Technology transfer for cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) production under protected agriculture in uplands Balochistan, Pakistan

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The adverse climatic conditions and scarcity of irrigation water in Balochistan (Pakistan) have encouraged the development of protected agriculture. Semicircular plastic tunnels were introduced in three districts of Balochistan. This technology transfer trials have shown the advantages and benefits of producing cucumber in tunnels with marketable yield per unit area between 5.37 to 6.77 kg m2.

Farmer-managed  trials  also  confirmed  better  effectiveness  and  efficiency  of  protected  agriculture tunnel against insect pest of cucumber grown under tunnel. The cucumbers so harvested were of higher quality (no insect damage) and were sold at premium prices during the whole production cycle. Proper crop sequencing by considering the market situations as well as physiological circumstances are important for successful production of high value crops including cucumbers round the year.

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These decisions should be based on the market demand and consumer preference analyses. Higher technical knowledge is also required to manage plant nutrient requirements, choose right kind of hybrids and irrigation scheduling, maintain temperature and humidity and take proper plant protection measures.

Key words: Cucumber production, protected agriculture tunnels, cost benefit ratio, technology transfer, upland, Balochistan

AzeemKhan1,MuhammadIslam2,InamulHaq3,Sarfraz Ahmad2,GhazanfarAbbas1and

MohammadAthar4*

 

1Pakistan AgriculturalResearch Council, Islamabad, Pakistan.

2AridZone Research Center,BreweryRoad,Quetta,Pakistan.

3Agriculture Research Institute,Sariab Road, Quetta,Pakistan.

4California DepartmentofFood and Agriculture,3288MeadowviewRoad,Sacramento,CA95832,USA.

Introduction:

Balochistan with an area of 34.7 million ha, represents 43% of the total area of Pakistan. The province has four distinct  types  of  climates;  coastal  (sub-tropical),  arid, hyper  arid,  and  temperate,  with  a  great  diversity  in altitudes and annual mean temperatures. The altitudes range from sea level to 1,800 m above sea level, and the mean monthly temperatures fluctuate from  sub-zero in the winter months of December to January to super high (45 to above 50°C) in the summer months of  May to July/August (Kidd et al., 1988). Annual precipitation fluctuates widely across the  province;  not  only  within a normal  year  but  precipitation amounts are  also  erratic over a longer period of time (Athar, 2005).

Agriculture sector is the backbone of the economy of Balochistan, as it contributes about 32% of the provincial Grass Domestic Product (GDP). Agricultural outputs in the province have been expanding particularly since the mid 80’s until towards the end of 90’s when the impact of drought started causing significant decline on the overall output. Since 1998, total production of all crops has declined at an alarming rate of about 8% per year. At the same time, yields of most crops remained low as compared to other provinces or even other developing countries. The fluctuating level of water availability in the uplands is one of the several causes of  relatively low yields of key vegetables. Inefficient use of irrigation water also adversely affects the per unit productivity of crops  in the Balochistan province. As per government policy, and now with the availability of electricity at subsidized rates, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of tube wells.

However, as the conventional sources of water in the province   were   shallow   wells,   karees   and   springs therefore, indiscriminate installation of tube wells and pumping of  water  in excess of  recharge have caused lowering of water table resulting in drying of dug wells, karees and  springs (70%).  The  excessive  pumping  of ground water has caused serious concerns regarding the sustainability of irrigated agriculture. Since 1998, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) since 1998, has been involved in the development of protected agriculture in the water scarce countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Thus, they have initiated  the  same  activities  in  Balochistan  under  the project “Food Security/Poverty Alleviation in Arid Agriculture Balochistan” – Pilot Project Phase. The plantation  of  cucumber  in  tunnels  was  one  of  the initiatives taken under this project.

Advantages of protected agriculture (PA)

Protected agriculture (PA) has the potential to contribute significantly to both the development of rural communities and to devise sound water policy for the production of high value crops of Balochistan. It can play an important role in supplying local markets with fresh produce that could   not   be   grown   otherwise,   and   in   creating employment within rural communities and productive opportunities for the disadvantaged, particularly women. It  also  offers  potential  for  development  of  a  private service sector in the construction and supply of protected agriculture equipment and inputs such as seeds and fertilizers. Ultimately, high yielding quality produce from protected agriculture could be expanded to serve the export market and generate a valuable source of foreign currency.

