Research Centre and Ayub Agriculture Research Centre continue to provide technical know-how on tunnel farming to growers across the country.
Farmers say that off-season and higher production of vegetables, economised use of water and more effective pest and weed management are three main features of tunnel farming which together make it feasible. But they point out that unlike in traditional veggies’ farming; tunnel farming requires larger quantities of fertilisers. That is where they need governmental support.
In exceptional cases, per-acre yield of some vegetables particularly tomato, cucumber and capsicum obtained through tunnel farming has been recorded to be three times higher than traditional farming, according to growers of Sindh and Punjab. However, on average, 60-70pc higher than normal yield is a norm, officials say.
But according to farmers, the initial high cost of setting up a tunnel farm may discourage many.
Farmers engaged in tunnel farming say that setting up a medium sized tunnel farm requires a capital cost of Rs1.5-2.0m.
They point out that in Sindh, as opposed to Punjab; farmers prefer low tunnels (i.e. the ones that accommodate low height rows of steel structures covered with polythene sheets).
The cost of running these tunnel farms are stated to be lower than that of the walk-in and high tunnels, the first providing enough space between two series of rows for growers’ movement, and the second housing multi-storey rows of artificial soil beds for veggies.
Senior bankers say they have been lending to owners of tunnel farms, both under a specialised incentive scheme introduced in the last two years and as part of regular operations. “But loaning for setting up such farms might have been slower because it is treated as an agricultural development loan and attracts a different approval criteria,” admits the head of the agriculture division of one of the top five banks.
Officials of the state-run National Bank of Pakistan claim they regularly make loans to farmers and companies for the setting up tunnel farm structures.