Mar 16 - 22, 2009

Despite a declining trend after 2004-05, Pakistan's agriculture sector still contributes 21 per cent to GDP besides employing 44 per cent of the workforce. The sector is performing as it should, under feudalistic form of governance. Almost stagnant performance in spite of huge potential raises serious questions especially in the fast growing population scenario. External accounts already burdened with the oil and manufacturing-side imports can hardly absorb food-side import bills. This must not happen in an agro-based economy.

Agriculture sector woes ensue from certain longstanding unresolved issues - land reforms being at the top of the list. We cannot prosper unless we recognize the importance of farm community that essentially comprises small landholders and tenants. This community should not be treated as a bunch of low income groups subsisting under the poverty line. Rather, it should be uplifted to the ranks of other respected sections of the society through result oriented reforms on social, educational and technology fronts.

1990-91 4.4 21.82 83.27 119.62 1,892.90 14,915.29
2002-03 4.3 21.85 172.07 134.48 3,020.00 58,915.27
2003-04 2.3 22.94 178.77 134.78 3,222.00 73,445.86
2004-05 6.7 22.78 213.75 135.68 3,694.04 108,732.91
2005-06 1.6 23.13 305.11 137.78 3,804.19 137,474.31
2006-07 3.7 23.51 293.54 137.80 3,672.00 168,830.45
2007-08 (provis) 1.5 23.51 231.67 138.10 2,839.00 138,596.72

Having failed to cope with the negative effects of globalization, our economy now struggles to keep away from the breaking point under the stress of global financial meltdown. We have little room to spend lavishly on imported food items. Essential oils being the only exemption, we have no reason to import agricultural produce that we have capacity to grow ourselves. Despite having sufficient arable land, water resources and workforce, the sector growth graph during the last three years presents a dismal view of our economic policies. The figures shown in the table suggest that we have not been able to increase the cropped area in line with the increase in the population. Water availability has also remained in the stagnancy mode during the last six years. The reasons for poor crops are excessive rains on one hand and inadequacy of irrigation water on the other. This paradoxical reasoning is unfortunate, to say the least. Nature has endowed us with sufficient water resources along with the gift of monsoon rains. A major portion of water resources goes to waste owing to the lack of storage capacity and inapt resource management. Our political community has been instrumental in preventing us from entering the era of agricultural revolution, by blocking the construction of dams.

Our agro soil, being nutrient deficient, needs good quality fertilizer support to give the required yield. Being backward on farm technology front, we can only hope for a reasonable yield per hectare which can be had through the use of a balanced combination of fertilizers. The input cost factor forces the farmers to over use nitrogenous fertilizers instead of a proper combination of nitrogenous, phosphatic and potassic fertilizers. The result is a low-quality, reduced-size crop. Proper fertilizing is the key area of our agriculture that needs to be taken care of through prudent and effective use of subsidy. The subsidy should be genuinely passed on to the genuine growers only. Normally, the benefit of fertilizer subsidy goes to the large size holders and fertilizer producers, and never results in real reduction of the input cost for the majority of small growers. Moreover, the government should not be apprehensive of the size of farm subsidy. Developed economies make lavish use of farm subsidy to support their farmers. We, as a developing economy, need to subsidize our farmers too, albeit in a just and equitable manner.

The world financial organizations have set the alarm bells on to sound warnings of an impending food crisis. They have decided to substantially increase the credit and grant allocations for the poor African, Latin American and Asian countries to enable them to improve their food situation. The alarming scenario has compelled the cash rich nations to develop food stockpiles exposing the poorer nations to a severe food shortage risk. The increasing demand from China and India triggered by the huge size of their population, keeps the world food markets going. The world food reserves are touching an alarmingly low mark. The theory that the next world war will be fought for water now seems to be outdated. The threat of war for food has assumed incredible proportions during the last two years. Who could have imagined that the economy of the modern world will be so drastically changed within a short period of time when the prices of food items will be raised by 150 per cent? The reasons given by the analysts are varied: population growth, limited arable land, dearth of irrigation water, reduced soil fertility, primitive farming methods, use of low quality seeds by the developing nations, alternate use of maize and beans for bio-fuel, changing climate, global warming etc. etc. The global financial meltdown has not spared even the big hedge funds that had created mayhem in the global energy and food markets. The international food prices now seem to have settled down a bit, yet the threat of global food crisis has not subsided.

A report on the global food situation maintains, "Modern agriculture will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world has to cope with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse. Continuing with current trends in production and distribution would exhaust our resources and put our children's future in jeopardy." While the report has conveniently ignored to mention the role of speculative forces, it has at least shown genuine concern for the issue the world is presently threatened with.

Pakistan is strategically positioned to take advantage of the situation through a policy shift that decrees a sustained focus on its agro economy. The agricultural base of this country holds great promise even in the current bleak scenario. What we need is a corporate approach towards our economic issues. We can fast change into a food exporting economy brushing aside the current status of a food-deficient economy. There is a long outstanding demand for land reforms. Given the mindset of the ruling elite, be it a democratic form of governance or a totalitarian setup, we can reasonably hope that the dream of any meaningful land reforms is not going to materialize. We can tackle the issue from a different angle by introducing corporate culture in this all important sector of economy. The feudal-private partnership concept under the umbrella of an effective legislation needs to be developed. The private partnership could be of domestic as well as of foreign origin. The corporate culture will increase the efficiency of the farm sector by restructuring it on modern lines. The opportunity has reached our doorstep as the Gulf countries particularly Saudi Arabia threatened with water scarcity have decided to go for overseas farm projects.