PA with its associated production systems can significantly reduce the amount of water and chemicals used in producing high value fresh produce compared to open field production. The comparative advantages of PA over open field production may include:

1. Crops can be produced year round regardless of season, so multiple cropping on the same unit of land is possible. Farmers can benefit of market seasonality to produce off season crops to earn higher prices.

2. PA allows the production of high quality and healthy seedlings  for  transplanting  to  open  fields,  supporting earlier cropping and stronger, more resistant crop stands.

3. Protective housing provides protection for high value crops from unfavourable weather  conditions,  pests  and diseases.

4. Use of PA can increase production by more than five fold, and increases productivity per unit of land, water, energy, and labour.

5. PA supports the production of high quality and clean products.

The strategic focuses of the current government plans are to augment and promote efficient use of limited underground water resources. PA initiative in this project was taken to examine the feasibility of water resource efficient high value agriculture. ICARDA has previously used this technology with farmers in Yemen and Afghanistan with promising results. There is substantial evidence that the PA technology is economically viable in the context of Afghanistan as well. In case of cucumber cultivation under PA, for example, its production in the spring of 2005 generated an additional farm income of Afs 13,200 to 78,000 per grower (ICARDA, 2006).

In Yemen, cucumber productivity was 17-fold greater under PA, while tomato reached 12-times its productivity as compared to open fields (Amin et al., 1998). Oweis (1990)  studied  cucumber  yield  response  to  different levels of irrigation and concluded that maximum yield of 946 tons/ha was produced with 223 mm of water consumed as transpiration. Thus, water efficient techniques of protected agriculture were successfully introduced by ICARDA to small landholders in the rainfed mountainous terraces of  Yemen and Afghanistan,  and the experience gained was transferred to Balochistan.

The overall aim of this study was to alleviate poverty and generate rural incomes, by promoting the adoption of affordable and sustainable Protected Intensive Produc- tion System (PIPS) to produce high value crops, using marginal or  otherwise non-productive lands.  The other objective was to estimate the economic feasibility of vegetable production under farm situations. The initial investment and operational cost were accounted for to estimate the gross revenue, total costs and net returns for the production and marketing of cucumber crop.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

In  2006,  four  galvanized and  polyethylene (PE)  covered  green houses (9×30 m) having side and roof ventilation facilities were installed for vegetables production in three districts of Balochistan (Mastung, Killa Saifullah and Loralai). Generally, a large majority of growers liked this type of non-cooled greenhouse due to its simplicity and ease of construction. Tomato, squash and hot and sweet  pepper  were the  main  crops  cultivated  in  these  houses during the cool and mild seasons (Athar and Bokhari, 2006) but for the   purpose   of   this   experiment   cucumber   cultivation   was considered due to  its  likely most  economical crop  under these tunnels.

A white net was used on both side of  the tunnel to avoid  any insect damage and vectoring of diseases. In each tunnel, four rows were prepared with the distance of one meter. The total duration   of the  crop   was   around   100   to  120   days.   In  summer   months, Limestone  washing  method  was  used at the roof for lowering  the temperature   during   day  time.   Irrigation   was   done  with  trickle- irrigation. T-tubing was installed underneath the black plastic mulch with   minute   punctures   for   the  water   out-let   near   each   plant. Cucumber  Queen-1  variety was planted  at all sites. The seed was imported from a Dubai based “Royal Sluis” company due to its good quality  and  high  yielding  reputation.  Triple  super  phosphate  was applied    before    planting.    Compound    soluble    NPK    fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium)  were applied after 15 days of germination  at the recommended  rates with irrigation  on alternate days.

