertilizes in Pakistan in the early1950s,
the use of fertilizers have increased significantly. Total
consumption of nutrients in Pakistan has increased from 5
kg/ha in 1966-67 to 133 kg/ha in 2001-2002.
However, it is still much
lower when compared with other countries of the world and
highly unbalanced to produce enough and quality food to meet
the country demand. The crop yields in countries using
higher fertilizer rates (e.g. Korea, Japan China, Egypt etc)
are two to three times more than Pakistan.
One of the factors responsible for stagnating yields and
decreasing fertilizer use efficiency is the current
unbalanced fertilizer use. Nutrient balances for many
cropping systems are negative.
The nitrogen and phosphorus
are the most limiting nutrients to crop production but their
sufficient use by majority of the smallholder farmers become
limiting due to their high costs. Indeed a substantial
number of farmers do not use fertilizers and the ones who
use fertilizers apply below the recommended rates.
In Pakistan various types of fertilizers are used, some are
locally manufactured and others are imported. In our
country, most of the fertilizer is used on irrigated wheat,
cotton, sugarcane and rice crops.
On these crops the nitrogen
application rate is close to 75-80 percent of the
recommendations, compared with about 20-40 percent,
depending on the crop, in the case of phosphate. Hardly 1-2
percent of farmers apply potash; that is usually applied to
fruit, vegetable, and sugarcane crops only. Micronutrient
deficiencies are common but less than five percent of the
farmers apply micronutrient fertilizers.
There are several problems which are impeding the balance
and efficient use of fertilizers. These are commonly
non-availability of specific fertilizers at right time,
ever-increasing prices, improper application methods and
time, lack of knowledge among farmers about the need for
balanced fertilizer applications, adulteration and
inadequate grant of soft loans especially for the small
farmers, costituting 75 per cent of our farming community.
The increase of fertilizer
use efficiency is also related to ensuring the fertilizer
quality. At present, apart from some macro fertilizers
produced industrially, there are several mixed macro and
micronutrient fertilizers, foliar fertilizers, plant growth
stimulants which are not controlled by the government.
They are circulated with of
fertilizer arbitration organizations, therefore the farmers
are always suffering from losses once having bought the
adulterated or low-quality fertilizers, and the legitimate
fertilizer producers and traders suffer from losses and
Balanced fertilization is one of the most important tools to
achieve maximum crop yield. Balanced fertilization can be
defined as the rational use of fertilizers and manures for
optimum supply of all essential nutrients for maximum crop
yield which simultaneously ensures efficiency of fertilizer
use promotes synergistic interactions and keeps antagonistic
interactions out of the crop production system.
Fertilizers are not cheap and
therefore, it is essential that they should be efficiently
and effectively used to produce maximum increase in crop
yields so that farmers receive the best possible outputs
from their expenses.
Balanced fertilization does not mean a certain definite
proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash or other
nutrients to be added in the form of fertilizer, but it has
to take into account the availability of nutrients already
present in the soil, crop requirement and other factors.
It should take into account
the crop removal of nutrients, the economics of fertilizers
and profitability, farmers’ ability to invest,
agro-techniques, soil moisture regime, weed control, plant
protection, seed rate, sowing time, soil salinity,
alkalinity, physical environment, microbiological condition
of the soil, cropping sequence, etc. It is not a state but a
Balance fertilization is invariably the practice, which
enable the farmers to approach practically realizable yield
potentials in a cost effective and sustainable manner.
Balanced fertilization enhances crop yield, crop quality and
farm income; corrects soil nutrient deficiencies, and
maintains soil fertility. Several field trials on balance
fertilization have proved the yield improvement by 50-100
According to a (NFDC; 1999) report, balanced use of
fertilizers increased the yields of wheat by 77%, sugarcane
100%, rice 25-100% and cotton by 400%. To reap the benefits
of balanced use of fertilizers, our farmers must implement
the five key practices (a) apply only those nutrients that
will result in economic yield increases (b) apply
appropriate nutrient rates (c) apply appropriate sources of
fertilizer nutrients (d) apply nutrients at appropriate
timing (e) apply using the most effective and practical
A balanced fertilization strategy is the only way to ensure
a sustainable agriculture that can provide the world
population with high quality food while minimizing the
impact on the environment.
All available knowledge about
the crop and the environment where it will be grown must be
combined to set up the right combination of nutrients to be
applied at each step of the fertilization program.
