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Pakistan's 79.6 million hectares geographical area contains 9.14 million hectares cultivable wasteland. It is almost half of the country's cultivated area. Of the total 9.14m hectares wasteland, there are 4.87m hectares in Balochistan, 1.74 hectares in the Punjab, 1.45m hectares in Sindh and 1.08m hectares in the NWFP.

Balochistan has about half of the total cultivable wasteland mainly located in Kalat, Quetta, Nasirabad and Makran areas.

In Punjab, it is mainly in D.G. Khan, Bhawalpur, Rawalpindi and Lahore areas. In Sindh, cultivable waste area is in Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur and Larkana. In the NWFP, waste area is in D.I. Khan, Hazara and Kohat areas.

Such a big chunk of 9.14m hectares cultivable wasteland could very well be harnessed by systematic and methodical means to curb and control the constraints.

Main reasons for such a big cultivable waste area of 9.14m hectares are: shortage of water, lack of interest and lack of financial resources to purchase proper equipment and inputs for cultivation of cash and food crops production. This cultivable waste is fit for cash and food crops cultivation but not cropped.

Although after two consecutive years of negative growth, Pakistan's agricultural sector has finally posted a strong recovery, yet it is deficit in food involving total expenditure of Rs 84 billion ($1.9 billion) on annual import of wheat, edible oils, pulses, tea and other food products. Pakistan's agricultural sector now showing strong recovery since 2003 and growing by 4.1 percent is mainly due to water availability only.

The area under cultivation did not change significantly during 03. There was, however, higher productivity in most of the important crops pushing the crops index from 172 in 02 to 180 in 03.

This was due to cultivators, making maximum benefit from the improved availability of water in all the four provinces of Pakistan.

Productivity gain of 10.9 percent growth in the private expenditure on fixed capital formation in agricultural sector is showing an upward trend this year. During 04, higher farm incomes would enable farmers to enhance their spending on production inputs for the next crops making more investment in agri machinery, implements and more modern farming material for increased production from the existing cultivable land.

Cultivable land: The existing cultivable land is beefing up Pakistan's economy. It is contributing 24 percent of the GDP, employing 48.4 percent of the total work force, serving as major supplier of raw materials to industry as well as market for industrial products and ensuring substantial export earnings to the country's economy.

Also available from the cultivable land are major crops: wheat, cotton, rice, bajra, jowar, maize, gram, sugarcane, sesamum and tobacco. Wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane account for 90 percent of value added in major crops.

Besides food crops, cash crops of fruit such as citrus, mango, apple, banana, apricot, almonds, grapes and guava are equally available in abundance from the existing land.

Annually, the existing land is producing major fruits around 4.125m tons fetching foreign exchange worth $63.22m for the country.

Climate: As the country's climate is conducive to grow more variety of crops, vegetables and fruits, so with little more labour, 9.14m hectares of existing cultivable wasteland could be easily harnessed by Pakistan's public and private sectors joint ventures with their foreign countries counterparts.

Pakistan has plenty of cheap labour force of 42.38m. Of this total labour force, 18.91m are easily available for agriculture sector. The agriculture sector is already actively engaged in growing wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane, maize, gram, onion, potato, rape, mustard seed, sunflower, apple, dates, citrus, mango, grapes and guava.

Pakistan's manpower provided with water in time, finances to buy proper equipment and inputs, farm to market roads combined with latest foreign technology could easily tackle the issue of 9.14m hectares cultivable wasteland and turn the wheel of cultivation for the better.

The latest study shows that once the cultivable wasteland are developed, there are bright chances for the production of off season vegetable, sunflower hybrid seed, tomato paste, vegetables dehydration and solvent oil extraction.

Vegetable production: With the development of wasteland, vegetable production during off season could be, on farmlands ranging from 5 acres to 25 acres. Demand for off season vegetables is growing both at home and abroad mostly in Europe and the Middle East.

