Shah Faisal Afridi - Pakistan has a rich and vast natural agriculture resource base, covering various ecological and climatic zones. Pakistan is an agro based economy that has direct and indirect role in generating economic growth. The country has great potential for producing all types of food commodities. The importance of agriculture to the economy is seen in three ways: first, it provides food to consumers and fibres for domestic industry; second, it is a source of scarce foreign exchange earnings; and third, it provides a market for industrial goods.
During the last 50 years this sector is realised as a major productive sector of Pakistani economy. At present, Agricultural sector contributes 20.9pc to GDP, employs 45pc of total labour force with export contribution mainly Food group 8.62pc. Pakistan depends on one of the world's largest irrigation systems to support its agriculture production. Punjab is one of the main provinces contributing to these exports. Pakistan is one of the world's largest producers of raw cotton. The main agricultural products are cotton, wheat, rice, sugarcane, fruits, and vegetables, in addition to milk, beef, mutton, and eggs.
In Pakistan, out of the total land area of 80 million hectares, barely 21 million hectares is cultivable in which merely 2-3pc of that land is used for agriculture and cultivation, whereas the rest stands wasted. The cultivable waste lands offer good possibilities of crop production amounting to 8.9 million hectares. The development in this sector will have a major effect on rural development. It can help to reduce poverty, supply of food will also increase, there will be availability of more opportunities for surplus labour, extension of market size (import and export), and it will be opening new vistas for foreign investment government revenue will be generated. This all will lead to the improvement in living standards of individuals.
Despite huge potential and sufficient resources, agriculture sector of Pakistan is still lacking and there are many reasons for it. The main problems include; lack of modern facilities, conventional cultivation methods, untrained farmers, low quality fertilisers, need of crop rotation, water logging and salinity, erosion and importantly massive industrialisation near agricultural lands. The quality of yields is improving slowly due to the problems related to climate and soil. The food production is still largely a backward sector where skills, research and technology are completely missing.
The factors that are generating further complications in agriculture development are lack of proper agricultural training and knowledge amongst local farmers that has rendered crop rotation in Pakistan. Every year 40,000 hectares of flooded area is lost to water logging and saltiness. On top of that, lack of suitable and imported manure in Pakistan and excessive use of substandard local manure makes soil prone to erosion. Lastly, excessive industrialisation in Punjab, especially an urban metropolis like Lahore is a pervading menace. This has not only given rise to uncontrollable pollution, but also illegal dumping of toxic wastes in agricultural land is heavily deteriorating soil.
These glitches can be dealt if we take an integrated approach to managing soil and crops that could resultantly help meet the demand of rapidly rising population while reducing greenhouse gases that drive climate change. Farm mechanisation is the foremost need to resolve the problems of agriculture sector. Sowing, cultivation and harvesting of crops through agricultural machines increase the productive quality and quantity. Agricultural research is compulsory to remove the backwardness of agriculture sector. Major agricultural colleges and universities are only about 16 in Pakistan. Government should increase the research work in the field of agriculture. Government should give tax concession on imports of agricultural technologies to enhance the process of farm mechanisation.
There is a need to promote cooperative farming for the growth of agriculture and economic progress besides evolving a comprehensive policy for bright future of agriculture. Cooperative farming could increase agriculture productivity and national income while practical steps were required to promote research in agriculture sector. There is a need of comprehensive policy for the agriculture sector, besides giving price support and subsidies.
The importance of agriculture sector in Pakistan’s economy is crucial but there is a need to correct its direction. Medium and long-term policies for agriculture are needed with special incentives to agriculture scientists. Marketing of agriculture produce is also the need of the hour which was ignored previously. Agriculture policy should be made in accordance with the ground realities to achieve better results. The world has become global shelf and needs to work in those lines to promote local agriculture produce globally.
For more improvisation, Chinese assistance could be attained. Advanced Nutrient Management System should be introduced as it is used in China. China has achieved a remarkable success in increasing its crop yield with different techniques modelled as “Eco-Farming”. China with only 10 percent of arable land, producing food for 20 percent of the world’s population and is first in worldwide farm output. Ecological Farming is the ultimate solution to all agriculture and health problems. It ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow, by protecting soil, water and climate, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs.
A recent analysis showed that globally, ecological farming can produce, on average, about 30 percent more food per hectare than conventional agriculture. Pakistan’s per hectare rice yield is 3.1 ton whereas China is the largest producer of rice with per hectare yield of 6.5 ton, similarly Pakistan produces pulses per year with per hectare yield of 0.6 ton and China produces 1.2 ton per hectare which is twice that of Pakistan. Pakistan’s sugarcane production is 52.4 ton per hectare whereas China obtains a yield of 65.7 ton per hectare.
The balance of trade in agricultural products was in favour of Pakistan as in 2015 China imported agri-products, of which rice constituted 85pc, worth $430 million from Pakistan and exported fruits and vegetables valuing $320 million. Pakistan, the second largest exporter of rice to China, has every opportunity to grab a sizable share in the halal food market as well as meet the demand for fruits, primarily mangoes, through better competitiveness in terms of quality and price.
Apart from the million ton production and growing export there is still room of development in Pakistan’s agriculture. China is the best friend of Pakistan and it can help Pakistan to grow to its full potential by not only working for economic development but also sharing wisdom of its agricultural revolution and organic farming technology. Satellite technology for monitoring crops can be installed, Up-gradation and Establishment of Animal Quarantine Stations, improved trade and competitiveness systems can be established with mutual ventures, and even Pak-China Cooperation for Agriculture Research and Development and can be made to improve the standards and quality of the yield production.
Use of modern techniques, provision of credit facilities, basic infrastructure and agriculture research facilities are needed to remove all the problems of agriculture sector. This is so heartbreaking that Pakistan is far behind to achieve agriculture produce targets despite the fact that nature had bestowed it with all resources. There is a need to adopt 21st century standards for the development of agriculture sector. Pakistan’s agriculture sector is not actually facing production issues but lacking behind in agriculture management policy.
The writer is a founder president of Pak China Joint Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Haier Ruba Pakistan.
Shah Faisal Afridi