Agriculture In Pakistan

To Mr. Yasir Hayat
Adnan Khan
BBA (H) Section C
Farming is Pakistan's largest economic activity. In FY 1993, agriculture,
and small-scale forestry and fishing, contributed 25 percent of GDP and
employed 48 percent of the labor force. Agricultural products, especially
cotton yarn, cotton cloth, raw cotton, and rice, are important exports.
Although there is agricultural activity in all areas of Pakistan, most crops
are grown in the Indus River plain in Punjab and Sindh. Considerable
development and expansion of output has occurred since the early
1960s; however, the country is still far from realizing the large potential
yield that the well-irrigated and fertile soil from the Indus irrigation
system could produce. The floods of September 1992 showed how
vulnerable agriculture is to weather; agricultural production dropped
dramatically in FY 1993.

Land Use
Pakistan's total land area is about 803,940 square kilometers. About 48
million hectares, or 60 percent, is often classified as unusable for
forestry or agriculture consists mostly of deserts, mountain slopes, and
urban settlements. Some authorities, however, include part of this area as
agricultural land on the basis that it would support some livestock
activity even though it is poor rangeland. Thus, estimates of grazing land
vary widely--between 10 percent and 70 percent of the total area. A
broad interpretation, for example, categorizes almost all of arid
Balochistan as rangeland for foraging livestock. Government officials
listed only 3 million hectares, largely in the north, as forested in FY
1992. About 21.9 million hectares were cultivated in FY 1992. Around
70 percent of the cropped area was in Punjab, followed by perhaps 20
percent in Sindh, less than 10 percent in the North-West Frontier
Province, and only 1 percent in Balochistan.

Since independence, the amount of cultivated land has increased by
more than one-third. This expansion is largely the result of
improvements in the irrigation system that make water available to
additional plots. Substantial amounts of farmland have been lost to
urbanization and waterlogging, but losses are more than compensated for
by additions of new land. In the early 1990s, more irrigation projects
were needed to increase the area of cultivated land.

The scant rainfall over most of the country makes about 80 percent of
cropping dependent on irrigation. Fewer than 4 million hectares of land,
largely in northern Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province, are
totally dependent on rainfall. An additional 2 million hectares of land are
under nonirrigated cropping, such as plantings on floodplains as the
water recedes. Nonirrigated farming generally gives low yields, and
although the technology exists to boost production substantially, it is
expensive to use and not always readily available.

In the early 1990s, irrigation from the Indus River and its tributaries
constituted the world's largest contiguous irrigation system, capable of
watering over 16 million hectares. The system includes three major
storage reservoirs and numerous barrages, headworks, canals, and
distribution channels. The total length of the canal system exceeds
58,000 kilometers; there are an additional 1.6 million kilometers of farm
and field ditches.

Partition placed portions of the Indus River and its tributaries under
India's control, leading to prolonged disputes between India and Pakistan
over the use of Indus waters. After nine years of negotiations and
technical studies, the issue was resolved by the Indus Waters Treaty of
1960. After a ten-year transitional period, the treaty awarded India use of
the waters of the main eastern tributaries in its territory--the Ravi, Beas,
and Sutlej rivers. Pakistan received use of the waters of the Indus River
and its western tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab rivers.

After the treaty was signed, Pakistan began an extensive and rapid
irrigation construction program, partly financed by the Indus Basin
Development Fund of US$800 million contributed by various nations,
including the United States, and administered by the World Bank.
Several immense link canals were built to transfer water from western
rivers to eastern Punjab to replace flows in eastern tributaries that India
began to divert in accordance with the terms of the treaty. The Mangla
Dam, on the Jhelum River, was completed in 1967. The dam provided
the first significant water storage for the Indus irrigation system. The
dam also contributes to flood control, to regulation of flows for some of
the link canals, and to the country's energy supply. At the same time,
additional construction was undertaken on barrages and canals.

A second phase of irrigation expansion began in 1968, when a US$1.2
billion fund, also administered by the World Bank, was established. The
key to this phase was the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River, which is the
world's largest earth-filled dam. The dam, completed in the 1970s,
reduced the destruction of periodic floods and in 1994 was a major
hydroelectric generating source. Most important for agriculture, the dam
increases water availability, particularly during low water, which usually
comes at critical growing periods.

