Pak’s first IT-based agri advisory service to become operational in 2017

MULTAN: Pakistan’s first IT-based agriculture advisory service is expected to become operational across Punjab in 2017 to enable farmers get area-specific advice for optimal and profit-oriented production, officials said.

The project is being executed by University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, with financial and technical support from USAID and Icarda and Dr. Rasheed Ahmad, a noted researcher, is leading the project as principal investigator.

Dr. Iqrar Ahmad Khan, the UAF Vice Chancellor, had informed media in Multan that UAF has developed different production models based on soil, weather conditions, resources of farming community and other factors after a thorough survey of Punjab’s agriculture landscape. These production models would help farmers assess what kind of crop mix they should follow in a year, fertilizers dozes they should apply and all other relevant details.

Principal investigator Dr. Rasheed Ahmad told that the three-year project worth around Rs 69 million had begun on Jan 1, 2014, after Information Communication Technologies Research & Development Fund (ICTR&D) of ministry of Information Technology had approved its first segment costing over Rs 29 million.

The first phase is almost complete under which production models for different crops of six districts including Multan, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Okara, Jhang and Layyah has been made available on the web and farmers from these districts can obtain relevant production model from their district page after opening the web site ‘www.kissandost.pk’. Call centres have also been set up and farmers can contact them via toll free number 0800-54726 from anywhere to get experts’ advice. Moreover the advisory service was also available for those who want to get it in form of ‘SMS’. Farmers can also get information regarding fertilizers application from web site ‘www.fertilizeruaf.pk’ developed by UAF.

A meeting of National ICTR&D Fund was held at Islamabad on June 17 last Wednesday to review the progress of phase-I of the project with CEO Asif Rumi in the chair. Rumi has ordered officials to visit University of Agriculture Faisalabad and submit their assessment report regarding progress to enable them decide to move ahead with the second phase costing Rs 40 million that would make e-agriculture advisory service available at door step of farmers of remaining 30 districts of Punjab in eighteen month period.

Dr. Rasheed said, most of the soils is Punjab have become deficient in Nitrogen and Phosphorous that has decreased the productivity. He disclosed that an additional income of Rs 260 billion can be earned provided farmers ensure balanced application of fertilizers only on 50 per cent of the wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane and maize sown areas in Punjab.

When asked, how poor farmers, mostly those having landholding of five acre or less, and form 56 per cent of the total farming community, would be able to access IT service, Dr. Rasheed said that even a seven to eight year old son of a farmer can open web pages and go through the contents and added that rapid extension of IT services to villages would improve situation further in the days to come.

The project develops an e-system which will serve as a centralized knowledge-base for every district. The information regarding the cropped area, cropping systems, area and yield of various crops, use of fertilizer, area of farms, number of farms, kind and area of orchards, livestock population, agriculture machinery, irrigation facilities, inputs availability, marketing facilities, soil types, social status of the people etc. has to be collected for every district.

All the information collected will be classified into various categories through software. At the same time, the latest research findings regarding crop production technologies will be collected from various research formations working for each district.

All this information will be analyzed and synthesized to standardize site specific crop production technologies for all categories of the farms, Dr. Rasheed said.