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In what could only be called the climax moment of a movie that was dragging on, Pakistani authorities managed to clinch a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), announced literally hours ahead of the expiration of the previous programme.

The development allowed the country to avoid a potential sovereign default, a major breakthrough for the incumbent government and the country at large.

Following the announcement by the Washington-based lender, inflows from bilateral partners including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, including multilateral financial institutions such as World Bank, Asian Development poured in.

After Saudi Arabia and UAE deposits, Pakistan expects another $2.6bn in financing: report

Economic pundits, government officials and the common man alike celebrated the resumption of the IMF facility.

However, if we just filter out the noise, it must be noted that the IMF’s nine-month Stand-By Agreement (SBA) – stipulating that $3 billion would be disbursed in three tranches – provides nothing more than mere breathing room for the country.

This gives an opportunity for the authorities and policymakers to bring in much-needed economic reforms, which ensure sustainable long-term growth, and end the cyclical boom and bust cycle.

One of the key concerns for Pakistan is to generate ample foreign exchange reserves and also control the outflow of foreign currency by curbing imports.

As per official data, Pakistan’s import bill, mostly consisting of energy and agri products, stood at $60 billion in fiscal year 2022-23, down from $84.49 billion recorded in the previous year, a decline of nearly 29%.

However, the decline was due to regulatory steps taken by the central bank aimed to reduce the pressure on external accounts, which will not be the case anymore as Pakistan, being under an IMF programme, will be unable to tinkle with trade controls.

SBP warns of higher risks to food security

On the other hand, despite being an agri-based economy, the agricultural sector, which contributes approximately 23 percent to the country’s GDP, remains infested with issues such as below-par productivity, and a decline in cultivatable area. As a result, Pakistan is compelled to import agricultural products amounting to billions of US dollar.

More so, the cash-starved country remains a massive energy importer, and as per import figures provided by the State Bank of Pakistan, the country purchased fuels worth $17.6 billion in the first eleven months of the last fiscal year, making up over 36 percent of the total imports recorded in the said period.

Thus, the only way ahead is to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on imports and ensure food and energy self-sufficiency, and one means or method to achieve this is through agrivoltaics.

Agrivoltaics, as the name suggests, is a modern approach under which land primarily used for agricultural practices such as crop production is combined with solar energy production.

In agrivoltaics, solar panels are installed above or alongside agricultural crops or livestock, allowing both agriculture and energy production to co-exist and benefit from each other synergistically.

The concept of agrivoltaics originated as a way to address the competition for land between traditional agriculture and solar energy production, and is especially suited to countries like Pakistan, that have high solar energy potential due to its geographical location and abundant sunlight.

Agriculture sector facing threats due to climate change, says expert

One of the key advantages of agrivoltaics is that it optimises land usage by allowing farmers to generate renewable energy without sacrificing valuable agricultural land, which is crucial for densely populated areas like Pakistan where land availability is limited.

Secondly, various studies show that installing solar panels above crops is actually beneficial for the plants, as solar panels provide partial shade for the crops below, reducing the impact of extreme weather conditions like direct sunlight, heat waves, or heavy rain.

This shading can help control temperature and evaporation rates, which results in improved water retention thus significantly reducing irrigation needs. Certain crops can actually grow better in partially shady conditions i.e. leafy greens, herbs, and some fruits.

Furthermore, the power generated by solar panels can be used on-site to power farm operations or can be fed back into the grid, contributing to the overall renewable energy supply.

Lastly, the increased usage of solar power, a key renewable energy source, can help Pakistan reduce its carbon footprint and meet its climate mitigation goals.

Experts for launching corporate, cooperative farming simultaneously

Pakistan’s growing population and industrialisation have led to an increased demand for electricity, making renewable energy sources such as solar power even more attractive.

The government too, on several occasions, has admitted the importance of renewables as a cheap source of energy essential to achieve industrial competitiveness. It has also stressed initiating an agricultural revolution.

Several agrivoltaic projects are being operated across the world including neighbouring China, and India.

The government should prioritise the development of solar energy and its integration into the energy mix through continued investments, infrastructure development, and policy support to unlock the full potential of this renewable resource, allowing Pakistan to achieve its goal of food and energy security.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Author Image

Ali Ahmed

The writer is a Senior Sub Editor at Business Recorder (Digital)

Comments

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KU Jul 29, 2023 05:08pm
Just a reminder, all forms of agriculture production in Pakistan are spread over approx. 26 million hectares. Most of what we produce comes from small and medium land-holding farms. The idea of Agrivoltaics is novel but has some limitations as well, crops require ultraviolet (UV) rays for a minimum of 5 hours every day, which is why not all crops can use this shade. UV has many benefits on crops and helps the growth of plants, increases leaf thickness, with added benefits of controlling fungus pathogens. A very simple solution to unleash agri-revolution is to control the cost of production and allow the duty-free import of new seeds, fertilizers, and machinery. Solar energy usage is now the only way to save agriculture, which is why solar equipment needs to be manufactured locally to keep the price affordable. If we ignore the farmers and foolishly believe corporate farming is the solution, then we are doomed.
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test Jul 29, 2023 08:03pm
From the past 1-2 decades i have heard the same bullshit over and over again. I don't trust the elite class with anything. They are western puppets with a very long proven history. If anyone wants to debate with me on that be sure to come prepared.
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Jamal Nasir Jul 30, 2023 12:08pm
Govt must emphasize and encourage the production of agro industry related tools and equipment to be manufactured locally. Or at least relive the import duty on agro based tools, fixtures and solar panels and other related equipment. IF you have the will to help build a nation, and curb your lust for imposing duties on each and every item, which could be beneficial for sustaining our economy.
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Ahmed Jul 30, 2023 05:27pm
Writer unfortunately reviewed one video on YouTube and decided to write without having much knowledge. Even his words are exact copy of the online videos. There is absolutely no need for this The only proven system that does not have collateral damage ( as a user of 19 KW Tesla solar panels ) is the individual roof paneling system with grid connections. The only quickest way to come out of energy crisis and massively reduce oil imports Dr AF Aslam
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Maroof Shah Jul 31, 2023 03:26am
It all sounds good theoritically. But experience has shown that this country cannot implement such programs due to lack of expertise ang good governance. If the governments ( federal & provincial ) simply encouraged schemes which benefit the elites then there is a chance that there may be a tops down benefit for the country as a whole .Maroof Shah Calgary, Canada.
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Sainjee Jul 31, 2023 10:43am
The lands are controlled by the Waderas and the generals...they do not want to invest in the lands...just extort maximum money from lands with out investing in it or paying taxes for it...and that is a sad reality...Pakistan...an agricultural country and yet it imports bulk of it food to feed the population and fill pockets of commission mafia.
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Tariq Qurashi Jul 31, 2023 12:35pm
Dual use of land for crops and solar generation is a very good idea. In some countries they have also put solar panels over irrigation canals. In Pakistan we have 28,000 KM of canals, so there is a huge opportunity to use this space as well.
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Muhammad Jul 31, 2023 02:22pm
The concept is already well implemented in world. But to implement first requirement is the country has to be manufacturing facilitation within its boundaries. Secondly the PV panels should be provided on discount rates in other words make it doable for farmers financially. Sustainability is linked with indigenous. No Government has worked on it with serious intentions to date
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