The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan should focus and pay special attention to the untapped sectors of Balochistan economy bringing it into national mainstream. The province has all the potential to emerge as Pakistan’s new economic frontier. Unfortunately, it still remains the least developed and poorest among the four provinces.
Rich in energy resources, Balochistan produces more than 40 percent of the primary energy in the form of natural gas, coal and electricity. Geological surveys indicate estimated reserves of trillions cubic feet of gas and billions barrels of oil during offshore exploration. Any discovery of a huge oil reserve may change the country’s fortune. Oil exploration in the province is limited to Marri-Bugti area but other districts- Sunny Shoran, Kharan, Zarghoon area, Chaghi, Lasbela, Bolan, Makran and coastal regions have not been explored. Reports indicate reserves of oil and gas in Kalat, Kharan, Kohlu and Lasbela districts. For oil and gas exploration, more foreign and local oil and gas exploration companies need to be encouraged.
A large number of metallic and non-metallic minerals have been discovered in the province. Mineral deposits include copper, barite, fluorite, gypsum/anhydrite, limestone/dolomite, magnesite, chromite marble and sulphur. The estimated reserves of all coalfields are 196 million tonnes. Iron ore reserves are estimated at about 273 million tonnes. So for thirty sites of zinc-lead mineralizations have been located in the Lasbela/Khuzdar districts.
Commercial quantities of marble reserves exist at a number of localities in Lasbela, Khuzdar and Chaghi districts. Marble in Chaghi district is of onyx variety, which signifies a branded variety of quartz, highly prized as an ornamental stone. There is tremendous potential for copper mining. Huge deposits have been identified including the Saindak and Reko Diq deposits in Chaghi. District Chaghi has acquired fame internationally for having huge deposits of copper. An Australian mineral exploration company reportedly estimated that 78 million tonnes of copper deposits are present in Chaghi at a grade of 0.8 percent copper.
The Reko Diq copper deposit is four times larger in copper ore tonnage than Saindak. Geologists regard the Reko Diq project as one of the biggest untapped copper deposits in the world. Saindak project is based on ore reserves of 412 million tonnes containing on the average 0.45 percent iron per ton, 0.50 gram gold per ton and 1.50 gram silver per ton. It has been estimated that the project after coming to its full production capacity will yield an average of 15,810 tons of copper, 1.47 tons of gold and 2.76 tons of silver annually.
Though Balochistan lacks a sound industrial base, Sui gas field in Bugti tribal area (since its discovery in 1952) as an indigenous energy resource. It has been a source of energy for the country’s industry, power generation, agriculture, commerce and household needs. The province possesses enormous industrial potential in key sectors — agriculture, livestock, fisheries and minerals. These provide the base for setting up a large number of agro, livestock, fisheries and mineral-based industries. The major constraints in the industrial development have been the lack or the absence of infrastructure, scattered nature of population, vastness of area, dearth of skilled labor, social structure, tribal feuds and lack of marketing facilities. The industries are mainly concentrated in Hub, Winder, Gaddani and Quetta in Balochistan.
The Lasbela Industrial Development Authority (LIDA) was established in 1984 to provide facilities to the industrial zones in Hub, Winder, Gaddani and Uthal areas. Pakistan’s main ship-breaking yard is located at Gaddani. It is an important centre of economic activity providing indirect support countrywide to a number of industries like re-rolling mills, welding workshops and furniture shops, etc.
Agriculture is the mainstay of provincial economy, as over 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas. The crops contribute about 62 percent of gross farms income. This sector employs 67 percent of Balochistan’s total work force. Naseerabad, Jafarabad, Dera Murad Jamali and Usta Mohammed and many areas of central Balochistan are considered agricultural regions. Except Naseerabad district, there is no perennial system of irrigation. The area depends on rain, Karezat and tube-wells for irrigation. About 11.77 million acres of land is still lying arid, barren and uncultivated. Agricultural development is linked to the development of water resources. The federal government is spending Rs5 billion for the construction of pucca watercourses to help irrigated orchards of more than half a million acres.
The province produces many kinds of fruits. Its share in the country’s production of grapes, cherry and almonds is 90 per cent. It contributes 60 per cent of the output of peach, pomegranate, apricot; 34 percent of apple and 70 percent of dates. The apples are popular all over the world for their taste and quality and a good variety. About 0.3 million tonnes of best varieties of apple are produced annually. With date production of 130 varieties, the province can earn foreign exchange through exports. Makran provides about 4,25,000 tonnes of dates annually, but the province has no share in national export of dates. Investment opportunities exist in date processing and apple storage projects in Balochistan. Apricot and plum are high delta fruits, which are grown in upland Balochistan. Grape is a low delta crop and may be grown in all types of climates and soils. The most popular commercial varieties grown in the province include Sundrakhani, Haita and Kashmishi.
Livestock and sea food markets
Balochistan’s livestock contributes 20 per cent to provincial GDP. It is the primary source of living for about 80 percent of the population. The provincial share in the country’s total livestock population is stated to be about 40 percent. Leather, carpet and pharmaceutical industry are the main consumers of livestock products. The province caters to the needs and demands of leather and carpet industries in Pakistan by sustaining the supply of hide and skins and wool to these sectors.
The province has 770-KM long coastal belt along the Arabian Sea, which links Lasbela and Gwadar districts. The coastline is 70 percent of country’s total coastal belt. It has huge potential for development of fisheries, tourism and seaports. As the diversity of marine life indicates, the coastline is one of the most productive marine ecosystem of the world. According to an estimate, 60 species of fish and 10 of shrimps, including the best in the world, are found here. The province produces 200,000 tons of fish per year, of which 80,000 tons are caught by trawlers from Sindh.
The enormous fish and seafood potential is yet to be fully tapped. In real sense, fishing has been confined to merely on-shore waters due to lack of infrastructure facilities. In the absence of quality control, fresh and good quality fish are denied full access to national and international markets on a scale made possible by modernization of the fishing industry. The local fishermen have no processing plant for preservation of their catch. They still follow the obsolete methods of fishing. They are unaware of latest fishing technologies and still use old and smaller vessels. The expansion of fishing fleet, fish processing, fishing training centre, supply of marine engines, boat building and provision of landing jetties offer immense scope for investment. Shrimp farming is an important economic activity, which can develop unproductive salty coastal areas of the province. The land along coastal belt has enormous potential for development of shrimp farming and processing projects.