Despite massive expansion in the irrigation system, many problems
remain. The Indus irrigation system was designed to fit the availability
of water in the rivers, to supply the largest area with minimum water
needs, and to achieve these objectives at low operating costs with limited
technical staff. This system design has resulted in low yields and low
cropping intensity in the Indus River plain, averaging about one crop a
year, whereas the climate and soils could reasonably permit an average
of almost 1.5 crops a year if a more sophisticated irrigation network
were in place. The urgent need in the 1960s and 1970s to increase crop
production for domestic and export markets led to water flows well
above designed capacities. Completion of the Mangla and Tarbela
reservoirs, as well as improvements in other parts of the system, made
larger water flows possible. In addition, the government began installing
public tube wells that usually discharge into upper levels of the system
to add to the available water. The higher water flows in parts of the
system considerably exceed design capacities, creating stresses and risks
of breaches. Nonetheless, many farmers, particularly those with
smallholdings and those toward the end of watercourses, suffer because
the supply of water is unreliable.

The irrigation system represents a significant engineering achievement
and provides water to the fields that account for 90 percent of
agricultural production. Nonetheless, serious problems in the design of
the irrigation system prevent achieving the highest potential agricultural

Water management is based largely on objectives and operational
procedures dating back many decades and is often inflexible and
unresponsive to current needs for greater water use efficiency and high
crop yields. Charges for water use do not meet operational and
maintenance costs, even though rates more than doubled in the 1970s
and were again increased in the 1980s. Partly because of its low cost,
water is often wasted by farmers.

Good water management is not practiced by government officials, who
often assume that investments in physical aspects of the system will
automatically yield higher crop production. Government management of
the system does not extend beyond the main distribution channels. After
passing through these channels, water is directed onto the fields of
individual farmers whose water rights are based on long-established
social and legal codes. Groups of farmers voluntarily manage the
watercourses between main distribution channels and their fields. In
effect, the efficiency and effectiveness of water management relies on
the way farmers use the system.

The exact amounts of water wasted have not been determined, but
studies suggest that losses are considerable and perhaps amount to one-
half of the water entering the system. Part of the waste results from
seepages in the delivery system. Even greater amounts are probably lost
because farmers use water whenever their turn comes even if the water
application is detrimental to their crops. The attitude among almost all
farmers is that they should use water when available because it may not
be available at the next scheduled turn. Moreover, farmers have little
understanding of the most productive applications of water during crop-
growing cycles because of the lack of research and extension services.
As a result, improvements in the irrigation system have not raised yields
and output as expected. Some experts believe that drastic changes are
needed in government policies and the legal and institutional framework
of water management if water use is to improve and that effective
changes can result in very large gains in agricultural output.

The continuous expansion of the irrigation system over the past century
significantly altered the hydrological balance of the Indus River basin.
Seepage from the system and percolation from irrigated fields caused the
water table to rise, reaching crisis conditions for a substantial area.
Around 1900 the water table was usually more than sixteen meters
below the surface of the Indus Plain. A 1981 survey found the water
table to be within about three meters of the surface in more than one-half
the cropped area in Sindh and more than one-third the area in Punjab. In
some locations, the water table is much closer to the surface. Cropping is
seriously affected over a wide area by poor drainage--waterlogging--and
by accumulated salts in the soil.

Although some drainage was installed before World War II, little
attention was paid to the growing waterlogging and salinity problems. In
1959 a salinity control and reclamation project was started in a limited
area, based on public tube wells, to draw down the water table and leach
out accumulated salts near the surface, using groundwater for irrigation.
By the early 1980s, some thirty such projects had been started that when
completed would irrigate nearly 6.3 million hectares. By 1993 the
government had installed around 15,000 tube wells. Private farmers,
however, had installed over 200,000 mostly small tube wells, mainly for
irrigation purposes but also to lower the water table. Private wells
probably pumped more than five times as much water as public wells.

