Pakistan urged to use CPEC to boost agriculture, food security
CPEC to connect Pakistan with China, 60 other BRI countries, say experts
With the second phase of the venture presenting opportunities for collaboration in the social sector, substantial emphasis needs to be laid on development of the country’s agriculture sector, which offers huge prospects of growth and trade.
The message emerged from a policy dialogue titled ‘National Agriculture and Food Security in Pakistan’, which was held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad in collaboration with the Pakistan Agriculture Scientists Forum (PAS Forum). The session was addressed by Dr Muhammad Azeem Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC); Prof Dr Anwar-ul-Hasan Gilani, vice chancellor of the University of Haripur and ex-chairman of the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST); Prof Dr Amanullah Malik of the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad; Khalid Rahman, executive president of the IPS and Dr Abdul Wakeel, president of the PAS Forum.
Presenting an overview of Pakistan’s agriculture sector, Dr Azeem Khan emphasized the need for enhancing productivity of various potential sub sectors of agriculture to address the country’s food security concerns and elevate these sectors for international trade.
Khan rued that Pakistan was a food exporting country till 2013 but became a food importing country thereafter. However, he observed, the second phase of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor offers a good opportunity to help the agriculture sector to recover, but the onus lies largely on the nation to set targets and develop strategies carefully in order to benefit from the forthcoming opportunities.
The PARC chairman was all for elevating the agriculture sector via business-oriented model, which in his opinion, could only be done through value addition i.e. converting raw materials into standard commercial products and brands. He said that combinations of different commodities and products being produced along the CPEC routes offer significant prospects in this regard. There is a huge potential for the production and export of fodder, edible oils and palm oil, whereas pulses and oil seeds are some other lucrative areas to invest in.
The speaker however pointed out that the post-harvest losses still remain a concern in the country. He said that solution lies in careful measures taken in the areas of production, diversification, post-harvest handling, processing, certification, and value addition – all aimed at converting the harvest into high-value products while enabling them to maintain standards for international trade.
Khan also spoke fervently about the prevalent state of malnutrition in Pakistan, terming it unprecedentedly high. He said that a nutritionally food secure Pakistan should be the country’s top most goal.
Dr Malik spoke about potentials and opportunities for Pakistan’s agricultural sector in relevance to CPEC mega projects. He mentioned several agriculture items in which Pakistan could enjoy a competitive advantage over the rest of the world, especially when it comes to China.
The professor said that China is the world’s biggest farm produce importer, with its imports making up to 10 % of global farm produce trade. The country is a net importer of bulk agriculture products and there has been rapid growth in its imports from Belt and Road countries off-late. Pakistan too can target some of its exports to China such as soybean, barley, corn, wheat and cereals. Rice is the country’s major export to China but there is a lot more potential to it as well. In terms of fruit, cherries, grapes, mangoes, guavas and oranges are some of the products that can be looked at. He however added that about 70% of China’s agriculture imports come from the USA, Brazil, South East Asia, European Union and Australia, and it will be very challenging, yet necessary, to raise our quality standards to compete with these countries.
Pakistan was sorely lacking in utilizing technology for its agricultural requirements when compared to other countries, Dr Gilani lamented, pressing for the need to make use of modern technological systems and methods that could cope with present-day challenges like global warming and climate change.
The speaker stressed focusing and investing in local capacity building initiatives as well as on improving access to international markets. He urged immediate measures such as making crops nutritive and resilient to climate change, rescuing more farmland, empowering small landholders, de-urbanization, preservation of water, recycling crop/livestock waste and saving food through public awareness drives if Pakistan is to answer its rising food security threats.