Plants were individually  trellised on twine hung from a horizontal support.  Plastic clips were used to attach the vines to the twine at the base of the plant  and along the vine to support  the fruit load. Cucumbers  were pruned to a single stem with no lateral branches (suckers).  Fruits  were removed  up to the 6th to 8th node and the plants were then allowed to set one fruit per node every other node up  to the  horizontal  support.  At  the  top  of the support  wire,  two laterals   were  trained   over  the  wires.   However,   cucumbers   set multiple fruits at each node and on the lateral branches, so both the fruit and lateral branches were left on the plant after the 8th node to avoid  excessive  vegetative  growth  and  lateral  branches  were pruned at  the second node  on  the lateral.  Disease and  insect controls were monitored continuously as per recommended practices. The poor quality fruit were removed before maturity which also helped in maintaining continuous fruit set. Cucumbers were harvested at a diameter of 4 cm or less.

For the purpose of cost-benefit ratio analysis, all costs including initial investment on protected agriculture (PA), its installation cost, variable cost of cucumber production and fixed costs were accounted. The PA was constructed near tube well water already installed by the farmer. However, a water pump and water tank was put  in  place  for  irrigation  purposes.  The  irrigation  supply  was metered to estimate the m3  water usage during crop production period. The field was thoroughly ploughed with the tr actor before installing PA.

Fixed  costs  were  included  as  interest  (7%)  on  total  initial investment, annual initial investment cost (4 months) and interest on total variable cost (7%). Variable costs covered ploughing, ridge making, seed, fertilizers, pesticides, micro-nutrients, picking labor, haulage and packing costs. Administrative costs were estimated for managing  production  operations  and marketing  of produce. Depreciation  of PA was estimated by using the straight-line method. Assets  were divided  by their useful life expectancies  to determine annual  cost  for  depreciation.   The  land  rent  was  ignored  in  this study,  as  land  used  for  the installation  of  PA  was  not  previously under use for agriculture purposes.

Thus, total production  costs of cucumber  production  in PA were the  combinations  of  fixed  costs,  variables  and  managerial  costs. The net returns  were estimated  by subtracting  total costs from the gross  revenue  of cucumber  produced  and sold  at different  prices during the whole production cycle. Monthly average weighted prices were used to estimate gross returns from the total production.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Investment and variable costs

The initial investment costs, annual costs, variable costs and total costs of  cucumber  production in tunnels are presented in Tables 1, 2 and 3, respectively. Initial investment costs were calculated to be US$ 2,792 for 270 m2 tunnel or US$ 10.3 per m2. About three fourth of the initial investment cost was comprised of galvanized frame, plastic covering and insect proof net. Annual initial investment cost was US$ 187. It was assumed that three crops could be grown by the farmers under mild temperature  conditions  prevailing  during  the  summer season.  As  cucumber  cultivation  was  completed  in  4 months period,  therefore,  annual  investment  cost  esti- mated of US$ 62.3 was estimated.

Low cost low tunnels are presently used in Balochistan to grow tomato nurseries for early planting only. Such low tunnels are very commonly used around Nowshera area of Khyber Pakhtoon Khawah province of Pakistan to grow off-season cucumber and squashes. The cost of polyethylene sheets and sticks used to cover cucumber during early growth stages is estimated around US$ 208 per ha  (Adnan,  2006;  Ishaq  et  al.,  2003). Under low tunnels, cucumber yields were 3.7 kg, total cost   US$ 0.32,  and  net  benefits  US$  0.23  per m2  on farmers’ field in Nowshera area of Khyber Pakhtoon Khawah province (Adnan, 2006).

Ordinary high tunnels were conventionally used by the research system to explore the possibilities of growing off-season vegetables including cucumber, tomato and sweet peppers. Chaudhry et al. (2003) tested 11 cucumber  hybrids  growth in tunnels during  winter  season  in rainfed Pothwar.  The use of  high tunnels either made with local materials like bamboo sticks or PVC pipes and plastic covering is becoming increasingly popular in the Punjab  province  of  Pakistan.  Use  of  high  efficiency tunnels  is  a  rare  phenomenon  and  limited  with  some hybrid  seed  importer  for  testing  new  hybrids  and  to demonstrate the commercial production of high value off season  vegetable  crops.  The  cost  of  material  used tunnels, cucumber yields were 3.7 kg, total cost   US$ 0.32,  and  net  benefits  US$  0.23  per m2  on farmers’ field in Nowshera area of Khyber Pakhtoon Khawah province (Adnan, 2006).

