Training for farmers to produce extra wheat

ISLAMABAD: In the vicinity of wheat-growing district of Bahawalpur, a group of farmers gather in the yard of a local farmer’s Dera- a small building with vast open place- for a specific cause.  Each farmer comes in to the yard, shakes hand with the colleagues and sits in a wooden cart (Charpai). They have come here to learn how to protect themselves from the pesticides sprayed and other techniques to be used during the season.

“We used to suffer from skin problems, such as rashes, as well as dizziness and headaches,” says Amir Abbas, 32, who seems to be satisfied with the training course. “We would spray with the pesticides without covering our feet, head and hands and after the spray we would not wash our hands and body. But now we know better what to do and how to do”.Careless use of agriculture pesticides creates health and environmental dangers in many countries including Pakistan. Millions of farmers suffer pesticides poisoning and at least 20,000 die annually from toxic exposure.“Whatever we have learned, we have taught our other colleagues,” he continues. “We’ve told them to wear plastic bags on their hands [gloves are too expensive] and to wear closed shoes and caps when they go to spray in the fields.”The training sessions have been organised as part of the Food Security and Basic Pest Management (BPM), a global programme organized by United Nations’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) with the help of a local NGO known as Kissan Welfare Association (KWA).This programme has been initiated in Pakistan and Yemen as a trial basis and it will be expanded then to other wheat growing areas.“The programme was started in late October 2010 and it will be continued till April this year”, Sajid Shehzad a master trainer of KWA told APP by phone.Mr. Sajid said that a total of 15 Farmer Field Schools -three of them for female farmers- are engaged in educating the farmers in different localities.“Suitable and timely use of pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation are the key factors involve in increasing the production of wheat. A majority of farmers is ignorant of use of appropriate and modern techniques. We educate them to raise production of the crop to a maximum level by using those techniques.”“We are training farmers at every step from very beginning to the end. The farmers now have their soil tested in a laboratory which cost only a nominal price of Rs. 2. The test tells them what their soil is lacking so they know which fertiliser to add, and how much”, he said adding that overuse of fertilisers can destroy the quality of the soil by increasing its acidity levels.

“Before [these meetings], we didn’t know which fertilisers to use or when to water the crop. We used to waste our water and our money,” said tanvir Ahmad another farmer.
He said that now (after training) they were also able to identify diseases of the crop. “We will not use that variety of seed again which has been affected by the fatal disease like fungus and crown rust. We are also taught about modern sowing and irrigation methods”.

Since the start of this programme (October 2010) farmers meet once a week for around three hours to study a selected field related to wheat growing. Usually around 25 farmers participate.  For last five years FAO and its local partner, the Kissan Welfare Association (KWA), have conducted hundreds of training sessions for small farmers in the area.
It is expected that a very good wheat crop would be produced this year despite devastating floods in the country last year. But timely rains, suitable temperature and some other factors could cause a positive impact on the crop.Former Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Muhammad Gondal had said earlier in a press briefing that despite floods in the country the target for next crop was 25 million tonnes, compared with the 23.8 million tonnes production last year.Mir Israr Ullah Zehri Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture said in a statement issued here that the Rabbi Assistance Package had greatly helped and enabled the farmers to sow wheat after the worst floods hit the country.“The wheat sowing rain-fed area was increased by 18.8pc in Punjab while 8pc in Sindh and the recent rains would definitely enhance the overall wheat production in the country. Normal temperature and better water supply are the added advantages to increase the production of wheat” – APP