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The View from Here: The first month in Pakistan

Mike Gangwer Published on 15 March 2011

During my first month here in Pakistan, I have drawn certain conclusions about agricultural development. In this article I write about one of them, and make the case that one of our greatest attributes in the U.S. is the Land Grant University Extension System (LGUES).

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Recently, a new law (called the 18th Amendment) has devolved the delivery of technical assistance to the provincial and district governments.

Another way to write this is that the delivery of these services is no longer done at the national level, through the Pakistan Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

This model is similar to our system of extension faculty and personnel as members of the LGUES.

One part of agriculture development that remains at the national level is basic and applied agricultural research. This program is administered by the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, or PARC.

I am spending quite a lot of time at PARC, helping them identify constraints to their research model. In short, the extension model here in Pakistan needs a lot of work.

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For extension workers to perform, they need three things:

1. Support from higher education, the ministry or a research facility so that, in the field, these men and women can reach back to scientists and engineers for answers to technical questions.

2. Tools to do their job; this means budgets, business plans and performance-based evaluation based on merit.

3. A technical package of service deliverables for farmers, many of whom are illiterate, so they can increase crop production yield, animal growth, production and other assistance.

Ultimately, we would like to see farmers making better decisions.

Yet from my discussions with the scientists and engineers here in Islamabad, these are not well developed. In some cases the private sector has stepped in to assist.

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Just like our system in the U.S., farmers have access to a wide variety of technical assistance in the private sector … the agronomist from the fertilizer cooperative, the dairy fieldman from the milk plant, the banker-lender from the local agricultural bank and the seed, equipment, building and machinery dealers.

Add to that the widespread reach of communication services including the Internet and nearly instant communication with market, weather and policy information.

Much of this does not exist in Pakistan, and if it does, the illiterate farmer is left out of the possible gain. With PARC, we are considering remaking this model. Our end product is a technical package that can be developed specifically with the common farmer as an end user.

For those left out of the private sector loop, these farmers are a huge source of potential gain in terms of increasing farm productivity. Estimates are about 80 percent of all farmers, generally owning a smaller land base, make little or no use of the extension service.

One reason is that the farmers have little or no faith the extension worker can deliver anything useful to them. There are really two disconnects here.

The first is the transfer of knowledge at the PARC level to the extension worker. For example, if Michigan State University chose to conduct its research and publish the knowledge without creating the extension publications for farmers, without the field days for farmers and without the local extension office available to everyone, then the extension worker would have few resources to help the farmer answer some of the critical questions and needs at the farm level.

The second disconnect is between the farmer and the extension worker. If the local farming population (in Pakistan at the district level) does not value what the extension worker brings to their farm (and this seems to be the case here in Pakistan), then the farmer lacks new ideas and management practices that will help him make better decisions.

At first glance, these two disconnects seem enormously difficult and challenging to overcome. While I admit they may be, the point is that the leaders at PARC have identified these two disconnects as one of their high-priority needs.

From my perspective, working with a government agency on their top priorities is absolutely essential. In fact, we have a fundamental rule in international development: Only do what they want more than we do.

Any developmental project done without a buy-in by the host government is not sustainable after we go home. And we bring the knowledge of a system, like the LGUES, which works well in the United States.

In the next four weeks, we are meeting with scientists and engineers at several research facilities. We have one objective: figuring out what kinds of delivery package the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, supported by PARC, can deliver to the extension worker at the district level that will bring value to the worker and technical assistance the farmer can use.

We begin with the farmer and what he or she needs to increase farm productivity. Everything we do is based on increasing farm productivity, for without this, everything is underutilized. The positive correlation between increasing farm productivity and economic agricultural development is solid.

Increasing productivity means greater input need, and these include products and services U.S. firms can deliver as exports. Examples are imports of farm machinery, hybrid seeds, animal genetics and accounting services.

Adding to all of this is the fact that here in Punjab Province and the Indus River Basin, there is enormous potential for increasing agricultural production. This is one of the largest irrigated regions in the world with reasonably fertile soils capable of much higher crop yields.

Yes, there are irrigation infrastructure problems, and salinity and sodicity are manifest in parts of the basin, but these can be overcome with what is already known here. The technical package just needs to be developed for the extension worker, and Pakistan can once again be proud of its agricultural farming system.

As I point out, the profoundly useful system in the United States for farmers and ranchers and landholders across the entire country is obvious. While many may take this system for granted, trust me, in much of the world this network of research and transferring what is learned to the farmer (extension service) is dysfunctional, broken, or non-existent.

I am not sure how successful we will be here in Pakistan, but the folks I talk to place this as their critical need, and we will help them meet that need with an operational plan. Then the implementation is up to them. And all the more reason for making the case for helping them with what they want rather than our own ideas for development.

This has not always been the case, but through our actions and performance in agricultural development, it is the only approach we find that works. PD

PHOTO: Punjab Province and the Indus River Basin, Pakistan. Photo courtesy Google Maps.

  • Mike Gangwer

  • Agricultural Scientist
  • USDA-NRCS
  • Email Mike Gangwer

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