Ordinary high tunnels were conventionally used by the research system to explore the possibilities of growing off-season vegetables including cucumber, tomato and sweet peppers. Chaudhry et al. (2003) tested 11 cucum- ber  hybrids  growth in tunnels during  winter  season  in rainfed Pothwar.  The use of  high tunnels either made with local materials like bamboo sticks or PVC pipes and plastic covering is becoming increasingly popular in the Punjab  province  of  Pakistan.  Use  of  high  efficiency tunnels  is  a  rare  phenomenon  and  limited  with  some hybrid  seed  importer  for  testing  new  hybrids  and  to demonstrate the commercial production of high value off season  vegetable  crops.  The  cost  of  material  used compared with Afghanistan PA established by ICARDA in 2005,   where   the  cucumber  yield for  a  square  meter ranged from 1.9 to 12 kg on average 5.3 kg/m2 (ICARDA, 2006). The low yield was observed at Saddiqabad due to 12 to 16 h of load sheding in the area which affected the availability of water. It must be noted that this income was from two cropping seasons and these tunnels could be utilized for at least three cropping seasons per year. Although the initial cost of materials for tunnel may be high, farmers will be able to recover this cost in the long run,  as  they  continue  using  the  tunnel  over  several growing seasons. Plant disease remains the leading drawback for greenhouse vegetable production (Dinham, 2003).

Cucumbers were marketed in the nearby town market of Mastung, Killa Saifullah and Dukki. The produce was transported instantly after harvest in plastic crates. The cucumber produced in PA was clearly distinguished from the open field produced ones. Therefore, disposal of produce was quite easy even in a small local market. The produce was easily distinguished by the buyers and sold at premium prices during the whole production cycle. The prices in the local market were negotiated on per crate basis that is equal to 18 kg weight. The average premium received per crate was around US$ 2 (30 to 40% higher prices)  per  crate.  During  the  peak  supply  periods  of August, prices received were lower and increased significantly during September and October months. Average  prices  received  ranged  between  US$0.30  to US$ 0.46 per kg. About 58% cucumber was sold at US$ 0.30 per kg and the rest was sold at higher prices (Table 4).  It  could  be concluded that marketing  of  cucumber produced in tunnels was readily  accepted in the local market. Buyers were found willing to pay a 30 to 40% price premium for the tunnel produced high quality delicious cucumbers.

Sensitivity  analysis  of  minimum  yield  to  achieve break-even A sensitivity analysis is one of the better alternatives to understand  uncertainty in any type of  financial model. Sensitivity analysis shows the financial situation of a certain enterprise when produce price changes or input prices change (Weinberger and Lumpkin, 2005). For the successful greenhouse production, it is important that produce’s price covers at least the unit production cost.

Based on current production costs inside 270 m2 greenhouse and because growers cannot influence the market price, a sensitivity analysis was conducted to indicate the minimum yield required at a given market price to cover production costs (Chaudhry and Ahmad, 2000; Dinham, 2003; Hussain and Hanif, 1990). The results showed that cucumber producers should target yields above 700 kg for summer sales when prices could be as low as US$ 0.35 per kg. In the winter yield should be above 260 kg when the price is expected to be more than US$ 0.70 per kg (Figure 1).

Table1.Initialinvestmentforprotectedagriculturetunnelconstruction.

 

 

Item

Initialcost(US$)

%

Usefulllife year

Annualcost(US$)

%

Galvanizedframe

1471.4

53

20

73.7

39

PlasticCovering

367.8

13

10

18.4

10

Insectproofnet

313.4

11

20

15.7

8

Blackplasticmulch

46.3

2

2

23.2

12

Sockets,  valves,  pipes,  elbow etc.

 

118.2

 

4

 

10

 

11.8

 

6

TTapesand PVC pipes

108.1

4

10

10.8

6

Watertank

133.3

5

10

13.3

7

Waterpump

100.0

4

15

6.7

4

Site preparation

50.0

2

10

5.0

3

Assembly

83.3

3

10

8.3

4

Total

2792

100

 

186.8

100

Persquaremeter

10.3

 

 

0.7

 

Gross revenue and net returns

Total  gross revenue  earned from  producing  cucumber under PA was estimated to be US$ 623 (Table 5). Total cost of cucumber production was estimated to be US$ 308. A share of variable and fixed cost in total cost was almost identical. Net returns were estimated to be US$ 315. Net returns per square meter were estimated to be US$  0.37.  Total  irrigation  water  resources  used  to produce 1183 kg cucumber was 39 m3. Net return per cubic  meter  water  was  estimated  to  be  US$  2.88, whereas  in  Afghanistan  it  reached  US$  3.68,  which clearly indicated the potential to also improve water use efficiency in Balochistan.

