Pakistan is an agricultural country which accounts for about 23% of its GDP. It is the largest employment generating sector, employing 48% of labour force in the country. Forestry and Fishing contributes around 25% of the Pakistan’s GDP.

Despite being an agricultural country, out of its 803,940 sq. km of total area, about 60% is considered unsuitable for agricultural activities or forestry. This huge area consists of mountains, deserts and urban settlements. Out of total cultivable area only three quarters is fertile due to lack of rain in most areas.

Pakistan’s 70% of the farmed area is in Punjab, followed by the Sindh that occupies 20%, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contribute around only 10% and Balochistan has only 1% of the farmed land.

Due to lack of rainfall farming largely depends on irrigation. The Government of Pakistan has been taking many steps to improve water supply for the crops. Today Pakistan has one of the world’s largest irrigation networks. Due to different projects at different areas of the country, cultivated area has increased to more than one third since independence and now 80% of the farming is done with the help of intensive irrigation.

Agricultural Seasons

Pakistan generally has two main crop seasons:

  • Kharif Season:

It is the summer season of the country in which the crops are planted from April to June and harvested from October to December. Kharif crops need more amount of water and heat. Main Kharif crops are cotton, rice, sugarcane, tobacco, maize and millet. They cover the 45% of cultivated land of Pakistan. They mostly include cash crops which are sold by the farmers in the market to earn profit.

  • Rabi Season:

It is the winter season in which the crops are planted from October to December and harvested in April and May. In Rabi season the crops need less amount of water. Rabi Crops include wheat, Barley, oil seeds and grams. They cover about 55% of the total cultivated land of Pakistan.

Kharif Crops:

  • Cotton:

Cotton is Pakistan’s one of the main cash crops and is an important export commodity. Cotton cultivation requires a long frost free time, moderate rain and lots of sunshine. The soil suitable for it is fairly heavy with moderate levels of nutrients. A large proportion of cotton is grown in areas with less rainfall obtaining water from irrigation. The production for a given year mostly starts juts after harvesting the previous autumn crop.

During 1991, Pakistan was ranked third in the production of cotton after China and USA and was first in cotton export. In Pakistan, cotton is also named as ‘silver fiber’. It is a warm climate crop and cannot tolerate the freezing temperature. Pakistan has a fertile and well-drained soil. Cotton is the main export item of the country so lots of efforts are made by the Government to promote its production and facilitate the farmers.

For good cotton crop, there must be proper supply of fertilizers and five to eight sessions of irrigation during its growth time period. Cotton boll is very sensitive and can easily be damaged by the attack of insects so frequent spraying of insecticides ensures good crop. Cotton is picked either manually or mechanically.

On most of the farms in Pakistan it is done manually normally by rural women. After picking, cotton bolls are sent to the ginning mills where cotton fibers (lint) are separated from the cotton seeds. Then cotton lint is tied in bales and stored, after that they are sold out to the spinning mills to make threads.

Cotton seeds are also pressed to extract oil. This oil is used in cooking or in some industrial processes. After oil extraction remains of the seeds are used as cattle feed. Three fourth of the cotton of Pakistan is grown in the Province of Punjab whereas the remaining is grown in Sindh.

  • Rice

It is the most important staple food in a large part of the world especially in South and East Asia, Middle East and West Indies. After maize it possesses the second place in world’s highest production of grains. It is an important grain for caloric intake and nutrition of humans providing one fifth of the calories consumed.

Cultivation of rice is well suited in the areas with low labour costs and high rainfall. It can be grown anywhere even on mountains. The traditional way of cultivating rice is by flooding the crops after setting the seedlings. This needs sound planning and good supply of water for damming and channeling.

Rice is an important cash as well as food crop of Pakistan. In about one-tenth of the cultivable land we grow rice. It fulfils more than 2 million tons of our food requirement and this industry has given employment to a large number of people in the country.

Rice need a large amount of water, so it has to be grown in water irrigated areas where large required quantity of water remain available all the time to the farmers. Levelled fertile land with nonporous sub soil layer is required for its cultivation. Rice likes to grow with its ‘feet in water’. Main rice cultivated areas are in Punjab and Sindh. Rice is also cultivated in Khyber Pakhtunkwa but on a very small scale on terraced fields in the northern areas of Pakistan.

