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EDITORIAL: Of all the ideas being tossed around these days, from all quarters, to control deficits and rescue the economy, some of the smartest came out of the Agri Connections 2023 conference in Karachi recently; which ended with a set of policy recommendations aimed at turning Pakistan from a “victim of high global agri-commodity prices to a beneficiary” within a decade.

Former SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) governor and keynote speaker Syed Salim Raza hit the nail on the head when he stressed that development of the agriculture sector was the smartest way to claw out of the current economic crisis, and that its growth rate needed to be enhanced from 2.5 percent to 6 percent.

If the government can enforce necessary reforms and develop the sector on modern lines, “the food trade deficit will be eliminated in three years and a production surplus can be achieved in another three years,” he argued.

This makes a lot of sense. Our natural comparative advantage always lay in agriculture, after all, and it was only because no administration took the trouble of keeping up with the times and modernising it that we dropped from being a net food exporter to a desperate importer.

Even now, as we continue to lose production area and crop yield, there is no serious, binding programme to stop this trend.

Let’s not forget that the agri sector not only employs the largest number of people and has the most households attached to it, and provides the nation with its food, but also feeds the vital export sector.

And while why nothing has been done to expand and add value to the export basket is a question for another time, there’s no denying that poor agri performance drags down production and exports as well.

That explains why one of the points discussed at the conference was the need for standardisation, the starting point in identifying supply chain stakeholders as well as training programmes for farmers.

It was also pointed out, for very good reason, that mechanisation will be important in areas where labour is in excess and also where it is not, stressing that employing modern technology will not cut jobs but create new ones.

Right now, because of lack of automation and mechanisation, it was pointed out by the secretary of the board of investment, “we lose 12-13 percent of wheat yields”, and that it makes for “about $200 million in value and we (also) lose about $500 million in post-harvest losses”.

Then there’s the matter of inadequate infrastructure. There are very few laboratories and hence poor-quality seeds, which knock local farmers out of the competitive international market even before the seasonal cycle starts.

Surely, all this is no longer acceptable. It’s bad enough that we’ve allowed such a precious natural advantage to go waste just because of the limited vision and corrupt practices of successive governments. But it’s much worse to refuse to wake up to reality even now; when the economy has all but collapsed and there is very little elbow room left.

The country clearly needs to go right back to basics and reinvigorate the one sector it has been naturally blessed with.

The first step should no doubt be dragging it into the 21st century and giving it a thorough, countrywide technological makeover. Only then can other pieces of the puzzle be put into their right places one by one.

This is going to be a long process, which will begin to show results after a few years. But that only increases the urgency of starting reforms immediately. The economy is truly in a fight for survival; and in such times, time is one luxury you do not have.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Comments

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Kaashif Mar 24, 2023 09:32am
To achieve this you will have to deal with those, especially in our southern provinces with influence in politics and with vested interests in keeping the status quo, those land owners who want to continue relying on early 20th century labour intensive practices rather than do any R&D or investment themselves, because that requires not sitting like lords over people simply collecting rents.
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Muhammad Ali Mar 24, 2023 09:57am
IT sector exports is the only viable option that has the potential to save future. Pakistan has trained workforce, expertise & a huge pool of human capital. This sector needs a regulatory push & special tax incentives to take off. Sadly this Govt has no time for betterment of Pakistan.
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Tulukan Mairandi Mar 24, 2023 10:05am
Speaking of agriculture, there is a shortage of organic fertilizer. Human manure that's imported from India (via UAE) is mixed with meat, which is comsumed and relished by Pakistanis, instead of being used as fertilizer.
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Mohammad Ayub Mar 24, 2023 10:34am
Beyond doubt, the agricultural development must be the first priority in Pakistan. For, it not only would enhance the food requirements for Pakistan but also enable it to export to the nearby gulf states thereby maximizing foreign exchange.
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KU Mar 24, 2023 01:09pm
The pathetic condition of agriculture is of such a nature that if a professional businessman was to review an agriculture business plan of 10 hectares, he would term it as unfeasible. Farmers of the irrigated areas have reduced their cultivation due to the high cost of electricity and diesel. They need slow-release fertilizers (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and micronutrients) to ensure good crop and grain yields, and these are not available. The same is true for good seed varieties of various crops, farmers have no access to high-yielding varieties of any of the crops grown in summers or winters. But the worst rip-off is the price given to farmers by the middleman and the government, farmers who grow wheat and rice suffer the same fate. So let's not fool ourselves with utopian plans and wish full thinking. The lot at the helm of policy on agriculture are not qualified or interested in improving agriculture. We are headed towards a very unpleasant future and food insecurity.
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bonce richard Mar 24, 2023 05:57pm
@Muhammad Ali, What do you think this govt will like our country to develop in every field where Punjabi Mafia and criminal army dominate the country? Our corrupted and Chor army making fools of all nations in the name of Islam and Kashmir, in this way they are sucking our blood.
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bonce richard Mar 24, 2023 06:03pm
@Mohammad Ayub, No doubt our country is an agricultural country where we have a lot of water fertile land, and a lot of natural resources, but Wadahra and Punjabi Mafia do not like that the country becomes self-sufficient in their requirement of food. Keep in your mind that the army is involved in business no way that our country stands by her own leg. The duty of the army is to see the security of the country.
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Abdullah Mar 25, 2023 07:31am
This wont be possible.Half of punjab is concrete jungle.Soon the nation wont have anything to eat as in villages also people are selling plots to make houses.Hence as pinjab eats concrete so will the whole country till balochistan is given importance and water.
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Abdullah Mar 25, 2023 07:31am
@Muhammad Ali, our it workforce is useless.less accept.except making useless webistes they cant do anything.
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Yousaf Hyat Mar 25, 2023 02:50pm
Seeds , tractors, tube wells, basic education of labor, pesticide open import , fertilizer and farm to market roads can all be done with price tag of 4 F- 16 aircraft. The choice is yours.
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Yousaf Hyat Mar 25, 2023 02:52pm
@Tulukan Mairandi, I thought you were an intelligent man. Unfortunately you are half man half monkey…
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Az_Iz Mar 25, 2023 10:21pm
@Yousaf Hyat , what a counter punch.
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