NWFP is sheltering a population of more than 20 million people. The major portion of this population i.e. about 83% is dwelling in rural areas putting a tremendous pressure on land resources. To cater for the livelihood needs of this mammoth population, the province possesses 10.17 million hectares of land. However, the cultivable area is 2.75 million hectare. Out of cultivable area only 1.8 million hectare is cultivated where as 1.08 million hectare is cultivable waste. The major chunk of cultivated land is rain fed which constitute 49% of the cultivated area.
This scenario resulted in a situation where 94% farms are now below the range of 12.5 acres, which is a subsistence farm level. The land tenure system in the NWFP can be classified into three categories, i.e. 58% farm area is operated by owners while 27% and 15% farms area is cultivated by owners-cum-tenants and tenants respectively. Due to great diversity in climate and soils, NWFP grows over 42 crops; the major ones being wheat, rice, barley, maize, sugarcane, tobacco, rape & mustard, groundnut, pulses, vegetables and fruits. The major crops occupy nearly 90% of the total cropped area and play an important role in sustaining the living of the rural population.
Livestock farming is also a dominant occupation of the farming community with more than 15 million animal heads and about 22 million poultry birds’ habituating the province. However, this occupation is mostly to supplement family nutritional and cash requirement. The capitalist trend in this sector is still lacking resulting in weak & non-descriptive breeds with low level of milk and meat productivity.
Poverty incidence and trends in NWFP reflecting 44% rural population living below poverty line shows disappointing results of recent economic growth, declining job opportunities and a range of natural resource problems.
The perceived causes of these high poverty levels included a variety of factors such as low level of agricultural yields and livestock productivity due to use of obsolete technology, drought and geographic isolation. The development challenges for the NWFP, therefore demand achieving sustainable economic growth particularly in rural areas through the development of agriculture and livestock sectors alongwith exploiting other opportunities. With special reference to agriculture sector, the areas of grave concern for NWFP are rainfed cultivated land, cultivable wasteland, fragmented and un-economical land holdings, weak coordination amongst various tiers of the Agriculture department, weak organizational trends amongst farming community, in-efficient utilization of water resources, non-availability of good quality seed, high cost of fertilizers and pesticides, inadequate technical capacity of the department coupled with obsolete extension methodologies, lack of agricultural marketing infrastructure, lack of gender mainstreaming, absence of rural based agricultural processing units, lack of health & management coverage for animals, low productivity of livestock, burden of multiple agricultural taxes and absence of an enabling environment for private sector investment.