AROOJ ASGHAR (arooj.asghar@crosby.com)
Dec 17 - 30, 2007

Agriculture is one of the most important pillars of the Pakistan's economy. Despite all industrialization, privatization, foreign investment in various sectors and economic reforms, Pakistan's economy is still largely dependent on agriculture. More than two-thirds of Pakistanis live in rural areas, of which over 65% are employed in agriculture (approximately above 40% of total labor force of the country). The agriculture sector accounts for about 21% of the national GDP and has numerous ups and downs while overall steady growth since last many years thus to some extent contributing to poverty reduction.

Despite impressive growth of Pakistan's economy during this decade - though various economists have reservations on government's claim - agriculture sector is swinging right and left. There was negative growth from 2000 to 2002 due to unprecedented drought which badly affected value added agriculture products. By the grace of God, irrigation water was relatively better available for irrigation after that, which has slight positive impact on overall agricultural growth thus the sector exhibited modest recovery. Whereas agriculture sector sharply recovered in 2006-07 at an average growth rate of 5% as against 1.6% in 2005-06 as major crops could not perform up to the expectations in the proceeding year. It is quite difficult to forecast growth rate as there is no consistency in growth rate where almost all the governments failed to achieve their targeted growth rates. Needless to say that this sector is heavily dependent on Nature but human element can't be ignored while discussing the shortfalls and improvements.

This sector contributed 21%, 8%, 16.6%, 6% and 15.7% in growth rate of GDP of 4.7%, 7.5%, 9%, 6.6% and 7% in 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 respectively. While looking at the numbers, it appears quite clear that there is no systematic equation in growth of national economy and agriculture sector. Sector experts believe that government needs to concentrate on food and livestock to have a better agriculture growth which would ultimately improve over all GDP growth of the country.

The sector provides raw materials to the industrial sector and is an important source of demand for its products. The share of agriculture in GDP of the country has though declined overtime as a result of ongoing process of structural adjustment, adjustment; its performance still has a major impact on the overall performance of the economy because of its linkages with the rest of the economy. Therefore, a higher and sustained growth in agricultural production is imperative for a rapid development of the economy and poverty reduction in the country. A number of researchers believe that agriculture must maintain a growth rate of more than 5% in order to ensure a rapid growth of national income, attaining macroeconomic stability, effective employment of growing labor force, securing improvement in distributive justice and a reduction in rural poverty in Pakistan.

The important factors that may contribute to a higher agricultural growth include expansion in cultivated area, enhanced use of water and other agricultural inputs, increase in cropping intensity, technological change, and technical efficiency.

It is widely maintained that the potential for allocating more land and water resources to agricultural production and/or scope of further increase in cropping intensity is limited in Pakistan. Moreover, use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides cannot be increased beyond certain limits and also because of national health and environmental concerns. Therefore, the country would have to depend more heavily on technological change and improvement of technical efficiency for the desired rapid agricultural growth. Technological change is the result of research and development (R&D) efforts, while technical efficiency with which new technology is adopted and used more rationally is affected by the flow of information, better infrastructure, availability of funds and quality inputs, and farmer's managerial capabilities. Empirical evidence shows that R&D through its influence on productivity has been an important source of growth in agricultural production in many of the developed as well as developing countries.

In Pakistan, productivity in various sub-sectors of agriculture continues to be rather low relative to the developed and many developing countries with similar resource base. It is also argued that Pakistan's economy would be more and more integrated into the world economy and it would become increasingly difficult for the agriculture sector to compete in the world market unless higher growth in agricultural productivity is ensured on sustainable basis. While R&D activities are absolutely important, these alone cannot be expected to achieve the above goals unless they are supported by favorable policy instruments, human resources development, necessary physical and institutional infrastructure etc.


Pakistan has a sizeable national agricultural research system (NARS) consisting of federal as well as provincial research institutions. According to Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, there are more than 80 research establishments at the federal level and more than 110 research institutions/agricultural research stations at provincial level. Each province has its own commodity based/ multidisciplinary agricultural research institutes/research stations and substations, covering crops, livestock, forestry, and, in some cases, fisheries. There are 65 research establishments in Punjab, 25 in Sindh, 15 in NWFP and 10 in Balochistan. The provinces have also established mono-crop institutes concentrating on specific crops.

All the provinces have agricultural universities where applied and basic research is a vital part of their academic activities. These universities are financed by the federal government through the Higher Education Commission (HEC) but are under the administrative control of the provincial governments.

The indicators of research staff and research funding sufficiency include ratio of agricultural scientists to population, percentage of Ph. Ds in total scientific manpower, per scientist funding, and agricultural research expenditures as percentage of agricultural GDP. In Pakistan agricultural research is poorly staffed and under funded in all the above senses. The proportion of agricultural scientists with Ph. D degree is only 10% in Pakistan, which is low compared to other developed and developing countries. The limited number of highly qualified scientists is not evenly distributed and about 50% of the Ph. Ds are located in universities, 35% in the federal institutions and the rest of them are in provincial research institutions. This shows a severe lack of qualified manpower in provincial research systems.

In Pakistan, there were 50 agricultural scientists per million people during 2006 as compared to 3,200, 1800, and 2400 agricultural scientists per million people respectively in USA, UK, and India. The number of agro-ecological zones, types of agricultural production systems, and 130 commercial crops that the country's agricultural research deals with, demands for a much greater number and more qualified scientific staff to be engaged in agricultural R & D activities . The recent number of agricultural scientists and estimates on the level of funding for agricultural research are not readily available. The research expenditures per agricultural scientist in Pakistan is are also very low rather it is among the bottom countries of the world.

