The total population of Pakistan is about 150 million, of which 67 percent live in rural areas and depend mainly on agriculture. It is growing at an annual rate of almost two percent. The total cropped area is 22 million ha, of which 18 million ha (80 percent) are irrigated. According to the 1985/90 soil survey there are 1.8 million ha of saline soils but the survey does not indicate what proportion is due to poor irrigation practices. Waterlogging is an important issue.
There are over five million farms in the country, 81 percent of which have less than five ha. Only seven percent of the farms have a size of over 20 ha but they account for forty percent of the farmed area.
Agriculture accounts for 24 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Pakistan, employs 48 percent of the labour force and contributes about 60 percent to export earnings. GDP growth continues to depend on crop performance. About 32 percent of the population lives below the poverty level.
The fertilizer sector has been privatized and deregulated. Farm price subsidies have been eliminated and prices decontrolled. Almost ninety percent of fertilizers are distributed by the private sector through a network of some 8 000 dealers.
A large amount of data is available on crop responses to fertilizer and the use of fertilizers has been found to be profitable on all crops. Most of the fertilizer is used on irrigated wheat, cotton, sugar cane and rice. On these crops the nitrogen application rate is close to 80 percent of the recommendations, compared with about 40 percent or less, depending on the crop, in the case of phosphate. Scarcely two percent of farmers apply potash; the quantities used are applied to fruit and vegetable crops and sugar cane. Micronutrient deficiencies are common but less than five percent of the farmers apply micronutrient fertilizers.
Total food crop production in Pakistan increased from 10 million tonnes in 1970/71 to about 25 million tonnes in 2002/03. Fertilizer consumption increased 13-fold during the same period, to reach three million tonnes of total nutrients. However, the use of nutrients is unbalanced. The current N:P2O5:K2O ratio is 1:0.28:0.01. Growth in food production and hence in fertilizer use will continue due to investments in irrigation projects and increased food demand. What needs to be done is known but not implemented. Fertilization practice is far from the recommendations with consequent loss of yield, financial waste and environmental contamination.