After harvesting and threshing rice is sent to the factories for separating the good grains and then after polishing are sent to the market for local customers and a large portion is packed for export

  • Sugarcane

It is a crop native to warm temperature to tropical areas of Asia. The stout, fibrous and jointed stalks measuring 2 to 6 meters long are rich in sugar. Sugarcane products are many in the world including sugar (brown and white), molasses, falernum, ethanol and bagasse etc. The main countries producing sugarcane are India, Pakistan, Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Philippines, Hawaii and Cuba.

Sugarcane is another important cash crop of Pakistan. Internationally the country has been ranked 15th in the production of sugar and 5th in production of sugarcane. Like rice sugarcane is also a water loving plant and amount of juice in it depends highly on the ample quantity of water given to the crop. It requires 16 sessions of irrigation and heavy fertilization for good growth. Sugarcane requires a large amount of water so it has to be grown in irrigated areas.

The seeds of sugarcane once sowed can give two to three successive crops after that the seeds have to be sown again. Right after cultivation sugarcane is sent to the mills otherwise it will start losing its weight as juice start evaporating.

It is scrubbed to remove dust and with the help of rollers juice is extracted which is used to make either white or brown sugar and in rural areas gur is also made. Juice of sugarcane is called ‘Molasses’. The remains of the sugarcane are called ‘Bagasse’ that is used for animal feed, to make chip boards, paper. It is also rarely used as a bio fuel to generate electricity.

It is harvested mechanically in most of the developed countries but hand harvesting accounts for more than half of the world’s production which is basically done in the developing countries like India and Pakistan. In this method the field is set on fire to burn dry leaves killing any snakes without damaging the stalks and roots. Then the cane is cut just above the ground level with the help of machetes or cane knives.

  • Tobacco

It is an agricultural product which is processed from leaves in the genus Nicotiana. It is used as an organic pesticide, consumed as a form of nicotine tartrate and is also used in some medicines. It is basically consumed as a recreational drug in most of the countries. It is a valuable cash crop for countries like China, Cube and United States of America. Rates of tobacco smoking is in the declining phase in the developed countries but continue to rise in the developing countries.

It is cultivated just like any other crop. Seeds are planted in hot beds or cold frames to prevent them from insects and transplanted in the fields afterwards. It is an annual crop harvested by hand or mechanically. It is then stored for curing allowing oxidation and carotenoids degradation. This allows the crop to take on the smoothness of the smoke. It is then packed according to the forms it is consumed which is chewing, smoking, sniffing etc.

Tobacco is a cash crop growing in few areas of Pakistan. Its share in the foreign exchange of Pakistan is of 570.2 million rupees that makes 0.4% share in the total exports of the country. Province Khyber Pakhtunkwa is the main tobacco growing area where two types of tobacco are grown, i.e. Barley and Virginia. Pakistan is fulfilling the local demand of tobacco and is also exporting good amount of tobacco earning a good share of profits with its export.

  • Maize

It is commonly known as ‘Corn’ and has been used by human civilization even in prehistoric times. The cultivation of the crop started in Mexico and spread throughout America. It gained popularity in the rest of the world in 15th and 16th centuries. Due to its ability to grow in diverse climates it is widely cultivated throughout the world today. The most important country for its growth is United States which produces high quality maize and possess 40% of the world’s harvest.

Maize is the third important cereal crop in Pakistan after wheat and rice. It makes up 4.8% of the total farmed area with an annual production of about 1.3 million tons. Main producing provinces are Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is contributing 68% and Punjab contributing 30% of the total crop production in the country. It needs moderate amount of water so those areas where rainfall is moderate maize can be grown even without irrigation.

Maize is a main source of starch that is why maize flour (corn starch) is an important ingredient in both home cooking and industrial food items. It is also used in making cooking oil, syrups and gluten. The maize starch is also used in making of plastics, adhesives, fabrics and several other chemical products. The stigmas from its flowers are popularly used as herbal supplements.

  • Millet

The Millets are small seeded species of cereal crops which are grown for food and fodder. They are small seeded grasses which grow in difficult environmental conditions like those with a risk of drought. They have been produced in East Asia for the past ten decades and today are the major sources of food in arid and semi-arid areas in making of the traditional foods all around the world. Millet is also known as jawar or bajara in Urdu. This is a coarse grain and is an important part of daily food of the people living in villages of Pakistan and India. It is used in making local staple hand rolled flat bread commonly known as ‘Jawar Roti’.