Among the programs of Ministry of Agriculture, the program
of agricultural extension on fertilizers is considered a
central one aiming at increasing fertilizer use efficiency,
crop yield and agricultural product quality, stabilizing and
enhancing the soil fertility.
But unfortunately, due to different reasons, due attention
was not paid to this program. However, the following
suggestions would be fruitful in promoting the balance use
and proper management of fertilizers and increasing crop
yields and soil fertility.
• Setting up a united network of agricultural extension on
fertilizers with the participation of research institutes,
agricultural universities, scientific associations and
non-governmental organizations, fertilizer producing and
• Surveying the current status of fertilizer use of farmers
in all key agricultural areas in the whole country. The
surveyed data will be processed to find out the advantages
and shortcoming in fertilizer use for some main crops.
• Surveying the current status and capacity of fertilizer
supply and service of governmental organizations, collective
and private organizations, evaluating the supply capacity
and requirement of each fertilizer kind at localities
according to short- term and medium -term plants.
• Setting up the network of stable and long-term field
experiment on some soil types for some crops in all
agro-ecological zones in the whole country in order to
exactly assess the nutrient supplying capacity of soils,
factors limiting the fertilizer use efficiency (soils,
climate and weather, management level, intellectual standard
of the people...), direct and residual efficiency of main
fertilizer to serve as a basis for establishing the formulae
of reasonable fertilization.
• Setting up a network of field experiments to assess the
environmental impacts of fertilizers, especially the impacts
of fertilizers on soil fertility and agricultural product
quality, besides, through this research system identifying
the relationship between fertilizers and IPM.
• Organizing the training courses to provide the local
extension workers with new knowledge and update new
knowledge for them.
• Organizing the training for farmers on the role of each
nutrient, symptoms of nutrient shortage and method of
reasonable and efficient fertilizer through the farmer’s
field schools using the most simple and effective methods.
• Organizing the information and propaganda on fertilizer
use guides as well as introduction of new fertilizer through
• Printing the fertilizer use guides. In the short term,
apart from specific information, a new issue of agricultural
extension on fertilizers can be carried out at the
periodical of Pakistan Soil Science Society or the
periodical of Department of Agriculture extension.
• Working out the regulations on fertilizer quality control
aiming at preparing the fertilizer legislation.
• Carrying out the activities of cooperation on agricultural
extension on fertilizers with in-country and foreign
organizations as well as testing the efficiency of new
fertilizers manufactured by in-country as well as foreign
• Establishing the technical support fund to help the
enthusiastic farmers having difficulties to form the key
farmer class at the grassroots units.
• Developing the long-term human resource development
program to improve qualifications of researchers and
extension workers to PhD level and also provide for
short-term trainings to equip them with knowledge and skills
in important areas. Besides, career structure and incentive
framework may be introduced to reward quality research and
• The farmers provided with basis knowledge of fertilizer:
Kind, composition, properties, method of storage, fertilizer
use guide (not only for agricultural crops but also for
• Agricultural output increase due to increase in crop
• Agricultural product value increase due to increase in
• Fertilizer cost for a product unit reduced, hard foreign
currencies economized due to reasonable fertilizer use.
• Balanced fertilization reduces the incidence of plant
diseases, such as red-leaf stem blight in cotton as found in
various provinces of China. Natural improvements in the
plant's ability to resist disease infections result in less
need for insecticides and fungicides, which lowers
production costs for farmers and reduces chances for
negative environmental impact.
• Environmental pollution protected due to decrease in
gaseous nitrogen looses as well as nitrate loss by leaching.
• Soil fertility stabilized and enhanced.
In summary all embracing efforts should be made to educate
farmers to practice balanced use of fertilizers. Of late,
some fertilizer companies and associations have come forward
to educate the villagers, publication of literature in
regional languages related to balanced use of fertilizers
for higher crop yields in a sustainable way. The actual time
has come; the farmers, researchers and other related
communities should come forward and act in this respect.
The chemical fertilizers are very expensive therefore,
should be used judiciously and use manures along with
chemical fertilizers for improving the crop yield and soil
productivity in a sustainable way. Many more activities are
being planned to promote the balanced use of fertilizers.
And it is hoped that all these efforts would lead to desired
awareness and as a result balanced fertilizer use would
become a reality in near future.