China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation under the Framework of CPEC | By Prof Tang Mengsheng

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China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation under the Framework of CPEC


 Data from 2018-2019 fiscal year indicates that agriculture contributes 18.5% to Pakistan’s GDP and provides 38.5% of total jobs. Of total agricultural output, plantation output accounts for 38.7% and livestock accounts for 57.79%.

It is fair enough to say that agriculture serves as a major propellant of Pakistan’s economy and an important element of Pakistanis’ livelihood.

Going forward, agriculture will be one of the key cooperation areas of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

I. Significance of China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation

China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation is the basis for a stable Pakistan’s Economy.

 Agriculture is important to Pakistan’s national economy, as is demonstrated by: first and foremost, it is a pillar export industry, earning a big portion of foreign exchange for Pakistan; besides, supporting other sectors of economy to grow.

About 60% of the aggregate agricultural supply goes to households for consumption, and the rest 40% is purchased by other economic sectors for further processing.

 Arguably, a stable Pakistan’s economy is impossible without its agricultural development.

 What’s more, agriculture is a sector with comparative advantage in Pakistan, as it can bring economic benefits and reduce poverty within a short time.

China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation embodies “Eagerness to Help Friends in Need”.

Pakistani government attaches importance to agricultural production, and has taken proactive measures to reduce its costs while improving efficiency.

For instance, the government has earmarked funds for introducing full industrial chains of agricultural production factors, supporting scientific research on agriculture, reducing agricultural taxes and fees, initiating water conservancy projects, as well as improving the level of mechanization of agricultural production, which have yielded positive results.

However, according to the 2016 population census across Pakistan, the population was still growing rapidly at an average annual rate of 2.4%, presenting a higher demand for the nation’s agricultural modernization.

China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation is the key to overall collaboration between the two countries.

China and Pakistan enjoy considerable cooperation potential in various fields including agriculture, rural development and enhancing the capacity of farmers. Moreover, we are yet to tap into the cooperation in agricultural technology.

Agricultural cooperation is now a priority for the mutual collaboration between the two countries.

By investing in Pakistan’s agriculture, many Chinese enterprises have benefited from initial success, and bilateral agricultural trade volume has been steadily increasing.

China would encourage more enterprises to invest in this field, as well as encourage more agricultural research institutes and experts to carry out cooperation with their counterparts in Pakistan.

Ⅱ. Ideas for China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation

Agricultural cooperation under the framework of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor should suit Pakistan’s agricultural development conditions.

By adapting to local conditions, building on strengths and avoiding weaknesses, we can align the development of food crops and that of the cash crops, to mutually reinforce farming and livestock husbandry, so that a virtuous circle could be formed.

The Basis of Existing China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation

China and Pakistan have a long history of cooperation in agricultural information exchange and training, agro-processing, agricultural machinery manufacturing and maintenance, pesticide management, etc.

Our cooperation is built on a solid foundation, under the framework of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to promote related industries’ development along the Corridor.

China-Pakistan agricultural cooperation will help Pakistan to break through the bottlenecks of agricultural development, and boost Pakistani agricultural products’ export to China and other countries.

Besides, Chinese enterprises engaged in deep processing of agricultural products, agricultural machinery and agro- industry will consider to invest or to set up factories in Pakistan.

Leading enterprises among them will also explore the possibility to invest in agricultural industrial parks along the Corridor, and build such parks into demonstration platforms of China-Pakistan agricultural industrialization cooperation.

Promote the Plantation of Sea Rice in Pakistan through Agricultural Cooperative Enterprises

Sea rice plantation will be promoted especially in coastal areas in Pakistan. We will recommend and support scientific research institutes from China, like Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Zhongnong Sea Rice (Shenzhen) Biotechnology Co., Ltd., to carry out experiments on popularizing sea rice in Pakistan which has proven successful in China.

This special kind of rice can grow in saline land like tidal flats. It can absorb salt and ameliorate soil, thus is able to promote a virtuous ecological cycle.

Besides, it can be used to feed livestock. This kind of rice contains more protein and other nutrients, and is especially suitable to be cultivated in the southern parts of Sindh and Balochistan.

We are also thinking about setting up agro-technology enterprises in Pakistan, which will seek cooperation with local land owners in establishing farms to further promote our projects.

