With the second phase of the Chinese venture presenting opportunities to collaborate in the social sector, substantial emphasis needs to be laid on the development of the country’s agriculture sector, which offers huge prospects of growth and trade.
The message emerged from a policy dialogue on ‘National Agriculture and Food Security in Pakistan,’ held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) here in collaboration with the Pakistan Agriculture Scientists Forum (PAS Forum). The session was addressed by Dr. Muhammad Azeem Khan, chairman, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC); Professor Dr. Anwar-ul-Hasan Gilani, Vice-Chancellor, University of Haripur and ex-chairman, Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST); Professor Dr. Amanullah Malik, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad; Khalid Rahman, Executive President IPS; and Dr. Abdul Wakeel, President PAS Forum.
Presenting an overview of Pakistan’s agriculture sector, Dr. Azeem Khan emphasized the need to enhance the productivity of various potential sub-sectors of agriculture, not only to address the country’s food security concerns but also to alleviate it for international trade.
Khan said that Pakistan was a food-exporting country till 2013 but became a food-importing country after that. However, he noted that the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor offers a good opportunity to help the agriculture sector to recover, but the onus largely lies with the nation to set targets and strategies carefully to reap benefit from the forthcoming opportunities.
The PARC chairman had a plan for alleviating the agriculture sector via a business-oriented model. According to him, it could only be done through value addition, i.e., converting raw materials into standard commercial products and brands.
He highlighted that combination of different commodities and products being produced alongside the CPEC routes boast significant prospects in this regard. There is also a massive potential for the production and export of fodder, edible oils, and palm oil, where- as pulses and oilseeds are some other lucrative areas to invest in.
The speaker, however, pointed out that the post-harvest losses still remain a concern in the country before adding that the solution lies in careful measures taken in the areas of production, diversification, post-harvest handling, processing, certification, and value addition – all aimed at converting the harvest into high-value products while enabling them to maintain apex standards for international trade. Azeem Khan also spoke fervently about the prevalent state of malnutrition in Pakistan and termed it unprecedentedly high.
On the other hand, Dr. Malik spoke about potentials and opportunities for Pakistan’s agricultural sector in relevance to CPEC mega projects. He mentioned several agriculture items in which Pakistan could enjoy a competitive advantage over the rest of the world, especially when it comes to China.
The professor said China is the world’s biggest farm products importer, with its imports making up to 10 % of the global farm products trade. The country is a net importer of bulk agriculture products, and there has been rapid growth in its imports from Belt and Road countries off-late. Pakistan can also target some of its exports to China, such as soybean, barley, corn, wheat, and cereals. Rice is the country’s major export to China, but there is a lot more potential to it as well. In terms of fruit, cherries, grapes, mangoes, guavas, and oranges are some of the products that can be exported. However, he also said that about 70% of China’s agriculture imports come from the USA, Brazil, South East Asia, European Union, and Australia. Thus, it will be very challenging, yet necessary, to raise our quality standards to compete with these countries.
Pakistan was sorely lacking in utilizing technology for its agricultural requirements compared to other countries, Dr. Gilani lamented while pressing for the need to use modern technological systems and methods that could cope with present-day challenges like global warming and climate change.
He stressed the need to focus and invest in local capacity building initiatives and improve access to international markets. The expert called for immediate measures such as making crops nutritive and resilient to climate change, rescuing of more farmland, empowering of small landholders, de-urbanization, preservation of water, recycling of crop/livestock waste, and saving of food through public awareness drives if Pakistan is to answer its rising food security threats.