Pakistan Muslim League (N) had promised in its 2013 Manifesto that they would revamp the agriculture research organisations to ensure that there is a sustained increase in productivity.
Forty percent of Pakistan’s land is arable, yet the country has an underdeveloped agricultural sector. Although agricultural growth is not a prerequisite for a promising economy, the raw materials needed to run factories, especially the textile industry, come from agriculture. Food security is another advantage of having a well-structured agricultural sector.
The agricultural sector of Pakistan constitutes the largest sector of the economy and contributes towards 21 percent of the GDP. This sector can become more productive if the country adopts high-tech agricultural practices.
Lately, the government has taken extraordinary measures to give a boost to the agriculture sector by providing a concession of Rs 15 billion in taxes and duties, by increasing agriculture credit from Rs 336 billion to Rs 600 billion and by providing a tariff reduction for agricultural tube wells. Despite all these incentives to promote agricultural development, an improvement cannot be achieved by offering subsidies and tax concessions alone. These reformatory steps will only become meaningful when combined with science and technology.
Climate change is one of the major factors that could impact the agricultural growth leading to food insecurity. Therefore, it is imperative to study climate change projections and the rapidly changing weather pattern through proper climate change research centres so that a mechanism is developed to protect the agricultural sector from excessive rainfall, melting glaciers, floods and sometimes spells of drought. Similarly, we are in dire need of an integrated pest management technique and a regular monitoring setup for the prevention of pests, diseases and parasites in crops and livestock in Pakistan.
Likewise, since Pakistan experiences floods and droughts alternatively, we should also focus on water resource management besides constructing both large and small dams. It is important for us to replicate common modern irrigation techniques to enhance agricultural productivity, by using sprinklers, drips, and a central pivot irrigation system.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has put Pakistan at the top among developing countries likely to suffer high risk for losses in agriculture and crops, in its 2015 report ‘The Impact of Disaster on Agriculture and Food Security.’ During the floods in 2010, the loss incurred by the agricultural sector stood at 50 percent of the $10 billion in total damage and losses. The sector dropped from 3.5 percent to 0.2 percent from 2009 to 2010 while the GDP fell from 2.8 percent to 1.6 percent in the same year.
The impact of such disasters affects different areas of life. It causes unemployment, a decline in wages and a reduction in the income of the farmers and farm labourers. It lowers the availability of food in local markets, leading to food inflation. The impact of these factors results in reduced household purchasing power, restricted access to food and a depletion in savings. All these ultimately affect the outlook and morale of the household, and the negative effects manifest themselves in the form of health issues, low literacy rates, unproductive youth, intolerant behaviour and rogue attitudes towards society. In the 2010 floods, 2.4 million workers were directly affected, of which two-third were employed in the agricultural sector, and over 70 percent of farmers lost more than half of their expected income.
The cotton crop has faced the worst climate effects over the years. According to official sources, the total sowing area of cotton in Punjab was 5,813,000 acres, out of which the flood of 2014 had damaged 211,677 acres. The situation became so bad that Pakistan had to import goods worth $4 billion last year.
Director General Pakistan Meteorology Department, Dr Ghulam Rasul, said that we might lose crops like sugarcane and rice in the future due to water scarcity and rising temperatures. “Sugarcane and rice need lots of water, and since our water management system is in jeopardy, I am afraid we might lose both these crops despite having ideal sand soil conditions for growth,” He said. He further added that Pakistan had become a water stressed country due to poor water management and a non-serious attitude towards water shortage.
In general, rising temperatures might shorten the growing season in Punjab.
As per the report by the International Monetary Fund, Pakistan is among the top 36 countries facing water scarcity. The situation could get worse by 2050, ranking Pakistan at 20th position. The per capita water availability in Pakistan has dropped from 5,600 cubic meters at independence to the current level of 1,017 cubic meters and is projected to decline.
Pakistan’s irrigation system was once one of the best irrigation systems in the world. Today it has become nearly outdated. The manual used to follow irrigation practices was written in 1943, and it contains insufficient information with no reference to flood management.
The government has established a number large of federal and provincial agricultural institutes for research over the years, but their output has failed to develop a new mechanism of cultivation or a new water management technique. The research, experts believe, has not been need-based, nor geared towards economic benefits.
Talking to Truth Tracker about the situation of research and the development of the agricultural sector, the Federal Minister for National Food Security, Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, said, “The country needs to invest more in this area.” Although he did not admit that the government has been unable to keep its promise of establishing a well-structured research and development system to boost the agriculture sector, Bosan, however, said that the application of new technologies was imperative to promote the farming sector.
Parliamentary Secretary for Finance, Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan, while in the Parliament on February 1st, 2017, said that the reason for the decline in agricultural production was due to reduced research and development. Khan belongs to PML-N.
The government had to face an embarrassing situation when their own MNAs in the National Assembly; Sheikh Fayyazuddin of Rahim Yar Khan and Kasur lawmakers Rana Mohammad Hayat Khan and Rasheed Ahmed Khan criticized the government’s lending policies for farmers. They said that the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) was charging them over 16pc markup, as opposed to the 5.75pc given to banks by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
Afzal Khan also blamed ZTBL for its problematic lending structure. He said that only 20 percent of agricultural loans were released by them. “Eighty percent of the agricultural credit,” he said, “still lay with commercial banks.”
Sheikh Fayyazuddin explained: “Your hostile agricultural policies are the only reason that our agricultural exports have fallen.” He further added, “You treat us not as rivals, but as sworn enemies.”
Asad Omer, Member of National Assembly and a PTI leader, while talking about the agriculture sector said: “The farmers of Pakistan have been caught between the decline in prices of their end product, increasing input costs and stagnant yields, and in the case of cotton, sharply reduced output. As a result, the agriculture economy of Pakistan has suffered badly, and the small farmer has borne the brunt of this deterioration.” He blamed the government for neglecting research and also for not paying attention to what the research institutes are producing.
University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan, said that the government still has a long way to go in developing the agriculture sector. He said that by promoting drill sowing and quality seeds, especially for wheat and cotton, we could enhance the growth rate up to 4 percent. Talking about the cultivation of maize and potatoes in Okara he said that it had lowered the soil fertility. To improve the situation, he stated that we needed to introduce the soybean as a third crop. He urged the government to establish a soybean centre for research and development purposes.
“We are losing the grains and fruits from 20 to 40 percent in the post-harvest losses for which we have to promote the modern post-harvest practices.” He further added, “Amidst the situation of climate change, we have to invest in some breeding to develop climate resilient varieties.”
From the above discussion, it could be clearly seen that the PML-N government has been unable to revamp agricultural research organizations in the country, thus failing to uphold their promise.