AGRICULTURE SECTOR NEEDS A RADICAL PARADIGM SHIFT
An interview with Majyd Aziz, Chairman KCCI
Sep 17 - 23, 2007
PAGE: How are agriculture products contributing towards our exports?
MA: Agriculture sector is the single largest sector of the national economy contributing almost 21 percent to the GDP while almost 70 percent of foreign exchange is earned through manufacturing and exporting agricultural products. Agriculture contributes to the growth of industrial sector as a supplier of raw materials as well as a market for industrial products.
Pakistan's exports are highly concentrated in a few items namely, cotton, leather, rice, synthetic textiles, and sports goods, that are directly or indirectly agro based. Besides, some of the other agriculture products like fish and fish preparations, fruits and vegetables etc. also have a significant share in country's exports.
PAGE: What major agri-product do we export and how can we enhance the per acre yield to further the scope of our exports?
MA: The main agri-products we export are raw cotton, rice, leather products, fish & fish preparations, fruits and vegetables, meat & meat preparations etc. In the past, we have also exported wheat and sugar when there was a bumper crop.
It is crucial that concrete steps should be taken by the Government to boost agricultural production and should provide the farming community with packages of improved technology, cultural practices and input usage for major crops of wheat, cotton and rice and for livestock production. Moreover, Government should also extend cash incentives to users of fertilizers, pesticides, tube wells, feeds and other agricultural inputs. Moreover, awareness creation campaigns should be launched through electronic and print media to educate the farmers about the usage of modern techniques and better farm management.
Improvement in seed quality and varieties is the key to enhancing agricultural productivity. The use of quality seeds can result in 20 to 30 percent improvement in productivity of various crops. To increase agriculture production, the availability of quality seed should be assured. The plant protection measures should be taken in advance, as without effective protection against the attack of pests and diseases, the beneficial outcome of other inputs may not be pragmatically realized.
There is a huge potential for exports if these products are properly marketed and their supply maintained through sustainable harvest. However, KCCI does not support the idea of exports of agri-products in raw form. These could be exported after ensuring value-addition as this results in increasing the foreign exchange inflow compared to just exporting in raw forms.
PAGE: Which are the non-traditional items that we export from our agricultural products? List them.
MA: Pakistan has a tremendous potential for the export of non-traditional items that were being ignored in the past. Non-traditional items especially the non-timber forest products (NTFP) are potential export items and they can increase our exports earning and also provide employment opportunities. NTFPs consist of goods of biological origin other than timber. Some of the NTFPs produced in Pakistan are; morels, honey, fruits and nuts, vegetable, condiments and spices, mazri palm, silk cocoon and many other items. According to a study carried out by Kohat University of Science & Technology, there are 131 species of NTFPs throughout the country.
Some of the important NTFPs, which are non-traditional export items, are:
Morels/Mushrooms, Honey, Wild Fruits, Nuts, Wild Vegetables, Condiments and Spices
Walnut Bark, Gums, Basketry, Seabrickthoru
PAGE: What are the major predicaments for the exports of our agriculture products?
MA: The major predicaments for the exports of our agriculture products lie in the poor performance of agriculture sector. The general problems associated with agriculture are scarcity of water, floods, water logging, alkalinity, soil erosion, low yield per unit area, traditional methods of cultivation, poor marketing and management of agricultural products.
Low availability of water, poor quality seeds and soil management, low yielding varieties, lack of crop protection methods, insufficient credit facilities and non-application of modern technology in raising crops, contribute to the low yield, productivity, and poor quality of crops. Due to this poor quality and high cost of production our agricultural products are unable to compete in the international market. †
Similarly, imposition of strict Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary (SPS) standards are the other significant impediments in the export of agriculture products. The government has failed to fulfill the commitments related to different WTO specific agreements. The recent EU ban on Pakistani seafood exports is a very good example of failure of stakeholders to properly implement the seafood standards to ensure safe and quality seafood to European buyers.
PAGE: How we can boost the industry and what should be the major steps that the government should take to facilitate the farmers and their productivity? Kindly elaborate your suggestions to procure this industry?
MA: In order to boost to our agro-based exports we have to strongly establish our agro-based industries like textile and woolen industries, leather processing units, agro-chemicals and food processing industries. Some of these industries are already well set; however, improvement can be made through proper planning and management. While in others, Government should provide the necessary facilities to farmers as well as industrialists to enhance their production in the following way:
•Establishment of Agro-export processing zone should be initiated on priority basis with collection, grading, processing, packing, and cold storage facilities.
•Similarly, Small export processing zones should also be set up in various towns and villages of country to collect agro products and shift them to the main processing zone for export purpose.
•These small processing zones should preferably be set up along the main highways to ensure easy access and smooth transportation of refrigerated cargo to the main processing zones.
•The government should also provide a number of incentives and facilities to the potential investors to invest in the agriculture export-processing zone.
•According to SDPI, Pakistan in 2005-06, imported processed food worth $0.5 billion, while, during 2006-07, the import bill of processed food commodities increased to $2 billion. Being an agricultural economy, we cannot afford such a heavy import bill for food commodities. We must have to develop our own food processing industries to reduce the import bill.
•In addition, major reforms of policies and institutions are required to make the agriculture sector more productive, profitable and competitive in the global market.
PAGE: Any other thing that you would like to mention as to how agriculture and its products could be used to magnify the volume and scope of our exports?
MA: To achieve the main objectives, as mentioned earlier, main policy initiatives adopted by government should include increase in productivity and profitability of major crops, providing rural infrastructure and access to agriculture inputs, ensuring water availability and efficiency, and liberalizing commodity markets and trade regimes on sustainable basis.
Similarly, improvement in the support services, especially for small farmers, enhancing efficiency and delivery capability of agriculture institutions, and providing an enabling environment for public-private partnership should be included to accelerate growth by narrowing existing yield gaps, promotion of agriculture related business enterprises, provision of quality support services to farmers, and market reforms to increase profitability of agriculture for small farmers.
Finally, there is a formidable need to bring an improvement in agriculture sector by strengthening the research programs for the best utilization of the existing resources. Research programs should include evolution of high yielding varieties showing maximum potential for various climatic and soil conditions.
All these parameters determine that Pakistan is an agricultural country and agriculture should play a predominant role in future in order to meet rapidly increasing domestic food demand and to increase foreign exchange earnings thru agricultural exports.