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Gap between food production and demand

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Pakistan will need to import wheat involving $5 to 6 billion annually if present scenario continues

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
Oct 18 - 24, 1999

The gap between food production and food demand is widening in Pakistan with every passing year and if immediate steps are not taken to check this trend, the country might face serious crisis. According to an estimate Pakistan would need $5 to 6 billion annually for import of 15 million tonnes of wheat to meet the need at home by the year 2020.

The Chairman Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, (PARC) Dr. Kauser Abdullah Malik, in an exclusive interview to PAGE said that his organization had repeatedly brought these harsh facts to the notice of the government with specific recommendations to avert this looming crisis to decrease this widening gap between food supply and food demand. He emphasized the need of investments in agriculture research, education, and irrigation and water resource management with appropriate price and trade policies that would give rise to substantial increase in productivity growth and production.

Agriculture contributes substantially to the economy in terms of food, employment and foreign exchange earnings and will continue to be a very important sector of the Pakistan economy in the foreseeable future. However, the food supply and demand projections based on the current low investment/low growth in agricultural research, forecast that large scale agricultural commodity imports would be required. By the year 2020, the net trade would be negative for all major cereal crops with the exception of rice and for all livestock and poultry commodities. Wheat imports alone are projected to be 15 million tonnes.

At present, however, Pakistan's agricultural research system is funded, organised and managed at a level where only maintenance research is mainly being achieved with little prospects for meaningful future increase in yields of crop or livestock production through research. Funding levels are now at around 0.2 per cent of Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (AGDP) which falls short of the 1.5 per cent recommended by the Pakistan National Commission on Agriculture (1988). The number of scientists per population is amongst the lowest in Asia. Management and control of research and research resources have not been able to shift the ratio of salaries to operating costs, currently at about 85:15 to the internationally accepted ratio of 60:40. The apprehension is that the agricultural research system very soon may not have sufficient funding or management ability to have an effective research programme to even undertake maintenance research. The present agricultural research agenda, therefore, cannot be expected to make substantial contribution to decrease the deficit between food supply and food demand. Scientists and research managers have indicated that an optimally funded Pakistan agricultural research system would require funding five to six times more than the current funding levels. A research system funded at this level would begin to approach the standards of international agriculture research systems and will bring the funding levels closer to the 1.5 per cent of AGDP recommended by the Pakistan National Commission on Agriculture. Agricultural research funded at this level could play an effective role is not only decreasing, but eliminating the projected food supply demand imbalance.

PARC works in close collaboration with the Provincial Research Institutes and the universities. The Provincial Secretaries of Agriculture, Livestock and Forestry Departments, Vice Chancellors of Agricultural Universities and farmers/end-users are represented on the PARC Board of Governors (BOG) which is responsible for the overall control, direction and supervision of the affairs of PARC. The board of governors is assisted by a research advisory committee which comprises of all the stakeholders namely scientists, extension workers, farmers and agri-business. The collaboration has been further institutionalized by PARC through the forum of eight Technical Committees. The Provincial Directors General/Directors of Research/Extension Departments, University professors as well as Progressive Farmers are represented on the Technical Committees. PARC in collaboration with world food organization and financial assistance of World Bank prepared a National Master Agriculture and Research Plan (NHARP) to meet the national objective of self reliance in food production. The plan was submitted to the government two years back and was approved in principle but its implementation has not started because of resource constraints.

The NMARP provides intermediate and long-term research and management plans for the next ten years that include: (i) national and provincial commodity research priorities; (ii) national and provincial research institutes commodity and cross-commodity priority research programmes and research thrusts; (iii) the means for planning, monitoring, and evaluating the agricultural research system through PPB, M&E and MIS (iv) human capital development through long and short term training programmes, and (v) human and capital investment and recurrent expenditure requirements for a period of five years and indicative for further five years.

To decrease the widening gap between food supply and food demand, Pakistan requires a high investment/high growth strategy for agriculture. No single element of this strategy can substantially increase productivity and agricultural production alone. However, the Pakistan agricultural research system is a key component of a high investment/high growth strategy. Agricultural research, as it has demonstrated in the past, is the major driving force for a continued increase in agricultural productivity growth and production on a sustained basis. The rate of return from agricultural research in Pakistan during 1970-1980 Green Revolution period was at par with rates of return elsewhere in the world. Marginal rates of return from research ranged between 50 and 100 per cent depending on the commodity. This rate of return on investment is higher than the average rate of return from private sector investments.

A future agenda awaits the reactivation of Pakistan agricultural research system. The Pakistan agriculture system must address its mandate by identifying its long-term strategy and then by identifying an immediate strategy as the first step towards achieving the long-term strategy.

However, the present national and international climate for funding agricultural research will not entertain increasing funding levels by five to six times. Nor is the Pakistan agricultural research system, at this point of time, in a position to accept these higher levels of funding without further institutional strengthening so that research resources are used effectively and efficiently. Achieving the goals of an optimally funded agricultural research system can be done only in stages and may take ten to fifteen years. The first step is to identify an immediate agenda that will allow the present research system to become fully effective and efficient using the resources at hand. Only then can the next step of implementing a growth strategy be entertained. PARC with the limited resources at its disposal has started work towards implementation on the immediate agenda under the NMARP.