Officials were aware of the need for additional spending to prevent
further deterioration of the existing situation. Emphasis in the 1980s and
early 1990s was on rehabilitation and maintenance of existing canals and
watercourses, on farm improvements on the farms themselves (including
some land leveling to conserve water), and on drainage and salinity in
priority areas. Emphasis was also placed on short-term projects, largely
to improve the operation of the irrigation system in order to raise yields.
Part of the funding would come from steady increases in water use fees;
the intention is gradually to raise water charges to cover operation and
maintenance costs. Considerable time and money are needed to realize
the full potential of the irrigation system and bring it up to modern

Farm Ownership and Land Reform
At independence Pakistan was a country with a great many small-scale
farms and a small number of very large estates. Distribution of
landownership was badly skewed. Less than 1 percent of the farms
consisted of more than 25 percent of the total agricultural land. Many
owners of large holdings were absentee landlords, contributing little to
production but extracting as much as possible from the sharecroppers
who farmed the land. At the other extreme, about 65 percent of the
farmers held some 15 percent of the farmland in holdings of about two
hectares or less. Approximately 50 percent of the farmland was
cultivated by tenants, including sharecroppers, most of whom had little
security and few rights. An additional large number of landless rural
inhabitants worked as agricultural laborers. Farm laborers and many
tenants were extremely poor, uneducated, and undernourished, in sharp
contrast to the wealth, status, and political power of the landlord elite.

After independence the country's political leaders recognized the need
for more equitable ownership of farmland and security of tenancy. In the
early 1950s, provincial governments attempted to eliminate some of the
absentee landlords or rent collectors, but they had little success in the
face of strong opposition. Security of tenancy was also legislated in the
provinces, but because of their dependent position, tenant farmers
benefited only slightly. In fact, the reforms created an atmosphere of
uncertainty in the countryside and intensified the animosity between
wealthy landlords and small farmers and sharecroppers.

In January 1959, accepting the recommendations of a special
commission on the subject, General Mohammad Ayub Khan's
government issued new land reform regulations that aimed to boost
agricultural output, promote social justice, and ensure security of tenure.
A ceiling of about 200 hectares of irrigated land and 400 hectares of
nonirrigated land was placed on individual ownership; compensation
was paid to owners for land surrendered. Numerous exemptions,
including title transfers to family members, limited the impact of the
ceilings. Slightly fewer than 1 million hectares of land were surrendered,
of which a little more than 250,000 hectares were sold to about 50,000
tenants. The land reform regulations made no serious attempt to break up
large estates or to lessen the power or privileges of the landed elite.
However, the measures attempted to provide some security of tenure to
tenants, consolidate existing holdings, and prevent fragmentation of farm
plots. An average holding of about five hectares was considered
necessary for a family's subsistence, and a holding of about twenty to
twenty-five hectares was pronounced as a desirable "economic" holding.

In March 1972, the Bhutto government announced further land reform
measures, which went into effect in 1973. The landownership ceiling
was officially lowered to about five hectares of irrigated land and about
twelve hectares of nonirrigated land; exceptions were in theory limited
to an additional 20 percent of land for owners having tractors and tube
wells. The ceiling could also be extended for poor-quality land. Owners
of expropriated excess land received no compensation, and beneficiaries
were not charged for land distributed. Official statistics showed that by
1977 only about 520,000 hectares had been surrendered, and nearly
285,000 hectares had been redistributed to about 71,000 farmers.

The 1973 measure required landlords to pay all taxes, water charges,
seed costs, and one-half of the cost of fertilizer and other inputs. It
prohibited eviction of tenants as long as they cultivated the land, and it
gave tenants first rights of purchase. Other regulations increased tenants'
security of tenure and prescribed lower rent rates than had existed.

In 1977 the Bhutto government further reduced ceilings on private
ownership of farmland to about four hectares of irrigated land and about
eight hectares of nonirrigated land. In an additional measure, agricultural
income became taxable, although small farmers owning ten hectares or
fewer--the majority of the farm population--were exempted. The military
regime of Zia ul-Haq that ousted Bhutto neglected to implement these
later reforms. Governments in the 1980s and early 1990s avoided
significant land reform measures, perhaps because they drew much of
their support from landowners in the countryside.

