USAID’s PATTA ProgramFarming plays a dominant role in the national economy of Pakistan. With a population of more than 200 million, Pakistan is heavily reliant on agriculture to provide food for people. Agriculture contributes almost 20% to Pakistan’s GDP, and as of 2019, employs more than 40% of the workforce. Smallholder farms are often at a disadvantage as they have limited access to improved technology, which prevents them from producing high yields of crops. To combat this issue, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA), an initiative designed to increase Pakistani farmers’ access to improved agricultural technology. USAID’s PATTA program is also designed to encourage private sector investment in agriculture to increase incomes and efficiency.

Agriculture in Pakistan

Despite the overwhelming need to preserve the agricultural sector, the industry has seen a decline in productivity over the years. Pakistan is especially vulnerable to environmental degradation and instances of water shortages and extreme temperature fluctuations have severely damaged the country’s ability to produce enough crops to feed its populace. As a result, Pakistan stands to benefit from the advancements in agricultural technology. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), these improved technologies can aid in improving agricultural productivity by 70% by the year 2050.

The PATTA Program

To assist Pakistani farmers with obtaining improved agricultural technologies, USAID funds the four-year PATTA program which began in 2017. This program “enables the private sector to give Pakistani farmers access to innovative agricultural products and management practices, which improve productivity and enhance competitiveness.” To facilitate this, USAID introduced the “Agri-Tech Hub” in 2020, a comprehensive suite of agricultural technologies with the potential to change the lives of farmers. The PATTA program encourages  private sector investment in Pakistani agriculture “to commercialize the types of agricultural technologies that enable smallholders to increase their incomes, create jobs and enhance economic growth and stability.”

Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) is an agricultural organization that is also involved with the PATTA program. This organization assists agricultural technology businesses in expanding their markets by doing cost-benefit analyses as well as creating strategies on how these businesses can provide technical support and build capacity for small farmers. Additionally, the CNFA sets up demonstration events in which businesses can display the effectiveness of their products. These events often use different mediums such as radio and the internet in order to reach many different groups of people. Overall, the CNFA is involved in every step of the PATTA program. The CNFA helps agribusinesses market their technologies effectively while making sure farmers can get their specific needs met.

PATTA’s Impact During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatic impacts on agricultural production around the world. In Pakistan, PATTA has been assisting local governments in raising awareness of safety protocols through digital communication. For example, during the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, PATTA partnered with the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s agriculture department in developing “tele-farming advisory services on agricultural technologies” through SMS and robocalls to deliver pertinent information to farmers.

PATTA has also utilized the radio in order to spread its messages. From May to July 2020, PATTA encouraged the use of agricultural technologies via radio broadcast to 23 selected districts across Pakistan, reaching approximately three million people. The use of digital communications allowed for social distancing as the pandemic prevented conventional meetings from taking place.

USAID’s PATTA program helps farmers acquire improved technologies in order to increase their crop yields. By engaging with the private sector, PATTA assists both agribusinesses and farmers in expanding. The concrete outcomes of the program are yet to be released, but nonetheless, it is clear that agricultural technologies have the potential to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and reduce poverty in Pakistan.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

poverty-fighting advances in agriculture

Advances in agriculture are key to both reducing world poverty and maintaining the health of the planet. A 2016 study by the World Bank Group found that 65 percent of adults living in poverty support themselves through agriculture. Additionally, economic growth in the agriculture sector has two to four times the potential to raise income among the world’s poor than growth in any other sector.

However, for all the benefits of agriculture, the industry can also be harmful to the planet. Agriculture is responsible for 70 percent of freshwater use and 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. So, it is important for small farmers to utilize advancements that minimize pollution and waste while cutting costs and increasing yields. These six poverty-fighting advances in agriculture and technology are key ways for poor farmers to achieve both of these goals.

6 Poverty-Fighting Advances in Agriculture

  1. One way for farmers to increase crop yields and decrease costs is through Fertilizer Deep Placement (FDP). FDP involves condensing fertilizer into bricks that are then placed a few inches under ground. The bricks then slowly dissolve, giving important nutrients to crops. Because the fertilizer is under the soil surface, fewer nutrients are lost to runoff. It also saves labor by ensuring that crops receive nutrients continuously, without farmers having to repeatedly apply fertilizer. A study conducted in Bangladesh in 2015 showed that using FDP increased rice crop yields by 15-20 percent over an average of three years.
  2. Reducing pesticide and herbicide use can both benefit the environment and save costs. One way farmers can reduce their use is by treating seeds instead of mature plants. When this method is used, the chemicals become incorporated into the plants themselves. In contrast to traditional methods, this means that there is no risk of the chemicals ending up in nearby rivers and streams, and it saves supplies and reduces pollution.
  3. Multiple mobile apps also help farmers better care for their crops and livestock. For instance, the Farming Instructor app provides agricultural knowledge to farmers via text, audio and animations. The app also allows farmers to share tips and information with each other. Another app called Hello Tractor allows farmers to cheaply rent tractors as needed, instead of having to purchase one. So far, 22,500 farmers have utilized the startup, which says its customers had a 200 percent increase in crop yields.
  4. Refrigeration is an important resource that prevents crop spoilage during transportation and allows families to store food. This means subsistence farmers have enough to eat even during dry periods and can spend less time gathering food. Refrigeration also lengthens the shelf-life of vaccines and medicines. Advancements like solar-powered refrigerators are making refrigeration available to more and more rural farmers.
  5. Precision agriculture uses tools like drones, robots, satellites and large-scale data gathering to determine the optimal levels of water and fertilizer for each individual plant. This holistic method has the potential to greatly increase crop yields and make farming more environmentally friendly by reducing waste. Precision agriculture has already been used with much success in North America and Europe. Spotty internet connection has limited its introduction to developing countries. However, programs in India and Vietnam have seen success. Benefits for rural farmers include increased crop yield, reduced costs, more market opportunities, more free time and a reduced gender income gap.
  6. Often, small scale farmers in remote regions have to travel long distances to buy seeds and fertilizer, much of which can be prohibitively expensive. To address this problem, NGOs such as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) support and train local networks of agro-dealers. These agro-dealers sell farming supplies cheaply and in small quantities suitable for small-scale subsistence farmers. They can also provide veterinary support, mechanical fixes and training, and marketing.

Small farms face more and more challenges from problems like desertification, drought and the spread of pests and diseases. With these poverty-fighting advances in agriculture, farmers are better prepared to meet the challenges and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

– Clarissa Cooney
Photo: Flickr