Pakistan has technical know how with trained manpower to produce tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet pepper and other products without the requirement of any sophisticated greenhouse.

Temporary greenhouses could, however, be built using polythene sheets, bamboo, iron bar or pipes.

Tubewells, artisan wells, or karez (underground water channel) are good enough for such vegetable production as are in high demand in the foreign countries. PIA has already provided 25 percent subsidy on the export of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Another scope is for dehydrated vegetables export to the Middle East and European Markets, mainly onion, potato, garlic and cauliflower. The country is producing exportable surplus onion (over 1.1m tonnes), potato (1.4m tonnes), garlic (over 0.08m tonnes) and cauliflower (over 0.2m tonnes). Mini plants for dehydration of vegetables could be set up in vegetable growing areas of Peshawar, Lahore, Faisalabad, Sahiwal, Sargodha, Multan and Hyderabad.

Besides export of dehydrated vegetables to foreign countries, Pakistan's own demand is tremendously growing for dehydrated vegetables by the Pakistan Army, PIA, Pakistan Railways, hotels and motels.

Similarly there are bright chances for sunflower hybrid seed production over the developed cultivable wastelands in the country. Pakistan is deficit in edible oil output, depending on 70 percent import to meet domestic demand. Pakistan is suitable for sunflower oilseed production.

Sunflower hybrid seed has an advantage upto 30 percent of yield production over open pollinated seed. Soil in Sargodha, Bahawalpur, D.G. Khan and Hyderabad districts is suitable for such seed production. Small infrastructure is required for seed production, processing, storage and marketing, under supervision and direction of core technical manpower.

Good seed crop produces for the peasant, about 350kg processed and treated seed per acre, involving and expenditure of about Rs 150 per one kg seed. Such processed seed is sold for Rs 300 per kg, bringing a net profit of Rs 130 per kg. As such, gainful market for hybrid seed not only exists in Pakistan but also in the neighbouring countries.

Equally good potential, prevails for tomato paste production and solvent oil extraction in Pakistan. Pakistan has exportable surplus tomato production estimated at over 0.3 million tonnes annually.

The bulk either goes waste or is sold at throwaway prices at the beginning of the harvest. Tomato is a popular vegetable, required all the year, round for almost all the recipes. As such, every consumer looks for a substitute during off season. Tomato is, therefore, in a better position for the production of tomato paste, followed by the production of peels and seeds convertible into animal feed.

There is scope for more tomato paste plants in tomato producing areas of Hyderabad, Quetta, Parachinar, Faisalabad and Multan. Better marketing technique could bring better profits for tomato paste producing plants from consumers at home and abroad.

Rice is also rich in solvent oil extraction, earning more foreign exchange, besides meeting domestic demand. The country's rice production comes to about 6 million tonnes ensuring about 10 percent recovery of rice bran estimated at 0.6 million tonnes annually.

The oil content in rice bran is about 17 percent. Oil extracted from rice bran is an important raw material for making soap and washing powder. At present Pakistan imports Tallow involving precious foreign exchange of Rs 1.4 billion annually for soap making.

Such foreign exchange could be saved by setting up of solvent oil extraction plants from rice bran in Punjab and Sindh, main rice producing provinces of Pakistan. Other raw material would be Hexane (solvent). Main product could be crude oil and by-product rice bran meal. Plants based on a very low price of rice bran could easily operate for 200 days during a year.

Consumption ratio of Hexane is 4 gallons per tonne of rice bran. Bran of parboiled could also produce edible grade oil. The plants using rice bran, could also be used for oil extraction from oilseeds... sunflower, soybean and cotton seed.

The resurgence in Pakistan's agricultural growth to 4.1 percent in 03 compared to a negative growth of 0.1 percent in 02 augurs well for strong impact on economy, employment, poverty alleviation and contribution to sustainable development of public and private sectors, both in rural and urban areas on potent and pure land.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2004

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