Pakistan’s agriculture sector is a mainstay of its economy and is critical to future improvements in economic growth, employment, food security and poverty reduction. Over the past decade, an unstable political and security environment has slowed investment and caused the loss of human life and human capital, while major natural disasters have resulted in displaced populations, damaged productive infrastructure, diverted budgets and cutbacks in services. These developments have negatively impacted Pakistan’s economy and the competitiveness of its agricultural sector, as translated by a marked slowdown in GDP growth and a decline in Pakistani exports. Yet Pakistan’s economy is now showing signs of moderate growth, and there is potential to capitalise on this progress over the coming years.
Consider the example of citrus fruits, especially kinnow, that are among the top fresh fruit exports from Pakistan with a major share in the Middle East, Russia and other Eastern European markets. Over the past few years, yields of exportable kinnow fruit from Pakistan dropped by over 30 percent, indicating a decrease in grade A fruit and increased competition in traditional markets. The conventional marketing system in Pakistan for citrus does not encourage farmers to use best agricultural practices. Consequently, farmers are less interested in adopting modern crop husbandry methods. However, Pakistan is still among the top 15 citrus-producing countries of the world, with 94 percent of the total kinnow production occurring in Mandi Bahauddin, Sargodha, Bhalwal, Kot Momin, Sillanwali, Shahpur, Sahiwal and Lalian.
Similarly, livestock plays a significant role in the lives of farming communities in Pakistan because it ensures food security and a source of income. The role of the livestock sector in the rural economy of Pakistan is critical, since approximately 35 million people living in rural areas raise an average number of two to three cattle/buffalo and three to four sheep/goat per household which represents a contribution of 35-40 percent to their incomes. In Pakistan, livestock made up 55.9 percent of the total agricultural output and contributed 11.8 percent to the national GDP during 2013-14. Despite these encouraging statistics, Pakistan is constrained from taking full advantage of this global trend due to a lack of consistent supply of quality and traceable meat products.
Despite the high growth statistics, the vegetable sector in Pakistan is still performing below its potential due to the large range of challenges that it continues to face during the production, post-harvest and marketing phases. This situation is further aggravated due to the lack of awareness of international market prices and standards.
Recently, a new US initiative was launched to boost the competitiveness of the commercial agricultural and livestock sectors through improving sales and building technical capacity in Pakistan. The programme, ‘US-Pakistan Partnership for Agricultural Market Development (AMD)’, consists of a series of grants, training sessions and technical improvements that will create new gateways in international markets for Pakistani meats, vegetables, mangoes, and citrus.
While the government of Pakistan remains strongly committed to the agricultural backbone of its economy, there is huge potential in this sector. A cost benefit analysis conducted by AMD confirms that upfront investment in technology, infrastructure, and operational costs are offset by incremental sales and profits.
Nearly forty percent of Pakistanis are employed in agriculture, and 21 percent of the country’s gross domestic product is generated through the agriculture sector. Therefore, profitability, innovation and sustainability can move the sector towards increased competitiveness.
During the launch event for the AMD programme, Federal Secretary National Food Security and Research Mr Seerat Asghar said, “US-Pakistan Partnership for Agricultural Market Development is the first step towards increase in export of agricultural products.” Investments such as these in partnership with the government of Pakistan can increase the linkages between Pakistani farmers and international markets.
The development of Pakistan’s commercial agriculture and livestock relies heavily on the sector’s ability to meet both international and domestic demand and requirements for transforming product lines into efficient, private sector-led value chains that deliver competitive products to domestic and export markets. In addition, there is need for developing the institutional capacity of catalytic actors within these chains.
Compliance with international food safety standards and acquiring certifications by engaging globally-recognised certification bodies is also an important step forward for key catalytic agents of the sector, so that growers gain access to lucrative international markets and utilise their export potential in an improved, efficient manner. With these improvements, increased technical capacity and technological innovations, Pakistan has the potential to become a fully food-secure, prosperous country that allows high quality food on the table for everyone.
The authors of this article are
- Mohsin Ali from Department of Food Engineering. a
- Syed Mudabbar Hussain Shah from Department of Food Engineering.
- Mirtab Ali from Department of Food Science & Technology. a
*a = University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.