By Muhammad Luqman
This is a special year for Mian Zabardast Khan of Malam Jabba in Swat valley of Khyber Pakhtun Khawa with 300 percent increase in the return for the vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. It all happened just due to the adoption of modern agriculture technology i.e. Tunnel farming. Along with other farmers of the village, he was provided quality seed , fertilizer and pesticides at subsidized rates along with harvesting bins by an NGO Lasoona under Ministry of Food Security and Research’s Agriculture Support Fund.
The technology that not only helps produce the crop atleast two months earlier than the traditional cultivation season, also saves the crop from all sorts of severe weather and handling related wastes. Besides, these farmers have also been facilitated in having direct access to the market instead of depending on the middle man. Tunnel farming is not restricted to the Khyber PakhtunKhawa province only. Tunnel farming structures are seen in the fields of Punjab almost every where. Be it the vegetable belt of Nankana Sahib or horticulture basket of Kasur, the progressive farmers are turning to tunnel farming technology with the passage of time. This has opened new vistas of prosperity for the farmers as well as the consumers looking for off-season veggies. Just a decade ago, the people of Punjab had to satisfy their taste buds by buying the vegetables grown in the neighbouring provinces of Sindh, Khyber PakhtunKhawa and Balochistan at exorbitant prices. The vegetables like bitter gourd, okra, peas , tomatoes, chilies , cucumbers from other provinces fetched atleast twice as compared to those produced in the Punjab just a couple of months later. This had been a source of depression and despair for the hard working farming community of Punjab. However, the introduction of tunnel farming has produced new array of opportunities , initially for the progressive farmers who can get price for tomatoes, capsicum (Bell Peppers) thrice in early time window than the traditional season of cultivation. One can now see the tunnels made of bamboos or steel pipes even in the vicinity of provincial metropolis, Lahore. The owners of land tracts with tunnel farming are mostly educated youth , mostly agriculture graduates and Masters’ in Business Administration. They are no more being exploited by the middle man . Rather, they provide high-value off-season vegetables directly to hotels and departmental stores. Besides vegetables, even the growers of strawberry in Lahore and Sheikhupura districts have adopted the tunnel farming to protect their crops from the severe weather conditions. With the passage of every day, the future of this new technology is becoming more and more bright especially the fertile agricultural lands of Punjab. The future of tunnel farming seems bright in Pakistan and the adoption rate of the farmers to this
Technology has been rapid in the recent years and more tunnels are being established. Tunnels can now be seen in almost 70% agricultural lands of Punjab, and fewer in Sindh, too. Most of the agricultural zones which have potential for vegetables and fruits cultivation is attracted to tunnel farming. It is high time that the federal and provincial governments should provide all the necessary support to the farmers to adopt tunnel farming technology so that more and more vegetables could be exported to the Middle East after meeting the domestic needs.