Research funding level is around 0.5% of agricultural GDP as against 1.5% recommended by the Pakistan National Commission on Agriculture. The ratio of salaries to operating cost is at about 85:15 compared to internationally accepted ratio of 60:40. Most of the budget allocation is meant for research on crops (mainly for the major crops) whereas disproportionately small amounts are allocated to research on livestock, horticultural crops, natural resource management, and fisheries etc. It is also identified that the research system in Pakistan offers limited career growth opportunities and little financial incentives even to the highly qualified scientists. The high level research leadership often lacks skills of human resource management. There is rapidly aging profile of agricultural scientists and a continuous brain drain from the system. Most of the institutions lack access to quality literature and modern lab equipment to undertake quality research. The scientists have inadequate links with the international and national research and educational institutions, entrepreneurs, extension agents, and the farmers. The science gap is widening due to fast moving scientific development internationally. The present national research system is ill-equipped to meet even the present challenges not to speak of 2020 and beyond. Pakistan must introduce a more knowledge intensive agricultural research system that focus on technological innovations at the system level and has access to modern biological sciences. It is widely accepted that the conventional breeding, extensively used during the Green Revolution era, no longer offer any significant breakthroughs in the yield potentials and in providing solution to the complex problems of pests, diseases, and drought stress. The recent achievements in the field of biotechnology offer the potential to increase the crop and livestock productivity; improve nutritional quality, and enhance crop resistance against pests and diseases. The tools of modern biotechnology are precise and make development of new strains of improved crop and livestock more rapid. It is envisaged that the next breakthrough in agricultural productivity would be due to recent developments in plant molecular biology, genetic engineering, and rapid advancement in genomics.

Agricultural Biotechnology R&D is suggested to focus areas of traditional biotechnology as well as modern biotechnology like genetic engineering and plant genomics. The techniques of modern biotechnology can be applied to diagnosis of pests, diseases, contaminants, vaccine development, and quality traits; generating genetic markers, maps, and genomic information in marker assisted selection and breeding; and in developing transgenic plants with higher yields, disease and pest resistance, tolerance of environmental stresses, and improved nutrition in crops. The agriculture sector has so far not benefited from the full potential of tissue culture technology except potato and to some extent in banana, as research effort at public and private levels is small. The size of these efforts in term of researchers and financial resources are still very small and unable to reach commercial scale in other plants.

In Pakistan, crop improvement efforts using modern technology started as early as 1985 at CEMB, Lahore and later NIBGE initiated genetic engineering of plants during early 1990s. Most of the activities are related to rice and cotton but recently tomato and potato are also taken up. Although transgenic plants have been developed at these centers, work on field evaluation is blocked due to absence of bio-safety rules. Further, delay and uncertainty is expected due to actual performance of genetically engineered crop in the field and difficulties to protect it from further use by various public and private seed agencies.

Way forward

Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy and would stay important for quite some time. The higher growth rate for the agriculture sector than performed in the past is imperative for a rapid overall growth of the economy, macroeconomic stability, employment generation, and reduction in rural poverty in Pakistan. The leading factors in terms of their contribution to agricultural growth in the past are less likely to play the same important role in growth of the sector in future. The shortage of irrigation water would be the most limiting factor in the coming years and there is a dire need to maximize output per drop of water through developing/adopting water conserving technologies, enhancing irrigation efficiency, and rationalizing the acreage under crops that use water more extensively and in which the country does have comparative advantage. Additional reservoirs need to be built soon to store every drop of water in excess of what is required to regularly flow in the sea for deltaic conservation.

The expansion of cultivated area has already slowed down. The culturable cultivatable waste lands of 9 million hectares may offer good opportunity for bringing in more lands into production however it would require huge investments and enhanced water availability. Improvement of millions of hectares of cultivated saline/sodic lands being in canal commands may make a cheaper potential source. The factors like higher cropping intensity, increased fertilizer, and intensive use of pesticides are expected to play relatively a less important role in future. Thus Pakistan has to rely more heavily on productivity enhancement through technological change and improvement of technical efficiency for the desired rapid agricultural growth in future. While the conventional breeding need to be continued in future it no longer offer any significant breakthroughs in the yield potentials and in providing solution to the newly emerging complex problems like pests, diseases, and drought stress. Therefore, the application of recent advances in the field of agricultural biotechnology is crucial to increase the crop and livestock productivity, improve nutritional quality, and enhance crop resistance against pests and diseases. The tools of modern biotechnology are more precise and involve shorter time for development of new strains of improved crop and livestock. The National Agricultural Research System (NARS) is poorly funded, ill equipped, weakly linked with international and national stakeholders, thinly staffed with mostly low capacity and unmotivated scientific manpower, lack autonomy, and generally mismanaged. The NARS cannot deliver up to the future expectations without funding at a higher level, essential human resource development, provision of modern laboratories and good library facilities, creation of a nice working environment, and offering the scientists good career opportunities and financial incentives.

Summing up, agriculture is the largest income and employment-generating sector of Pakistan's economy. It is the largest income and employment-generating sector of Pakistan's economy. In order to increase exports and to maintain existing level of production, it is indeed required to have world class R&D activities in Pakistan. As every one knows, there is little R&D activity in private sector due to the fear of copying of their products likewise there is also a little coordination among the existing R&D Institutions. It is imperative to give incentives to private sector to develop new products and encourage people associated with this sector to bring fresh ideas. Pakistan is a signatory to several international treaties and under these circumstances agricultural products have to be highly efficient and competitive.