Tunnel farming for off season vegetable growing in Mountain areas of Pakistan
Farmers from rural areas have to take benefit of advanced agricultural practices to upgrade their living standards.
Adopting new technology in a region that has not seen such technology before but has the numerous benefits for the farmers is the demand of the day. Agricultural practices in mountainous Pakistan are outdated due to the fact that population has increased but the productivity remains the same, knowledge is limited and land holdings have been reduced. Agricultural land remains unused during winter due to absence of knowledge on modern agricultural techniques such as tunnel farming. Hence, farmers get only 1 crop per year.
During early 2012 I visited a remote community of Nawanshehr town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Agriculture is the main source of income for most of the people in this town. Even then farmers are facing tough times. During initial couple of meetings, we identified challenges people are facing and then, during regular consultation and community meetings, identified the opportunities the people have in this particular region with respect to solution of their problems and developing agriculture in the area on sustainable basis.
The biggest challenge people pointed out is the limited knowledge on modern agricultural practices which resulted in using the very limited land for one crop per year. This means the land is unused for one season per year i.e. during winter season. Poverty prevails in the communities because the resources are limited and they are unable to reach the knowledge bases.
The specific design challenge people faced was the way forward for a long term change in way the people practice agriculture.
Following procedure was adopted:
- Meetings were held with the communities on regular basis.
- A group of representatives was formed comprising members of the communities. The idea was to further develop this group into a Farmer Group.
- On the request of representative group 4 members from the community were taken to southern part of the country where they were introduced to modern agricultural and irrigation techniques. Meetings were held with small, medium and big farmers so that these 4 people obtain detailed ideas that can be replicated in their own region.
- The 4 people then had few meetings with their communities and they communicated their views on pursuing the tunnel farming technique which is most suitable for their land. The idea was then synthesized into a model tunnel farm for which one of the farmer agreed to finance. More open community discussions were held to fine tune the community identified intervention into a reality. The design was then shared with manufacturers and a model tunnel farm for 0.25 acres was installed. One of the farmers opted for this tunnel farm and financed the intervention.
- The community members identified the tunnel farming in their region for vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes and chilies. Cucumber can be very easily grown during August to October in this region. Its normal growing season is April to June. Same is the case with Tomatoes and chilies.
- After operating the tunnel farm for 1 winter season, the feedback was sought from the farmer and it was found that the farmer gained double the profit from same piece of land and it was profited during off season. The community farmers are now looking forward to expand this farming technique further but the resources are not available with these poor farmers. We need to work harder to mobilize resources for them.