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Managing soil resources for food security




  • With world population at around 6 billion, another three billion will be added over next 50 years. This increase will occur in developing countries. Pakistan’s population is about 150 million which will double in the next 30-40 years, meaning Pakistan will have to double its cereal production, particularly of wheat, to meet food demand and simultaneously of other crops to stimulate economic growth.
    In south Asia about 25 per cent of total population lives on fragile lands. In Pakistan 30-50 per cent are living on fragile lands. Improving their livelihood is essential for meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals for coming decades.
    Pakistan has a total geographical area of 80.0 million ha. Of this only 22.3 million ha (28.per cent) is cultivated land. About 18 million ha of the cultivated land is irrigated while remaining is rainfed or is under dry farming.
    The soil resources inventory reveals that 12.4 million ha of irrigated land has high agricultural potential, and its production can be doubled if soils are managed on proper scientific lines.
    There is also scope to increase production on 9.0 million ha of land which includes both irrigated and dry farming areas having moderate to low agricultural potential.
    DEGRADATION: Salinization is a severe problem on irrigated lands. It is found both in light to moderate degrees, reducing crop yield and in severe degree causing complete abandonment of formerly productive irrigated land.
    About 3 million hectares of irrigated land is affected by salinity/sodicity ranging from patchy salinity to dense saline sodic soils. It is about 13.5 per cent of total crop area. It severely impacts the productivity of the land.
    USE OF BRACKISH WATER: About 53 MAF of ground water is pumped for irrigation. Out of this about 60 per cent is unfit for irrigation. It severely impacts the chemistry of soils and thus the productivity.
    In areas of deep alluvial deposits and where the ground water has not become saline, tubewell irrigation has led to over-extraction of water, in excess of the rate of recharge. The use of brackish water has downgraded class I land to class II.
    Soil fertility depletion is more widespread than formally realized leading to reduced crop yields and low responses to fertilizers. The calcareous, high pH and low organic matter soils in irrigated plains are under a continuous cropping for over a century.
    The intensification of agriculture and the HYV varieties has accelerated nutrient mining in the last four decades. This is recouped by the use of mineral fertilizers, the consumption of which has crossed 3 million nutrient tonnes in the country.
    Fertilizer use at farm level is imbalanced and inefficient. The emerging secondary and micronutrient deficiencies are not properly addressed. The depleting soil fertility is an insidious process leading to soil degradation and low return.
    With structural adjustment reforms prices of essential inputs have reduced the profit margins of the farmers and had pushed many small farmers below poverty line. Therefore, for chemical fertilizers incentives should be developed to farmers to increase use efficiency through appropriate application methods, and integration with organic and bio sources.
    Policies are needed to reduce fertilizer prices paid by farmers while at the same time assuring timely access to the fertilizers needed. Water erosion is widespread form of degradation affecting about one million ha of cultivated land and 13 million ha of forest and ranges lands. Most soils are loosing their fertile surface and may become unproductive. It is found widely in both the dry and rainfed zones.
    Wind erosion is estimated at 35 per cent of agricultural land in the dry zone. Although quantitative evidence for definition of its degree of severity is lacking. The deserts of Pakistan and irrigated belt of the Indus system are the affected zones. Wind erosion also occurs along the unirrigated belts between river systems.
    Water logging affects some irrigated lands on the alluvial plains and interior basins. About 1.5 million hectares in cultivated areas is affected by water logging. It affects irrigated lands on the alluvial plains specific to landforms. It is on the decrease in the recent past due to drought and excessive mining of ground water.
    The range land, which covers about 60 per cent of total area of Pakistan, is potential source of livestock development in the country. These lands are under severe degradation due to drought and over-grazing. These resources need immediate attention of evaluation and conservation for proper development.
    Inappropriate farming practices are also causing soil structure deterioration, compaction, hard pans and surface crusting. Special tillage, cultural practices and irrigation techniques are needed to minimize these problems. The wrong choice of crops not compatible with soils and crop ecological zones is another factor of land degradation.
    CLIMATE CHANGE: There is a wide scientific consensus that global climate is changing in part as a result of human activities. The social and economic cost of slowing it down and of responding to its impacts will be large.
    The 1990’s were the warmest decade since the beginning of instrumental recording. It is now generally accepted that this climate change is the result of increasing concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other green house gases in the atmosphere.
    Agriculture is seen as part of the global warming problem and it is also viewed as part of the solution. More research is needed on the relative contributions made by agriculture and other sources and sinks.
    Increasing climate fluctuations such as drought and floods, which appear to be associated with global warming, or introducing new risks and uncertainties in the food and the agriculture area.
    New and innovative approaches to risk management including new crop varieties, cropping systems should be developed to assist in managing the consequences of climate-induced risks and uncertainties for food security and agriculture.
    Wheat production during last two seasons have suffered the losses due to rise in temperature and lack of backup research in varieties to cope with it.
    INCREASING GLOBALIZATION: The present trends of globalization regarding trade liberalization, integration of international markets and rapid flow of information technology are to continue.
    Whereas, globalization has benefited millions of people but on the other hand many have become poor. Effective food and agriculture policy and institutions are needed to complement and guide globalization to achieve sustainable economic growth, improved equity and reduces poverty.
    The merger and acquisitions around the world are monopolizing agricultural inputs at the costs for the farmers. The recent developments in fertilizer, pesticide and seed sector are clear indications that farmers may have to pay more for their inputs.
    NEXUS BETWEEN LAND, POPULATION, DEGRADATION AND POVERTY: The direct and indirect causes of land degradation are linked with population growth and poverty. The limited land resources and increase in rural population results in small farms, low production and increase in land lessness.
    Consequence of these is poverty. Land shortage and poverty taken together leads to non-sustainable management practices, the direct causes of degradation. This is a vicious cycle of causes and effects of land degradation, low productivity and poverty. The only way to intervene in this nexus is further research and application of new emerging technologies.
    ECONOMIC COSTS OF LAND DEGRADATION: There are different estimates related to economic costs of land degradation based primarily on production loss and replacement cost. Production loss is expressed as a percentage of production from un-degraded soils.
    For erosion and soil fertility decline the assumption are 5-10 per cent production loss for a light degree of degradation, 20 per cent for moderate and 75 per cent for strong degradation.
    For salinity the respective losses are 15, 65 and 100 per cent, respectively. Replacement cost is the cost of additional input used by the farmers in order to maintain production levels.
    Pakistan falls in medium to severely affected areas of land degradation. It has been reported that resource degradation has led to overall productivity loss by one-third. It means the country is suffering roughly loss of Rs150 to 180 billion per year of agriculture GDP due to degradation process, thus leaving deep negative impact on poverty and environment.
    NEW TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS: The fast technological developments in biotechnology, the IT and energy are new challenges for the scientists as well as government policy makers to best utilize these technological opportunities for the benefit of farmers.
    The impacts of new technology will depend on the policies to ensure food security in the future. More investments in public research will be needed so that potential benefits from new technology can reach low-income farmers.
    Policies and new institutions are urgently needed on intellectual property rights, bio-safety and food safety regulations, facilitation of markets for improved seed and other inputs.
    Policies and investments to strengthen national agricultural research systems with a clear problem solving focus by using all appropriate scientific methods including precision farming and genetic engineering are urgently needed.

    Courtesy: Business Recorder

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