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