Invest in agriculture

225

TWO recent developments offer bright prospects for exploitation of greater potential of the agriculture sector as it can help resolve most pressing economic issues of the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to focus on enhancing per acre yield of crops by adopting better farming techniques and Sino-Pakistan cooperation in enhancing food security of the country and developing weather-resistant seeds for different crops.

Pakistan is gifted with enormous potential to grow but the resource constraints are forcing it to secure more loans to run its affairs and at the same time developmental allocations are reduced as a matter of routine every year to make room for compulsory expenditure.

In this backdrop, the two-pronged strategy of Prime Minister Imran Khan to focus on industrialization and agricultural growth is the best approach to address our financial and economic difficulties.

It is satisfying that the Government has embarked upon an ambitious programme to develop agriculture on modern lines at a cost of Rs. 110 billion over three years and to boost agriculture credit by 80pc to Rs2.7 trillion for almost doubling the grain harvest, increasing fruit and vegetable production five times, and trebling milk output.

Pakistan has fertile land and a vast irrigation system but crop productivity is very low as compared to other agricultural countries mainly because we ignored proper research and development. There is no doubt that Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) has been working hard to introduce new and better varieties of various crops especially wheat, rice, maize, cotton and pulses but unfortunately it is not provided enough budget to carry out its activities at the optimum level.

The low priority given to PARC became evident from efforts made in the past to grab its land in Islamabad for developing a housing society.

Similarly, the famous University of Agriculture, Faisalabad has not received proper attention despite the fact that the institution contributed immensely to agricultural growth in the country.

In this backdrop, the commitment of the Prime Minister to invest heavily in good quality seeds and pesticides, credible research and development and technology transfer is reassuring and one hopes it will be followed by a substantial increase of funds for the purpose.

There is also a plan to import semen for free distribution among farmers to boost livestock productivity, supplying subsidized fertilizers, increasing the number of crops grown and encouraging fruit and vegetable production.

These measures apart, there are other serious issues that need immediate attention of the Government. Agriculture experts point out that high cost of production; low average yield and low quality produce are jointly providing space for imported products to occupy our local markets.

These issues are making Pakistan uncompetitive in the international markets and also affecting the welfare of local consumers adversely. There is also a tendency to use fertile agricultural land for establishment of housing societies besides cutting of fruit trees on large scale.

The United Nations predicts that the world will need to increase its food production by 70 percent by 2050 to feed a population expected to rise from 7 billion today to 9 billion.

This is particularly so in the case of Pakistan, the population of which has crossed 210 million and it is projected to grow to over 380 million by the year 2050, surpassing the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia to become the world’s third largest country behind India and China.

The situation calls for a major investment on problem solving research, production technologies, rural infrastructure, capacity building of stakeholders, agriculture-based vocational institutions and incubators, and public-private partnership to help revitalize the agriculture sector.

China has a greater population and less arable land but has been able to take care of the food needs of its people by focusing on farming production and efficiency.

China and Pakistan have already arrived at an understanding to enter into meaningful cooperation in agriculture under the second phase of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and what we need is proper utilization of the opportunities offered by this understanding.

A collaborative framework should be prepared on war footings in close coordination with federal and provincial agriculture ministries/departments, PARC and agriculture universities. At the same time, work on construction of all feasible water reservoirs should be undertaken to guard against water shortages for irrigation.

 

Previous articlePutin beckons Muslim world
Next articleCensus and elections | By Zaheer Bhatti