Table2.Variablecostforcucumberproductioninprotectedtunnels.

 

 

Parameter

Unit

Rate(US$)

Amount(US$)

Totalcost(US$)

%

Tractorploughing

Hour

5.0

2.0

10.0

7

Ridgemaking

Manday

3.3

1.0

3.3

2

Seed

No

0.1

595.0

49.6

33

Fertilizer

Kg

0.8

28.4

23.4

15

Irrigationlabor

Manday

1.7

13.3

22.1

15

Electricitycharges

Percubicmeter

0.3

39.0

13.0

9

Pickinglabor

Manday

1.7

4.1

6.9

5

Pesticide

Cost

1.0

6.7

6.7

4

Micronutrients

Cost

1.0

3.1

3.1

2

Haulage

Cost

1.0

11.0

11.0

7

Packingcost

Crate

0.4

5.0

2.2

1

Total

 

 

 

151.2

 

Persquaremeter

 

 

 

0.6

 

Conclusions and recommendations

Vegetable production in high technology tunnels is a challenging task on technical as well as economic accounts. Proper crop sequencing by considering the market situations as well as physiological circumstances are  important  for  successful  production  of  high  value crops round the year. These decisions should be based on the market demand and consumer preferences analyses. Higher technical knowledge is required to manage  plant  nutrient  requirements,  choose  the  right kind of hybrids and irrigation scheduling, maintain temperature   and   humidity   and   take   proper   plant protection measures. The project has achieved some milestones in the introduction of water use efficient PA that includes:

Table3.TotalcostofcucumberproductioninPA.

 

 

 

Parameter

Totalcost

          (US$)           

 

 

   %   

Variablecost

151.2

 

49

Fixedcost

 

0

Interest     on     total     initial investment

 

64.5

 

 

21

Annualinitial investmentcost

61.6

 

20

Intereston totalvariablecost

10.6

 

3

Subtotal

137.7

 

44

Managingcost

20.0

 

6

GrandTotal

307.9

 

100

PerSquaremeter

1.14

 

 

(i)  Exposure  of  scientific  cadre  to manage  high value crops in tunnels;

(ii) Training of technicians in assembling and installing of all components of tunnels at farmers fields;

(iii) Understanding on forming beds and planting crops with mulching;

(iv) Controlling high temperature during summer; (v) Handling pest problems; and

(vi) Adjusting the use of soluble NPK by considering crop condition at different growth stages.

The  PA  farmers  and  researchers  are  linked  to  seed dealers dealing with the supply of  hybrids who supply after testing these seeds at their own farms. The hybrid dealers also have vast experiences of growing vegeta- bles under tunnels at commercial scale. These linkages would benefit the research system of Balochistan through sharing  their  experiences  and  also  provide  low  cost viable hybrid seeds tested under local circumstances.

Month

Yield(kg)

Price ($/kg)

February to June

1080

0.299

JulytoOctober

750

0.401

Total

1830

0.350

PerSquareMeter

6.77

2.31

 

 

Table4.TotalgrossrevenueobtainedfromcucumberproductioninPA.

 

 

The net returns from cucumber production under PA shows its feasibility even with low level of technical knowledge during initial experimentation phases. Vegetables are exported from Balochistan for 4 months and during the remaining 8 months imported from other provinces. The consumer at the local markets located at Mastung, Killa Saifullah and Loralai districts can easily distinguish between the quality of produce from PA and open fields. Consumers are also ready to pay premium for the quality products produced under PA which shows potentiality  of  increasing  high  value  crops  production under high tech tunnels. Higher net returns obtained for per cubic meter of water used to produce high quality cucumber, further suggest the expansion of high value crops production under PA.

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