Promote Pakistani Agriculture towards Modernization, industrialization and Market-Orientation

Focusing on the northern parts of Punjab and Sindh, we will promote agriculture modernization and industrialization, as well as agricultural products’ export in the region.

For agriculture to develop, we must capitalize on advanced technology, and combine it with both traditional and modern agriculture practices.

Netherlands has built a tulip base in Pakistan to meet market needs in Pakistan and the wider region.

We can learn from this, and build Islamic food industry parks, promote floral landscaping, leafy and fruity vegetables and their deep processing, for the Middle East market.

Promote the Development of Pakistani Livestock Husbandry

Pakistan enjoys a good base for developing livestock husbandry. It accounts for 10-12% of total GDP, and 38% of total agricultural output volume.

Apart from that, Pakistan is also a leading milk producing country, and its share of large livestock per capita is among the highest in Asia.

Chinese enterprises can take an active part in Pakistani livestock husbandry and relevant deep processing projects, and seek to extend the industrial chain, so that products can not only satisfy Pakistani market, but also be exported to other countries in Asia and Middle East.

III. Recommendations for China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation

China and Pakistan are highly complementary in agricultural resources, market and technology.

To deepen bilateral cooperation under the framework of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would help to promote agricultural development in Pakistan, and also to mitigate trade imbalance between our two countries.

Strengthen Cooperation on Agricultural Science and Technology and Agricultural Equipment

Pakistan attaches great importance to cultivating agricultural technology experts and developing relevant technologies.

 Many universities are conducting agriculture-related research, and these universities can serve as a platform for China and Pakistan to cooperate on agricultural science and technology.

Our two parties could, for example, spread modern agricultural technology through remote learning; set up modern agricultural parks and agricultural skills training centers in Pakistan; work with Pakistan National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) to breed new cotton varieties, and conduct other agricultural science and technology partnerships for adverse-weather-conditions (drought, for instance)-resistant crops.

Led by provincial level agricultural sectors in Pakistan, our two parties could capitalize on modern agricultural technology to promote “intensive farming” so as to increase grain output.

China would like to provide agricultural machinery and technology that suits Pakistani geography and agricultural production conditions, and organize necessary trainings.

We would also encourage Chinese enterprises to engage in agricultural machinery manufacturing, assembly and maintenance through investment in Pakistan, so as to improve industrialization scale of agricultural machinery in Pakistan and maximize social and economic benefits of China-Pakistan agricultural cooperation in equipment manufacturing.

Plan Agricultural Development in Line with Local Conditions

Pakistan’s agricultural resources are geographically specific, in that water, temperature, solar radiation and soil vary significantly among different provinces.

Different climate zones have specific crops suitable to grow so we should plan agricultural development in line with local conditions.

For example, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern parts of Pakistan have unfavorable conditions for plantation, outdated production methods and low production efficiency, but they have greater potential to develop livestock husbandry than that of agriculture, so we need to put emphasis on developing livestock husbandry there.

Besides, we may also consider establishing seafood, canned meat and other non- staple food processing projects in Gwadar.

 Punjab and Sindh, on the other hand, are relatively flat in landscape, and we may consider establishing vegetables, flowers and fruit supply chains as well as juice and jam factories in Lahore and surrounding areas.

Products manufactured here could be exported to Middle East and East Africa, which are close to Pakistan, and it will help to increase Pakistan’s foreign exchange income.

To Build an Export Base for Deep-Processed Agricultural Products Relying on Improved Agricultural Infrastructure

Development economics tells us that, relying on improved national energy and transport infrastructure, is an efficient way to improve aid efficiency and benefit people by fostering local agricultural development, especially by improving water supply and irrigation system.

The construction of Pakistan’s artificial irrigation system began when Pakistan was colonized by Britain.

The system is well-developed; however, some canals need to be renovated to optimize operational efficiency.

China and Pakistan may consider to start by improving infrastructure of irrigation, transportation and warehousing of Indus River Basin, and then gradually introduce advanced technology to achieve specialization and scale management, with an aim to build Punjab and Sindh into a deep processing base of agricultural products like wheat, rice, mango, pomegranate and others that can be exported to China, Europe, West Asia, Southeast Asia and other countries and regions.

The writer is associated with the Centre for Pakistan Studies, Peking University, China. Co-author:  Li Jingfeng, Assistant Researcher, Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences