Nov 30 - Dec 06, 2009

Pakistan's agricultural sector has immense growth potential but fact of the matter is that this sector is facing manifold challenges including water scarcity, lack of adequate storage space, absence of a foolproof crop assessment mechanism, lack of research and comprehensive marketing system.

Another problem confronted to agriculture sector is mushroom growth of non-registered seed companies, which are selling adulterated and substandard seed to the farmers. The agriculture sector can become engine of economic growth provided the government promotes it as an industry.

Collaborative efforts of agricultural research, education and corporate sector institutions are direly needed for the growth of this vital sector, which can help alleviate poverty from the country through exploiting available resources of agriculture and its allied sectors.

Agriculture sector contributes only 0.2 percent of taxes in GDP against its share of more than 1/5th of the GDP. Agriculture sector continues to be the single largest and dominant driving force for growth as well as the main source of livelihood for 66-percent of Pakistan's population.

Agriculturists believe strongly that there is a need of more investment in agriculture sector particularly extending financing facilities to the farming community in line with the industrial sector. They say Pakistan's agriculture produces are among the best in the world but the country has failed to exploit the traditional strength in agriculture, horticulture, livestock, and food processing due to lack of technology. They told Page that another major problem being faced by farmers is non-payment of support price of different crops including rice, sugarcane, and wheat to them.

There is a huge business potential in livestock, horticulture, and food processing sectors. The current outputs are inadequate to meet the growing global demand for milk and other dairy products. In this regard, foreign equipment and technology can help exploit Pakistan's full potential dairy farming and livestock, they added.

According to experts, livestock is the largest amongst the various sub-sectors of the agriculture sector and milk claims the largest portion of it, accounting for 51 percent of the livestock sector. There is a consensus among the stakeholders and experts that Pakistan's dairy sector has immense potential for growth, they said. In the past, however, the same has not been realised due to various gaps such as absence of a shared vision and strategy for the development and the requisite initiative to drive it. They called for making effective collaboration among the stakeholders, including support institutions and government agencies for promotion of the livestock sector. It is encouraging that the government is now endeavouring to realise the real potential of the dairy sector and a multi-pronged strategy has been evolved for the sector's uplift.

Pakistan is the third largest producer of milk in the world with a total production of 32 billion litres of milk a year. This makes its value even higher than the combined value for wheat and cotton. To boost this vital sector, a number of initiatives are underway, including milk collection and chilling projects, Joint Milk Collection Pilot Projects, research and capacity building projects, etc.

"We need to work on safety standards, dairy sector research work and strategy development by evaluating the significance of the sector in terms of contribution to GDP, employment and importance to make it serve as a vehicle to alleviate poverty especially among the rural population," they stressed.

They also emphasized that dairy farming could be very profitable if full attention was paid to important factors such as employment of skilled farm management, high quality feed and breeding cows with high production capabilities.

Federal Minister for Livestock and Dairy Development, Mir Humayun Aziz Kurd said that a mega project worth Rs 3.5 billion aimed at poverty alleviation in rural areas of the country had been launched for increasing milk production and facilitating the people associated with the dairy farming. Under the project, the government would construct 400 community model farms in all the four provinces of the country with majority in Punjab.

According to Mir Humayun Aziz Kurd, the government has already released Rs 400 million for this project under which, the government would set up a model farm in selected villages where it could find 100-150 milk giving animals. This model farm would be equipped with a chiller tank, transportation facilities for milk and animals be given special feed to increase the milk production besides assisting in marketing. The government would also acquire the cooperation of the provincial governments including of the Punjab government to utilize their infrastructure including hospitals to make this scheme a success.

The Minister said that the government had also launched a 'Halal Food Certification' project worth Rs 1.5 billion as it would help boost the meat from the country and earn the country precious foreign exchange. World over trend of using Halal meat is increasing and people look towards Pakistan for this purpose as it is a Muslim country and they are sure to get 100 percent Halal products from here. He said that the government had launched Rs 10 billion projects. A project is also aimed at increasing the production of camels. 'A project of the Punjab government is already underway in this regard and the federal government would help the province in research on Camels,' he said and added that this project would cost Rs 1.5 billion.

About fisheries sector, he said that it was very important sector and the government was paying attention both on increasing production in this sector through promoting aquaculture in coastal areas and through farming in private and public sector. He said that a fund was also allocated to make use of underground water for agriculture. 'This water could be utilized for fisheries production and help alleviating poverty from these areas,' he claimed.

According to the Punjab Secretary Livestock and Dairy Development, Muhammad Jehanzeb Khan, the people are selling 'milk' in raw form and the government wants to educate them of how they can enhance value of milk through value addition. The federal government has resources and the provincial government has offered its infrastructure to improve the living standard of livestock farmers.

He said that Punjab government is setting up 20 sheds in Cholistan area and 10 have already been completed while works on another 10 are underway. "Now livestock farmers are getting Rs30 per litre instead of Rs18 per litre previously because of these sheds as companies save transportation costs by procuring milk from them on sheds and avoid collection from scattered places."