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CPEC and Agriculture

By Hassan Shahid

Pakistan is an an agro-based economy. 48% of Pakistan’s labour force (more so in rural Pakistan) is engaged directly or indirectly in agriculture. Agriculture is also the backbone of Pakistan’s industrial sector as it provides raw material to sugarcane, textile and other agency. Agriculture as part of CPEC, Chinese technology and expertise will add great value to our existing agricultural setup.

There is work going on in the energy and infrastructure sectors but alongside them is a vast socio-economic positive spill over in the agriculture sector too. This will enable Pakistan to fully exploit the fruits of this multi-billion dollar flagship program of BRI. China’s assistance in agriculture as a larger part of the ongoing CPEC activities is vital for Pakistan. To fully engage the Chinese with assistance in agriculture, Pakistan has devised an action plan (also suggested and encouraged by China) for its agricultural sector. This plan if implemented effectively will have limitless positive externalities for Pakistan in terms of socio-economic benefits for not just agriculture but various industries.

The first and foremost priority of the action plan was/is to rid the country of locusts more commonly known locally as “tiddi” as it destroys produce in most parts of Punjab and Sindh. Pakistan’s Chinese counterparts have stressed that it is futile to invest in agriculture when this issue is on the rise as it greatly effects both the quality and quantity of agricultural produce. The fertile lands of Punjab and Sindh are never fully utilized due to swarms over swarms of locusts year after year. As a result, the government of Pakistan took initiative and formed NLCC (National Locust Control Centre). Experts in this Islamabad based facility, devise ways to bring the locust issue under control and so far they’ve been successful at driving the swarms out of Sindh and Punjab towards the relatively barren West of the country where not much is affected.

The exchange of specialists ie Phd’s and researchers between Pakistan and China for a thorough exchange of knowledge and industry techniques is also a vital part of the agricultural plan. The goal is to achieve a synergy like effect where 1 plus 1 equals 11 once both the Chinese and Pakistanis will have greater technical knowledge after brainstorming together and studying each other’s agricultural climate and conditions. Other techniques which will bring value addition to Pakistan’s agriculture industry are accreditation, certification and supervision of seeds and quality of products. A minimum standard of quality is to be kept to maintain, and eventually uplift overall quality standards of the industry.

Product processing which is an essential part of this action plan. The emphasis is on all the uses of a commodity apart from the most commonly known one(s). For instance, an apricot is also used as a dry fruit, there are uses of apricot oil, there is also an apricot paste. The extra utilities give the whole apricot growing process more value. Additional facilities on farms are to be introduced as well like drying washing, grading and sorting in the case of dates. Dehydrating technologies are also being introduced to further add value to the whole ordeal. Another good example is the life cycle of a potato and its extended uses like making flake, flour, starch and modified starch. All of these value adding techniques will increase the total capacity of agricultural units along with the types of services available at units resulting in a boost in the respective sector.

Technology exchanges with China (mostly importing) is an important point on the agenda. The Chinese are identifying Pakistani enterprises in the agriculture sector to explore business potential. Together they will carry out existing practices in a better and more productive way with the help of new methods and technology that include high efficiency irrigation systems and PVC panels. These will eventually be called model farms and the techniques used here will be replicated by those in the sector in different areas of Pakistan. A large part of these model farms will include drip irrigation systems as this is especially useful in deserts. Capacity building and awareness programs for farmers and related personnel will be organized in order to make this replication easier for a layman. These programs and demonstrations will be easily accessible to all.

Fish farming is also an area that will undergo massive changes to boost activity in Pakistan’s aquaculture. Breeding fish for new varieties through new age technologies like the SMTA, is a core function of this plan along with bringing cost effectiveness as part of value addition to the whole process. Other techniques being incorporated by the Govt here are maintaining uniformity in fish farming methods and upkeeping a minimum quality standard; this standard will require all these fish nurseries to be disease and infection free. As a result, the fish farming industry will become a productive component of Pakistan’s agricultural mix.

The Govt of Pakistan acknowledges the problem of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in cows and large animals. A consistent effort to identify and maintain FMD free zones is underway. The FMD free zones will be regularly monitored for this particular disease. This will enable Pakistan to export beef as it will meet international standards once it is free of FMD helping our balance of trade and payments.

Lastly, an all important exchange of germplasm resources is underway to increase yield per acre of all produce especially vegetable, fruits and cotton. It is a direct value addition to perhaps the largest agriculture components of Pakistan so the positive spill will be sizeable. There will be more to export and more to consume locally as well. A centralized database for all scientists and researchers is also being made for reference (just like model farms are made for reference). Experts in the field can refer to this database and move ahead with new ways of farming. Since the database will be accessible to all, there will be one set of information hence chances of ambiguity and one being misled will be very low.

With this action plan, the govt intends to streamline the agriculture industry of Pakistan and make it ready to inculcate Chinese methods and technology as effectively as possible.