Millet is an important crop for the people living in the areas which are dry, cooler and less fertile in Pakistan. It is a tough crop and can grow in less fertile soil as well. Out of total area under the cultivation of millet, 60.7% was in Punjab, 37.8% in Sindh, 0.1% in Balochistan and 1.4 % in Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

Rabi Crops

The main Rabi crops in Pakistan as follows:

  • Wheat

It is a grass which originated from the Fertile Crescent areas of the East but today it is produced throughout the world. It is the world’s third most produced cereal after maize and rice with the production of 607 million tons. It has a higher level of vegetable protein content than in rice or maize. Globally, it is the main human food crop after rice.

Wheat is the most important rabi crop of Pakistan and the most important grain crop as well. It occupies the largest cultivated area throughout the country. Pakistan is ranked 10th among wheat producing countries in terms of area and holds the 59th position in terms of yield. The country is not only self-sufficient in the production of wheat but also export the surplus crop to the neighboring countries. Wheat contributes 3.0% of the GDP of Pakistan.

It can grow under a wider range of conditions as long as the temperature is not too hot. In many areas of Pakistan wheat is growing with the help of rainfall, whereas in rest of the areas irrigation system is used.

Farmers sow the wheat in the months of October and November as in winter season temperature conditions are best for its growth and the months of April and May the temperature is suitable for its ripening. Then in May and June, harvesting, threshing and winnowing of the grains starts. Punjab is the main wheat producing province contributing 72% of the total production. Sindh is the next largest wheat producer region with a share of 17% of total production of the country.

  • Barley

It is a cereal grain and has many uses. It is used in making many soups and stews and its bread is common in many cultures around the world. It is an important animal fodder and used in some distilled beverages as well. It is also known for having nutritional as well as medical values. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prescribed Talbina (barley) for seven different diseases. It is also known for calming and soothing the bowels. It can be roasted and its tea is popular in many Asian countries. Its soup is eaten during the Holy month of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia. It has the ability to improve nutrition and boost food security.

According to the ranking done in 2007 barley is the fourth most produced cereal crop in the world with the production of 136 million tons. It is considered to be an adaptable and a tough crop. It can grow in areas with cool and dry climate. It is popular in temperate areas where it is grown in summers and in tropical it is grown in winters. The germination time is around one to three days. It has a short growing season and is relatively tolerant to drought. It can tolerate soil salinity more than wheat. It can even grow in poor soil. In Pakistan, it is largely used as animal food and in some parts of country as human food as well. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the main barley producing area, whereas Punjab is also growing barley on a small scale.

  • Oil Seeds

They are lipid materials derived from many plants. Though different parts of plants may give oil but it is primarily extracted from the seeds. Oils are liquids in room temperature unlike the fats but the natural oils have a melting range as they are not chemically homogeneous.

They may or may not be edible e.g. tung oil or castor oil are not meant for eating instead they can be used in making cosmetics products, paints or any other industrial purposes. Then there are oil extracted from corn, sesame, cotton seed, soybean, palm, sunflower, peanuts, grape seeds and all of them are edible and used in cooking food.

These oil seeds are full of fat that is the source of energy for humans. In Pakistan, oil is extracted from the seeds of cotton, sunflower, rape, soybean, canola, maize, mustard, sesame and peanut plants. But more attention should be given on the production of oil seeds as only one third of country’s requirements are fulfilled by the locally produced seeds whereas the rest is imported from other countries.

  • Pulses

Pulses are important food crop with high nutritional value. Just like the words lentil and bean, ‘Pulse’ refers to just the seeds not the whole plant. Pakistan and India are the largest producers of pulses in the world basically because they are consumed the most in these regions. United States, Australia and Canada are also significant exporters in this area. Usually grains are consumed with the pulses to form complete nutritional advantages. Pulses are also a good source of pre biotic resistant starch. Pulses have 20% to 25% protein which is double in content as compared to wheat and rice. They can be called ‘vegetarian meat’. Pulses include gram, moong, mash masoor and other daals. They are important source of protein and is the main part of Pakistan’s daily food especially now a days when meat being the best source of protein is beyond the reach of a common man in the country. Pakistan’s annual demand of pulses is approximately one million tons, of which 92% is being producing locally. Eastern part of Indus plain and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are important areas for the production of pulses.

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