ISLAMABAD 8th July: Agriculture serves as the backbone of Pakistan’s economy as it contributes 19.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), provides employment to 42.3% of the labour force and provide raw material for several value-added industrial goods.
Therefore, agriculture plays a major role in strengthening the national economy, ensuring food security and poverty reduction. Increase in population and rapid urbanisation have further pushed up the demand for high-value perishable and packed products such as fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, dairy, meat and other processed food items.
Major crops like wheat, rice, sugarcane, maize and cotton account for 23.85% of value addition in the overall agriculture and 4.66% of GDP. Other crops (also called minor crops) account for 11.03% of value addition and 2.15% of GDP.
Livestock contributes 58.33% to agricultural value addition and 11.39% to GDP. Forestry contributes 2.33% to agricultural value addition and 0.46% to GDP. Fishing contributes 2.12% to agricultural value addition and 0.41% to GDP. Pakistan is self-sufficient in primary food security needs but still it imports agricultural commodities as well as processed foodstuff. Oilseeds, mostly soybean, are at the top of the import list, which are primarily imported for oil extraction but the meal is also used for poultry feed.
Previously, Pakistan tried to produce its own oilseeds such as mustard, canola, sunflower and even soybean but lack of interest and support from the quarters concerned, and an unfavourable market mechanism never attracted growers’ interest.
Consequently, Pakistan is spending not only a huge amount of foreign exchange but local production is also discouraged.
In addition to oil extraction, Pakistan is also increasing reliance on imported oilseed meal for poultry and livestock, thereby discouraging the use of locally produced oilseeds like cottonseed, mustard and canola seeds as a cheap alternative.
Major imports of other foodstuff can easily be curtailed through coordinated efforts by national and provincial government agencies and devising smart policies besides involving the business community.
The promotion of domestic agriculture will require smart policies which favour farmers, traders and satisfy the needs of citizens by providing essential food items at affordable prices. This is a major challenge now as agriculture has been devolved to provinces, therefore, the federal government and all the four provinces as well as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) must be on the same page.
Provinces are empowered to make their own policies for the promotion of agriculture as per their socio-economic and ecological conditions. Exports, imports and national food security research are handled by the federal government, making it very difficult for the central and provincial governments to frame harmonised policies. Post-devolution institutional re-organisation has mostly left behind a very weak institutional structure at the federal level whereas at the provincial level the capacity is low which is insufficient to cater for increased professional and technical demand.
The Department of Plant Protection (DPP), an attached department of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, is responsible for managing the export and import of all agricultural commodities. This is the most important organisation for monitoring and controlling the import and export by applying international Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) regulations, which have already been ratified by Pakistan under the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
Rice is a major export commodity of Pakistan, besides cotton, citrus, mango, dates, vegetables, potato and other raw and processed foodstuff. Rice export has been stagnant not because Pakistan’s paddy production has decreased but because the country has failed to gear up and increase its technical capacity in line with the SPS requirements.
Rice export could be enhanced immediately but the DPP is facing a host of institutional capacity issues, which can be managed through aggressive capacity development.
The DPP is working with the lowest professional strength and is struggling to hire permanent quarantine professionals through a lengthy recruitment process. Similarly, other issues like legal reforms, state-of-the-art laboratory tools and techniques, and information and communication technologies (ICT) including online registration for import and export are badly affecting the performance of this important organisation responsible for enhancing Pakistan’s exports.