ECO CONFERENCE ON AGRICULTURE
Achieving a sustainable agricultural development
From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI
Aug 05 - 11, 2002
The Islamabad declaration issued at the end of first ever 3 day conference of Agriculture Ministers of Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) has marked the beginning of long needed effort toward adding yet another dimension to regional development in our part of the world. The ECO has in fact awakened to the urgency of developing its tremendous agriculture potential.
Viewed in the perspective of the observations of Pakistan Agriculture Minister Khair Mohammad Junejo in his inaugural address and the exhortations of President Pervez Musharraf on the occasion of formal inauguration, the overall approach of the conference certainly pointed to the common urge of the member States to rise to the challenges of WTO regime, which has been viewed as adding to the predicament of agriculturally underdeveloped countries comprising the regional alliance.
The Islamabad Declaration issued on Thursday last week, inter alia, said, "We take note that the ECO region has a common vision about agriculture, which can be summed up as achieving a sustainable agricultural development in accordance with resource endowments and comparative advantages".
"We take note of the importance of prioritisation of the activities to be pursued by the ECO Member States for effective co-operation in agriculture sector. In addition to the specific priorities identified through the joint ECO-FAO efforts we specify various priorities, indicating the Member States who volunteered to co-ordinate, drought management (Iran), water management (Pakistan), trade promotion (Turkey), development of post harvesting and processing industry (Turkey), conversation in genetic resources, development of an ECO strategy for agricultural co-operation and exchange of information through website".
"We reiterate our determination to help Afghanistan in efforts to rehabilitate its agriculture sector according to the priority areas to be determined by the Afghan authorities which may also include substitution of poppy cultivation with alternate crops."
"We all agree to activate a mechanism of proper implementation for the agreed programmes and provide necessary resources. Appreciating the FAO's support to the Secretariat in formulation of a Regional Programme for Food Security and Agricultural Development for ECO Member States. We call upon the Secretariat to continue its co-operation with FAO in approaching the other regional and international organisations to spearhead the process and to benefit from their technical and or financial assistance to ECO projects."
It will be noted that though dominating the ECO nations' economies, its development on modern lines has lagged far behind in most of the member countries. However, in certain others the progress on the farming front has been in step with the developed countries of the world. Now that the 10-nation regional alliance has devoted itself to collective development in such a way as to meet the challenges of globalisation, it is encouraging to note that the deliberations of the three-day moot were marked with focus on the right strategies and with a keen eye on an integrated approach.
Agreement was reached on formulating, in the first place, an ECO strategy for agricultural co-operation and efficient exchange of relevant information with the use of website to ensure its effective implementation. That enough reliance in fulfilment of the regional programmes has been placed on putting to common use the member States' achievements in certain fields, should indicate the emphasis on a well co-ordinated effort. This should stand amply demonstrated by the identification of certain specific areas in which some member States can make useful contribution towards facilitating development in other countries. Notable, in this regard, is the mention of Iran for drought management, Pakistan in water management and of Turkey in development of post-harvest management and processing industry.
It has also to be noted that while focusing attention on development of ECO's agricultural potential, due stress has been laid on the promotion of intra-regional trade in the farm produce, instead of continuing with the practice of both importing and exporting countries turning to the countries lying beyond the region. This will particularly enable some of countries attaining autarky in certain commodities to help meet their requirements from inside the region to a considerable extent. It will have a direct bearing, in the first instance, on Pakistan, which has started accumulating an exportable surplus in wheat, a commodity for which certain other countries have to look to the outside world.
Full implementation of the ideas emanating from the ministerial conference will however, call for due attention to the need of meeting certain problems which have become the common concern of the developing countries rich in agricultural resources. This, of course, has reference to the situation arising from the mounting of pressure from the developed countries and donor agencies on developing countries to abandon the strategy of subsidy to the farmers. While the developed countries continue to subsidise their agriculture in one way or the other, they desperately want the developing and, the most needy nations to refrain from it. As Agriculture Minister Junejo rightly pointed out, the visible dichotomy in the overall approach needs to be urgently removed. It is a tough task, no doubt, but given the will and determination which seems to be very much there, ECO can make a major contribution to lessening the woes of the developing nations through a well-co-ordinated effort with the support of other countries and regional and international organizations.