D M Hammad Raza
COVID-19 pandemic has posed serious challenges and caused widespread disruption to most of the human activities. Experts are speculating that life after Covid-19 will be rather different from what we are used to, and we have to live with coronavirus for a longer time period. Agriculture is one of the sectors that are badly affected due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Agricultural knowledge sharing and extension are vital for agricultural development as timely and relevant dissemination of agricultural information during critical stages of any crop is very important for the farmers. Our extension system is largely based on traditional methods, though few Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based initiatives have been taken in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Covid-19 has taught us many lessons and one of the lessons is increasing dependence on technology particularly ICT in every field of life, and agriculture sector is no exception.
Farming was and shall remain a vibrant sector for the economy of Pakistan. This sector has a significant role in the overall national development, food security, industry and exports. Federal and provincial governments, through their allied departments, has taken various steps to uplift this sector by introducing innovative technologies for achieving higher productivity. But due to various factors, this sector’s growth graph is declining for the last few years. Share of agriculture sector in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has dropped from the last few years. There is a question mark on the future farming because the farming sector is not being promoted while people are shifting from this sector. There are various reasons behind this situation, and obsolete agriculture knowledge is one of them.
Agricultural knowledge is very important at pre-field, in-field, and post-field stage of farming. The government has started various programs and equipped frontline agricultural extension workers for the development of this sector however effectiveness of such initiatives is being questioned by agricultural experts and farmers. In Pakistan, there is a well-established Agriculture Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) comprised of federal and provincial agricultural research institutes, universities, agricultural extension departments, NGOs and farmers’ organizations. However lack of coordination between different components of AKIS is evident particularly during Covid-19 pandemic In this era of modern technologies, Pakistani farmers are still using traditional ways of getting agricultural knowledge. While these traditional ways are not much effective due to large farmers to extension worker ratio in Pakistan. Many developed and developing countries have shifted from traditional to modern ways of information sharing including Information and Communication Technology. Use of ICT in agriculture has started since the last decade in various countries but in Pakistan the progress in this regard is very slow.
In the backdrop of Covid-19, various ICT tools can significantly help in the dissemination of agricultural knowledge to the farmers. Agricultural knowledge portals, mobile Apps, precision farming tools and online advisory helplines are some of the examples. The Punjab government has equipped its agricultural extension workers with the android phones but its potential is still to be realized. There is urgent need to promote ICT culture in rural areas to keep the pace of agricultural development at par with other countries of the world. Keeping in view poor literacy among farmers, there is need to use tailor-made hybrid approaches for the development of the farming sector.
—The writer is freelance columnist, based in Faisalabad.
D M Hammad Raza