By Dr Zafar
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
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
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
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.