Azka jafferi

From a remote village, Bachai located in district Swabi of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afzal, a maize grower, stands contently under the shade of an old eucalyptus tree and looks at the freshly sown farm that looks like a rusty patch from afar with surprisingly even plant rows. Even though it’s noon, he is done with planting the hybrid corn seeds, five hours earlier than the usual time, and that too, on his own without engaging any additional labour. Recalling how farming has drastically transformed for him since the last sowing season, he says, “I had to engage my family members to help me plant seeds in this scorching heat and humid weather without any breaks because I could not afford to hire any labour. Now, I not only manage the seed planting solely on my own but also avail flexible hours to avoid working under high temperature. This cost-effective sowing process is attributed to using single row maize planters rather than relying on manual sowing which was not only extremely tiring but also very time consuming”.

Over the last two decades, maize has not only emerged as an important crop for the agricultural economy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), but has also served as a vital staple food for the rural population. This makes the dietary and nutritional needs of rural families heavily dependent on better and improved yields. The direct consumption of this nutritionally rich staple food in the form of corn by rural families, makes its cultivation even more significant for the region. Whereas, indirectly, maize also forms a key input for a growing poultry industry. In recent years, its significance as an important source of feed has greatly benefited the poultry industry, subsequently making protein rich diet available for many economically disadvantaged households across Pakistan. Apart from its role in subsistence agriculture in KP, the emergence of commercial dairy and feedlot farm operations, adds to its potential to serve as a commercial crop due to the significant increase in its industrial consumption.

For years, Afzal and his neighboring farmers who hold not more than 2-3 acres of land, had been involved in the tedious and labour intensive task of sowing maize seeds by using finger tips for each planting task. Despite playing a crucial role in the cultivation of maize, which ranks third among Pakistan’s important cereal crops, these small hold farmers remained backward in adopting modern agricultural practices. To facilitate these growers in improving the crop yields and productivity by introducing advance sowing tools as well as agronomic practices, modern agricultural companies, through their community building initiative distributed single row maize planters across the corn growing territories of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which contributes 40% to national maize crop acreage.

Sowing with planters significantly reduces labour input and saves time. As opposed to manual sowing which requires 6 hours of labour, the use of planters only takes 1 hour per acre. Furthermore, the accuracy brought on by this innovative equipment allows for consistent plant spacing with optimum seeding depth, subsequently leading to optimum plant population and higher yields. Till now, 350 growers have used these planters over 25,000 acres of land for maize cultivation. This initiative is being carried out in partnership with key research and agriculture institutes to ensure the effective utilization of planting tools by lending each planter to multiple growers so that maximum outreach can be attained. “It’s simple math! The amount of time, effort, and physical labour that I am saving due to this simple yet effective tool has done the trick for me. And it’s not just the cost, it’s the convenience as well. I don’t dread the cultivation season anymore. Who knew it could become so much easier with such little effort” says Afzal’s neighboring grower Ijaz.

From agricultural growth perspective, adoption of practices as simple as changing the planting techniques at a smaller scale has a more lasting impact than sectoral level initiatives. The on-ground results encourage farmers to improve farm productivity by avoiding risks and following the ‘seeing is believing’ approach.