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EDITORIAL: Experts and economists have long lamented, and rightly so, that one reason we turned from a country that exported its agri surplus to one that imports even a bulk of its staple food is that we did not keep up with the times. The traditional farming sector has always shied away from modern technology primarily because the state never facilitated the process of change.

And the result is hardly a surprise; that we have lagged behind while others have advanced. This is a big problem not just because of the country’s food needs, but also because agriculture provides its primary export product, which is textiles. And even there, we have to import quality cotton for our value-added exports because we do not have the technology to produce certified and high-quality seeds, nor do we follow modern irrigation methods.

All this is probably why the Pakistan Business Forum (PBF) is once again calling for revamping the seed sector and redefining the role of the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department (FSC&RD).

The second part of the appeal is particularly important because despite the presence of this department and whatever it does, we’re no closer to producing “larger volumes of certified seeds at affordable prices” and then “streamlin(ing) the distribution of quality seeds among Pakistani farmers,” according to PBF Vice President Ahmad Jawad.

Currently, the department provides registration of varieties and certifications of seeds only, but that has become largely irrelevant because “farmers rely on their judgement rather than a (certification) tag issued to them.” And companies have now got into the habit of obtaining such tags from the department to avoid unwarranted inspections, not for adding any kind of value to their businesses.

The amended Seed Act hasn’t made things any better either because it is seen as just another example of subservience to big multinational corporations. The TRIPs (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) framework, which the said amendment complies with, is being blamed for controlling livelihoods of small farmers and being one of the most anti-farmer acts in Pakistan.

PBF maintains that “this terrible step has worsened food insecurity in Pakistan, mainly in Sindh province.” It’s also pointed out that there’s little technological advancement and few new seed varieties because most seed companies don’t do anything more than mark certified products of leading manufacturers.

So one thing that’s pretty clear, even as we go round in circles, is that we took the agri sector for granted and became complacent.

It’s one thing for (mostly) uneducated farmers to make heroic assumptions about the future of their profession, but for successive administrations to choose to keep their heads buried in the sand and just hope to keep drawing benefits from the natural comparative advantage and do nothing at all to preserve and nurture it is like begging for disaster.

Clearly, no arm of the government ever did much to stay ahead of the curve in matters of agriculture, even though parliament often has fair representation of, if it is not outrightly dominated by, the feudal class.

It wouldn’t do much good to call for more institutes like the University of Agriculture Faisalabad because the one that does exist is still without any feathers in its cap. Perhaps it really would’ve been much better for our future, as has been pointed out, if CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) gave as much thought to Pakistan’s agri sector as it does to energy and infrastructure.

The Corridor is already forcing us to erect the kind of infrastructure that is desperately needed in the 21st century, which is very welcome since we would never have done it on our own. It would be that much better if it leaned a little towards agriculture as well. But since that’s just not on the broad agenda, and we’ll have to work this out on our own, it can only be hoped that PBF’s concerns will reach the right offices at the right time and that they will finally also lead to the right kind of results.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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