PESHAWAR: The employees of the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) in Mingora have opposed the upgradation of the institute to university.
A senior official at the ARI, wishing anonymity, said the decision would affect agriculture, particularly nurseries across the province. The official claimed that the institute was the main source of certified fruit plants and vegetables and other agriculture crops to the fruit nursery sector for temperate regions of the country, mainly Malakand, Hazara,Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Chitral. He said the All Nursery Growers Association Malakand (ANGAM) based in Swat would be affected as its members are getting technical guidance from this institute. He added that the business of over 40 registered nursery owners will face difficulty in the procurement of quality budding material as ARI Mingora is the main source for quality fruit plants and vegetable and other crops. Currently, he noted that ARI is the main source of quality bud wood for peaches, apple and cherry and other crops at the nurseries. Around 40 percent of the fruit plants produced in the nurseries of Swat are consumed locally while 60 percent are supplied to other districts. The Agricultural Research Station in Mingora was established in 1980. It was upgraded to Agricultural Research Institute in 2007.
The institute has eight sections, including the ones for fruits, vegetables, oilseed, cereal crops, entomology and pathology with 167 staff. Over 50 labourersdaily are engaged for various field activities. Out of 54 approved varieties in various agriculture crops at the country level, 46 are fruit plants. Of the 46 approved fruit varieties, 36 are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Out of 36 okayed fruit varieties in KP, 28 (78 percent) varieties have been released by horticulture (fruit section) of the ARI Mingora. Besides, 12 peaches sequential varieties are released by the ARI Mingora ensuring prolonged supply of peaches to the national market for more than five months. The peach season starts in May and continues till October. According to agriculture statistics, 76 percent of the total peaches of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are produced in Swat.
The peach production and business is the main source of livelihood of the local farmers. The lower part of Swat is also famous for rice production. Due to consistent efforts of ARI Mingora, per acre production of rice has increased from 20 to 70 mounds. The release of FakhreMalakand variety of rice, 16 rice mills have been established in Swat and rest of Malakand division buying paddy grain from the rice growers and converting it to processed rice which is supplied to markets contributing to poverty reduction and creating job opportunities for local people. The ARI introduced improved and innovative fruit and vegetable techniques like offseason and tunnel vegetable production in various fruit and vegetables providing high-value production. The ARI also developed oyster mushroom production and home-scale processing of soybean. By 2050, experts noted that the global demand for agriculture products will increase by 70-100 percent due to rapid growth in the global population which reflects the strong research system for more productivity. They pointed out that China’s total public investment in agriculture research and development doubled during 2001-2008. It put China on top of the list in fruit production in most of the fruits produced in the world.
The example of Australia is also relevant. It cut public investment for research and development activities from $1 billion to $716 million in 2008 due to economic crisis. This led to Australia dropping globallyfrom 9th position to 16th in agriculture productivity.