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By Dr Zafar Altaf

THERE is no doubt the things have to undergo change in order to cater for the new price structure of commodities. A quick check of prices indicates that every price has doubled and consequently the labour wages have gone up. As if that was not enough, it will have serious implications for the small livestock farmer (with three to four animals) who has sold off his animals to new agrarian owners of land at high costs.

These new agrarians consider the hype created by the government as an initiative in the ‘white revolution’. They are in for a surprise for small livestock farmer who having sold his animals, has set up small shops. Normally these livestock farmers provided the extra labour that was needed at the sowing and harvest time. This was how these farmers managed to get enough resources to change course. With the growing economic hardships, cattle and buffalo rustling had increased. The livestock farmer was so weary of this that he used to sleep amidst his animals. With the police doing nothing in that area, the difficulty for livestock owners had multiplied.

What of small farmers? They have had difficulties in getting to agricultural markets given the rising cost of transportation. It is not possible to sell Sindh and Balochistan-grown onions and tomatoes in Punjab because of high cost. Besides the high cost of transportation, there is the high cost that is paid to law and order agencies. In 1994-5, I did a survey of the rice exporters from Sheikhupura to Karachi, the salami amounted to Rs15,000 per truck. With the given structure of scarcity, the amount paid would be much more. From my house at a distance of 14 kilometers from Islamabad, I have been asked to pay Rs9,000 for this distance if I want to take anything to the capital. The various security checks have created severe problems.

So how will the ordinary family survive? Survival is now difficult for the professional middle-class that is supposed to be the strength of any nation.

The answer may well lie in having household gardens deliver at last the vegetables desperately required for the kitchen-tomatoes, onions, cucumbers etc.

In 1994-5 urban vegetable project was approved during the BB period, as there were some indications of price increases in these items. Training was imparted to urban HH members and seeds were provided. This meant that the small urban garden could be converted into affirmative work so far as vegetables was concerned.

The same system would have to be seriously and vigorously implemented in the large towns immediately. The seeds required have to be provided in the first two years, as the learning process has to be developed all over again. The new intervention requires that the newly developed grow bags be provided with 5kg of organic material and the HH given a short sandwich course of about five days.

In Punjab infrastructure exists at the floriculture institutes. The other provinces can make shift on this and use their rest houses facilities as we did when we first went out in to this activity.

The trick is to use the existing facilities as intensely as possible. That also means that the existing water used in kitchen and the bath water be diverted to kitchen garden. In some of my friend’s houses this has been done. In fact detergents are useful for soils, and take care of any bacterial activity. It is also a better use of water.

Here are some advantages in knowledge that can go in to this. A tomato plant (known as tamotillo) is a semi-tree and can be placed in the garden. Tomatoes are now in four categories and one can take one’s choice. There are hybrids; self-seeding (pollinating) and these-self seeding can be used. Of the self-seeding there are determinate, semi-determinate or indeterminate plants. In other words you can have your pick of plants that can be perennial and can give you the required tomatoes for your kitchen.

There is also a trick to make these plants grow by pruning these plants. The tomato plant is not a vegetable and is in the category of fruits. Similarly, onion tops can be used for growing new plants. In fact carrots and other topped plants can be used for green propagation. What is required is that the HH be encouraged to learn and to overcome failures and that is a two-year exercise. The courses can also be organised in parks and these parks can be the labs. In fact that is what the Punjab government did when the Bagh-i-Jinnah was used for this purpose.

To provide them seeds is not costly because seeds are initially required in limited quantities. Any container can be used and if grow bags of organic material (5kg) can be developed then we have a trick that cannot be defeated. The person to do this is available and the cost will be Rs30 at the current rates. So all told, the cost per HH would be about Rs45 and the output would be satisfying and the HH would be on its way. Besides serving the requirements, the family would be positively involved in the production process.

The last government sordidly thought that imports were the answers for they did not diagnose the problem. The price of tomato on one such occasion went to Rs120 per kg. The people responsible for this are still attending ECC and cabinet meetings and again misleading the policy makers. Is metro and macro the answer? It is yes for the rich; for the poor-it is no. Tomato selling at Rs80 per kilo, fantastic, a friend said for he bought one kilo and kept it for he did not know what the cost of one slice of tomato was.

Similar interventions can be made in potatoes and in almost any vegetable that one can think of. I brought some seeds of broad beans from Chile and this has now become available and this can be grown vertically. These are nutritive and productive unlike the lentils and pulses that we have.

The world of imagination and innovations in urban agriculture is unlimited. It is limited by the minds of individuals. Routine activities are not going to help. Take the bull by the horn, as one of my chief secretary used to say. Be imaginative and be vigorous and you can beat agflation created by falsehoods of the immediate past.