The country’s agricultural sector has three major roles in the national economy: provides food to consumers and fibre to the industry, earns foreign exchange, and provides a market for industrial goods/machinery. However, the share of agriculture in gross domestic product (GDP) has declined since independence, falling from 53 percent in 1949-50 to 19.8 percent in 2016-17. Pakistan has made significant progress in food production over the last several decades. However, food security is still a key challenge due to high population growth, rapid urbanization, low purchasing power, high price fluctuations, erratic food production, and inefficient food distribution systems. According to the Food Security Assessment Survey (FSA), 2016, 18% of the population in Pakistan is undernourished. Food insecurity in Pakistan is primarily attributable to the limited economic access of the poorest and most vulnerable to food. A key factor limiting access to food, particularly since 2007, is the increase in the prices of essential food items.
Pakistan is an agrarian country and, hence, agricultural development is a prerequisite for achieving food security. According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17, agriculture contributes 19.8% to Pakistan’s GDP, employs 42% of the labor force, constitutes 65% of export earnings, and provides livelihoods to 62% of the population of the country. The agriculture sector in Pakistan has been facing a number of major challenges over the last decade. As a result, the performance of this sector has been less than its potential in recent times, with low growth of around 3.3% over the last decade. Consequently, agricultural growth has not benefited the rural poor in Pakistan to the extent it was expected. Wheat, rice and sugarcane being major food crops were given more attention in previous policies. The other major factors underlying this underperformance include a slow rate of technological innovation; problems with the quality, quantity, and timeliness of input supply; inadequate extension services and technology transfer; limited investment in construction, road maintenance, and market infrastructure; marketing and trade restrictions; pest and livestock disease problems; feed & fodder shortages; limited amounts of credit for agricultural production and processing; and lack of agriculture-specific loan products.
The real constraints to transforming Pakistan’s agriculture are related to weak and fragmented markets with substantial government intervention (especially non-performing land markets), inefficient allocation and use of irrigation water, regulatory environment that discourages investment and reduces market efficiency, primitive rural non-farm economy and limited interface with the modern business practices, rapidly declining public investment with serious under-investment in research and technology development and almost non-existent extension and outreach.
Feeding an ever-growing population in the country means harnessing the food and agriculture system more effectively towards sustainable agriculture development imperatives. Agricultural development cannot be called sustainable unless it improves Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). Agriculture and agricultural systems of Pakistan are continuously evolving and adjusting to meet the increasing demand for food and changes in nutrition and diet habits. Pakistan’s agriculture has a potential to grow at the rate of 7%, provided that a comprehensive program for the development of all the sub-sectors is implemented.
Pakistan is a highly diversified country, having 12 agro-ecological zones, where more than 35 types of crop and livestock mixed farming systems are practiced. Policies of the successive governments to achieve self-sufficiency in food grains (wheat and rice) and sugar have been implemented successfully. As a result, surpluses in wheat, rice and sugar are produced in the country since the last six years. The high cost of production, the large international stock build-ups and reduced international prices make it almost impossible for Pakistani farmers to compete in the international markets. The FAO “Food Outlook” report further indicates that prices in the international markets will remain depressed during coming years. With the foregoing in view, Pakistan should take measures to introduce changes in its production systems. For instance, area under rice and sugarcane crops will have to be reduced for the cultivation of other high value crops, such as oilseed, pulses, soybean, horticulture crops and fodder.
Pakistan needs to build strong resilient agriculture sector to cope with the climate change risks. Climate change projections indicate that there will be greater variability in the weather with more frequent extreme events such as floods and droughts. Much of the impact of these changes will be on the agriculture sector, which needs mechanisms to cope and adapt. It is further projected that there will be immense pressure on limited surface as well as ground water resources. These challenges could be managed through adopting soil and water conservation technologies, enhanced use of high efficiency irrigation systems, developing drought resistant varieties, and introducing climate smart agriculture.