Cities are engine of growth; and to attain the potential of resources, proper planning is at the core, and to plan, the need is to have a bird eye view of ground situation – map the existing infrastructure and to identify the parcel of lands available with government bodies and in use of private sector. Punjab is the first province to move in this direction – after an effort of three years by Punjab Urban Unit, Punjab Spatial Strategy (PSS) was launched yesterday.

The PSS aims to integrate priorities of different sector by using GIS technology for economic development – to predict future growth. The knowledge of all the nodes paves way to enjoy the dividends of geography and demography of the province. Punjab urban economy is of $130 billion while the rural economy size is a mere $40 billion.

There is huge district disparity. Growth Lahore is much higher than backward districts in South Punjab. The PSS can be used to identify the district disparity and based on that, more equitable development policies can be formed and implemented. The urbanization growth is amongst the highest in Pakistan, and the youth bulge can be fully utilized by forming new cities and bridging the development gap between Lahore and rest of the Punjab.

The strategy should be to bring the rural economy close to urban. The need is to develop Punjab agriculture at the level of international standards. The economy cannot jumpstart without modernizing agriculture and that is at the core of the Punjab development strategy. Agri economy is low value added as the focus has remained on food security. But global competitiveness cannot be achieved without allocating land to high value added agriculture products. Similarly, efficiencies cannot be gained without reducing wastage in Punjab irrigation system.

The utmost need is to become part of global value chains. Our exports mix has not changed much in terms of diversifications of sector and production locations. The nodes are identified; the question is how to leverage the data. The world order is changing – US China trade war amidst growing China per capita income will result in transferring Chinese production to other region. PSS has identified a few sectors and the potential that Pakistan can gain through it – time will tell how much we can utilize.

Manufacturing base is primarily on two roads of Punjab. PSS has identified the migration of population and accordingly densely populated areas are targeted to have SEZs and other economic zones. Services economy is the key as cities are hub of services. It is divided into four areas – producers, distributors, household and social services. The main focus would be on distributor services, and these all services have potential to employ large pool of Punjab youth.

In the past year Punjab has launched two overarching documents –Punjab Growth Strategy and Punjab Spatial strategy. Together these two makes a business plan for Punjab. Now government can think like economic entity with specific goals and target and to allocate specific resources for it –to optimize growth for 115 million inhabitants of Punjab. However, all these policies are on paper; let's hope soon these to translate into real economic growth and employment generation. Good luck Punjab!

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019