Pakistan’s agriculture sector employs over 40% of the population and contributes to 21% of the GDP. Other sectors are directly dependent, with the textile industry including raw cotton, contributing 11% of the GDP. Despite this importance, the sector has been struggling due to underdevelopment. Land rights and irrigation issues are clear policy and community issues. However, proper soil maintenance and low crop yields can be solved through working with farmers.
What are the main challenges that farmers face?
Crop yields have been low with stagnant growth since 1999. Pakistan’s production is 40% behind its neighboring countries. The harvest often goes to waste due to weak storage and transportation methods. Farmers are competing with large-scale agribusinesses that have access to resources, education and information. While extension programs send workers to educate farmers, most farmers view the programs as ineffective in disseminating information. The extension workers are often poorly trained and it is expensive for the workers to access many villages.
What current solutions are available?
USAID has partnered with Telenor, a telecom service provider, to provide mobile banking, information on weather and market prices to 1,700 farmers. mAgricorner is one of the first mobile apps focused on Pakistani farmers. It provides market prices, farm advisory and trading. 4 out of 5 telecom providers in Punjab have agriculture services using interactive voice response (IVR). Also the government began using satellite imagery to predict crop yields in the upcoming seasons.
What are the attitudes toward technology solutions?
A research study by CABI surveyed farmers in Punjab Province, one of the most fertile and populated regions in Pakistan. The farmers proved most interested in receiving voice calls and text messaging. Despite the stereotypes of most farmers, they are eager for more experimentation with ICT and agriculture.
What are the concerns moving forward?
A main issue is quality of content. Many farmers haven’t used the existing tools because the content quality is low. They often find the information too general and not relevant to their region and type of farm. Also, there is low market penetration of such tools even in Punjab. Although the government is launching satellite data initiative, the focus is to prevent food shortage through better import estimates not increasing crop yields. While there is significant research being done by the government and NGOs, there needs to be stronger focus on ensuring that research is utilized to increase agricultural productivity.
Angelina Nonye-John is a researcher and writer with Mansa Colabs