Pakistan: Meeting The Challenges

Atta-ur-rehman-1.jpg

Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman
N.I., H.I., S.I., T.I.

The present government
is facing many chal
lenges but the most pressing one is concerned with the economically disastrous state in which PML-N has left Pakistan. We can learn much from how China turned around its economy to become one of the most powerful nations in the world.
In the early 1980s, China launched a series of programs for scientific and technological research and development. These were aimed at improving China’s competitiveness in science and technology in the 21st century. The main programs that brought about the transformation in China were “The Key Technologies R&D Program”, “The 863 Program” and “The 973 Program”, “The Spark Program” and “The Torch Program”. Each of these programs is a beacon of light for Pakistan as these programs show the way of the best practices that we must adopt, since challenges for Pakistan are very similar for us as they were for China in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Key Technologies R&D Program, launched in 1982, was the largest single science and technology program in the 20th century. It was directed at national economic construction, and aimed at solving the key problems facing the country. It covered agriculture, electronic information, energy resources, transportation, materials, resources exploration, environmental protection, medical and health care, and several other fields. This program, engaging tens of thousands of persons from more than 1,000 scientific research institutions nationwide. It involved massive investment of funds, employing the largest number of personnel ever and having the greatest impact on the national economy. Indeed it shaped the face of China today with China joining USA and Russia in making super fast trains, space satellites, supersonic fighter aircraft and beating USA in research in many fast developing emerging fields such as nanotechnology and quantum computing.
It was realized early on that the key for progress lay in the ability to manufacture and export high technology products. In March 1986, the National Hi-tech R&D Program (or “863 Program”) was therefore launched by China. The program covered 20 themes, such as information technology, lasers, robotics and automation, energy, biotechnology, space flight, new materials and marine sciences. In the operation of the program, the main functions of the government departments are macro-control and service. The program was designed so that the results could be quickly industrialised. China’s most important program to promote high tech industries was the “Torch Program” launched in 1988. Under the program, high tech products were identified for local industrial production and exports, and indigenous capabilities developed to mass produce these products. The program included establishing some high-tech industrial development zones around China. The program included projects in new technological fields, such as biotechnology, electronics, information technologies, integrative mechanical-electrical technology, new materials, and advanced and energy-saving technologies. This is one program that Pakistan should immediately emulate in the industrial zones that are to be established under CPEC.
China’s agriculture reform programme has not only lifted millions out of poverty but generated enough income for investment in industrial innovations. In 1986, the Ministry of Science and Technology initiated the nationwide “Spark” Programme (derived from the Chinese proverb ‘A single Spark can start a prairie fire’ meaning that the spark of science and technology will spread over vast rural areas of China). This successful program, is premised on providing a flexible, demand driven packages of services, not just technology but also information, technical assistance, marketing and developing supply networks and supply chains. Its overall objectives were to help transfer managerial and technological knowledge from more advanced sectors to rural enterprises in order to support continued growth and development in non-state rural enterprises-mostly Town and Village Enterprises (TVEs) and to help increase productivity and employment. Today, there are more than 100,000 scientific and technological demonstration projects being carried out in 85 percent of rural areas throughout China.
The agriculture sector in Pakistan supports two third of the rural population and remains the largest income and employment generating sector of economy but accounts for only 22% of total Gross Domestic Product. Pakistan has not been able to exploit its immense agriculture potential due to under- investment in human resource development and agriculture research.
The 15 year agriculture reform and development vision for Pakistan was prepared under my supervision. It involved research scientists, industrialists, farmers association and economists and identified critical skills, technology, management and public policy gaps in all field of agriculture including major grain crops, horticulture, fisheries, animal husbandry, range lands and forestry. Research areas, technological inputs and better operational practices needed in soil, seed, fertilizers, pesticides and water management as also the transport, grain storage and cold chain infrastructure required for prevention of 40%-45% of post harvest losses were identified. It was observed that 75% of Pakistan’s agriculture potential remains untapped. Crop yields on average are lower by 31%-75 % of the productivity level achieved at local research stations and lower by 50% to 83% in developed countries. These productivity gaps can be addressed through increased inputs in human resource development, research, technology and extension services and through improved management of resources and inputs. Improved access to institutional credit and access to local and international markets are essential pre-requisites. Most of our agriculture research organizations are poorly managed and remain ill-equipped with modern machinery, library and information infrastructure and qualified staff. There are no incentives for scientists to innovate and there are weak linkages between stakeholders (i.e. researcher, farmers, entrepreneurs and policy makers) due to a weak extension services system. A major reorganization of our agricultural institutions is needed if this key sector is to serve an engine of sustainable and equitable socio-economic development.
At initial stages of development most developed countries invested in agriculture innovations to eliminate rural poverty and to bridge the income inequality gap between rural and urban populations in their societies. Increases in agriculture income provided capital for industrial innovations. Our new government needs to set up a Task Force in Science Technology & Higher Education so that we too can tailor our socio-economic development on China’s pattern.
The writer is the former Federal Minister of Science & Technology & Information Technology, Chairman of Higher Education Commission. Currently he is President of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC) and Co-Chairman of UN Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP.

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