“Economic renaissance in Pakistan is totally dependent on agriculture growth,” and as such Pakistan urgently needs a sustainable agricultural policy to improve the balance of trade and put the economy back on the track.” said Chief Executive Officer, Harvest Tradings, Ahmad Jawad.
Talking to Business Recorder Ahmed Jawad said that lack of research, insufficient funds allocations and discouragement to domestic crop varieties were among few major impediments in the development of agriculture and several farmers were being forced to sell their yield at lower rates besides being exploited by the middlemen every year.
He said that crop production had remained stagnant for several years, while the population kept on increasing. “Small farmers are not benefiting from increased food prices, since the input costs increased tremendously,” he adde.
He suggested that national price monitoring committees should be strengthened at the district, provincial and national levels, while food banks should be set up at the provincial level and in food-insecure areas.
About 43 percent of Pakistan’s labour depends on agriculture and the yield gap in the four major crops of Pakistan was three times more than the best producers in the world such as China and Egypt, he said adding that low yield was affecting the financial position of this labour, leading to poverty in rural areas.
Jawad further estimated that approximately 25 percent of fruits and vegetables production was also lost due to the absence of required storages.
National policy on agriculture should aim at creating viable environment to promote growth in the sector. Policies and strategies should be formulated keeping in mind the productivity and market-driven growth, he urged.
He pointed out that structural changes in the economy had brought new issues and challenges in the agricultural sector. He highlighted several issues such as acute labour shortage, limited availability of suitable land and increasing cost of production arising from the energy crisis and competition for resources, as well as intense competition in the global market, resulting from trade liberalisation.
He said that per acre yield could be improved through large-scale introduction of hybrid seeds and mechanised farming, high efficiently irrigation systems such as drip irrigation and reduction in wastage of crop through introduction of privately-owned storage facilities.
“If you compare Pakistani Punjab and Indian Punjab the two big provinces on both sides you will see a big difference in the yields of wheat, paddy and sugarcane which are much higher in India. In the tale of two Punjab’s, the Indian state has clearly outdone its Pakistani counterpart on the farm front,” he added.
The level of mechanisation of agriculture was much higher on the Indian side. The number of tractors and diversity of brands seen operating in India’s Punjab quite outnumber Pakistan side. While combined harvesters are a rare sight in Pakistan, where wheat and paddy are cut manually, they are indigenously manufactured in India and their use is widespread.
He further said that Indian Punjab had greater access to fertilisers. “Cruising through the 370 km Islamabad-Lahore motorway, one could see several patches of light green wheat fields clearly showing that the crop is deficient in nitrogenous fertiliser. In contrast, wheat fields on the Indian side are a lush dark green carpet reflecting the better health of the crop,” he pointed out.
Similarly, on our side, one could see stretches of unproductive saline or “Kallar” land. All such wastelands on the Indian side have been reclaimed years ago with liberal doses of gypsum, which is in short supply in our country, he added
It is not that our Punjab province has nothing to offer. It has a rich network of canals and the Chenab and Jhelum rivers flowing out of Jammu and Kashmir carry plenty of water. There are also a lot of kinnow and mango orchards which are exported to different parts of the world and doing good business, he added. However, difference in the level of prosperity is also reflected in the size of houses in Indian villages which are much bigger and sport a concrete finish. On the Pakistan side, villages still have some mud houses and there are more houses with a mere brick finish which must be improved.
Jawad urged that its time to wake up, as both countries came into being with a difference of only one day. “If we own and care for our agriculture sector, one would see a drastic difference,” he adde.
He also suggested that agricultural loans limit may be increased up to Rs 400,000 per acre against the existing limit of a few thousand rupees and Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL), whose mandate is to serve agriculture sector, may implement the vision practically.