Government policies designed to reduce the concentration of
landownership had some effect, but their significance was difficult to
measure because of limited data. In 1993 the most recent agricultural
census was that of 1980, which was used to compare statistics with the
agricultural census of 1960. Between 1960 and 1980, the number of
farms declined by 17 percent and farms decreased in area by 4 percent,
resulting in slightly larger farms. This decline in the number of farms
was confined to marginal farms of two hectares or fewer, which in 1980
represented 34 percent of all farms, constituting 7 percent of the farm
hectarage. At the other extreme, the number of very large farms of sixty
hectares or more was 14,000--both in 1960 and in 1980--although the
average size of the biggest farms was smaller in 1980. The number of
farms between two and ten hectares increased during this time. Greater
use of higher-yielding seeds requiring heavier applications of fertilizers,
installations of private tube wells, and mechanization accounted for
much of the shift away from very small farms toward mid-sized farms,
as owners of the latter undertook cultivation instead of renting out part
of their land. Observers believed that this trend had continued in the
1980s and early 1990s.

In early 1994, land reform remained a controversial and complex issue.
Large landowners retain their power over small farmers and tenants,
especially in the interior of Sindh, which has a feudal agricultural
establishment. Tenancy continues on a large-scale: one-third of
Pakistan's farmers are tenant farmers, including almost one-half of the
farmers in Sindh. Tenant farmers typically give almost 50 percent of
what they produce to landlords. Fragmented holdings remain a
substantial and widespread problem. Studies indicate that larger farms
are usually less productive per hectare or unit of water than smaller ones.
Cropping Patterns and Production
In the early 1990s, most crops were grown for food. Wheat is by far the
most important crop in Pakistan and is the staple food for the majority of
the population. Wheat is eaten most frequently in unleavened bread
called chapati. In FY 1992, wheat was planted on 7.8 million hectares,
and production amounted to 14.7 million tons. Output in FY 1993
reached 16.4 million tons. Between FY 1961 and FY 1990, the area
under wheat cultivation increased nearly 70 percent, while yields
increased 221 percent. Wheat production is vulnerable to extreme
weather, especially in nonirrigated areas. In the early and mid-1980s,
Pakistan was self-sufficient in wheat, but in the early 1990s more than 2
million tons of wheat were imported annually.

Rice is the other major food grain. In FY 1992, about 2.1 million
hectares were planted with rice, and production amounted to 3.2 million
tons, with 1 million tons exported. Rice yields also have increased
sharply since the 1960s following the introduction of new varieties.
Nonetheless, the yield per hectare of around 1.5 tons in FY 1991 was
low compared with many other Asian countries. Pakistan has
emphasized the production of rice in order to increase exports to the
Middle East and therefore concentrates on the high-quality basmati
variety, although other grades also are exported. The government
increased procurement prices of basmati rice disproportionately to
encourage exports and has allowed private traders into the rice export
business alongside the public-sector Rice Export Corporation.

Other important food grains are millet, sorghum, corn, and barley. Corn,
although a minor crop, gradually increased in area and production after
independence, partly at the expense of other minor food grains.
Chickpeas, called gram in Pakistan, are the main nongrain food crop in
area and production. A number of other foods, including fruits and
vegetables, are also grown.

In the early 1990s, cotton was the most important commercial crop. The
area planted in cotton increased from 1.1 million hectares in FY 1950 to
2.1 million hectares in FY 1981 and 2.8 million hectares in FY 1993.
Yields increased substantially in the 1980s, partly as a result of the use
of pesticides and the introduction in 1985 of a new high-yielding variety
of seed. During the 1980s, cotton yields moved from well below the
world average to above the world average. Production in FY 1992 was
12.8 million bales, up from 4.4 million bales ten years earlier. Output fell
sharply, however, to 9.3 million bales in FY 1993 because of the
September 1992 floods and insect infestations.

Other cash crops include tobacco, rapeseed, and, most important,
sugarcane. In FY 1992 sugarcane was planted on 880,000 hectares, and
production was 35.7 million tons. Except for some oil from cottonseeds,
the country is dependent on imported vegetable oil. By the 1980s,
introduction and experimentation with oilseed cultivation was under
way. Soybeans and sunflower seeds appear to be suitable crops given the
country's soil and climate, but production was still negligible in the early

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