Development of agri-sector for sustainable growth and food security

 Post Source: Business & Finance Review of The News International
By Hashim Abro

Pakistan has, indeed, a tremendous potential for irrigated agriculture, with fresh water from the River Indus and other rivers, rain water if harvested, and fossil water that can be drilled. It also has a weather pattern that is suitable for almost all production but unfortunately agricultural sector still is being placed n the list of the most neglected sectors. However, population growth, urbanization, gender inequalities, climate change and access to markets are just some of the factors that affect Pakistan’s ability to produce desirable quantity of food. Despite impressive paper work, even the present government is doing nothing to invest in our people’s skills and agricultural technology. We have a plethora of federal and provincial agriculture institutions especially set up for the research and agricultural extension purpose but whatever research is being conducted therein and whatever benefit their research has given to the poor farmers who spiritually attached with this sector and have  been still relying on old traditional methods, is anybody’s guess. No any investment has been made in the human development in the agriculture where it is needed, women empowerment, extension services, technological innovation, trade etc.

The recent rise in global food prices caused by the severe shortages presents an opportunity to boost local food production and increase the country’s self-sufficiency level. Since the governments around the globe are pursuing policies of good governance, infrastructure, and private sector development, internal resource mobilization, creating an appropriate agricultural business environment that could help give their economies grassroots lease of life or resilience but unfortunately it is not being done in Pakistan. The government needs to push the agricultural sector in this direction through food security strategies that are already bearing fruit in different agro-economy based countries.  An innovative step should be the local cultivation of rice with the aim of supplying the domestic market and for export. Furthermore, development of the agribusiness sector should be very high on the agenda of the Board of Investment ( BoI) and it needs to devise planning to attract further foreign investment in areas such as  Horticulture: Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers, Field crops, Cereal grains, Grain legumes, Root crops, oil plants and tress and others.

However for sustainable Agricultural growth and Food Security, interalia, our planners and policy makers need to be able to link energy requirements with specific objectives of agricultural and rural development, such as food security, agro-industry development, and sustainable farming practices. This requires data indicating the energy intensiveness of different farming techniques for important food and other crops. Second, in order to promote food security strategies with the necessary energy inputs, policies and methodologies should consider the critical linkages between agricultural production, agricultural-based industries (food, beverage, tobacco, and textiles), distribution and commercialization, and the rest of the economy. Since agricultural growth is the most important contributor to manufacturing and service activity in the country, not only stimulating agro-industries, but the rest of the economy as well. In this context, energy from biomass is an added benefit. Third, the goal of food security would require an increase in agricultural energy requirements, particularly if emphasis is made on improving yield through conventional high-input techniques. Agro-industry would become the fastest growing sector, in terms of energy requirements, with the agricultural sector the next fastest growth sector. Fourth, Low-input farming techniques, such as integrated pest management, low-tillage cultivation, use of residues, green manures, and other organic fertilizers, may play an important role in sustainable agricultural development. There are several local success stories and new initiatives in low-input, high-yield agriculture. However, the energy implications of these techniques have yet to be systematically documented. More research is needed to enable clear comparisons with well established high-input methods. Fifth, the design and implementation of almost all sustainable agriculture and rural development field activities will require some form and amount of energy input. In many cases, this energy input is not considered, leading to unsatisfactory solutions from both the environmental and energy efficiency standpoints. It is necessary to “energize” agricultural practices with the same sustainability and environmental criteria as the practice itself.

At present, one of the most tremendous challenges we have in rural Pakistan particularly in the province of Sindh, is that the agricultural population is ageing and there are no programmes to entice the youth into agriculture. The government must call conferences to address this problem. If the youth in Pakistan have some sustained assistance programmes, many of them would rather prefer to live in their rural environments than hustle in other urban areas for in existent jobs. This is the time to begin to find solutions to the problem. The objective of this programme is to provide a regular source of income to the young prospective farmers and to lure the youth back into farming. It sounds easy but for sure its implementation will be difficult. It stands to reason that one has to take the risk to start somewhere. Agriculture experts say that one of the most economical ways to diminish rural poverty and hunger is through the support of smallholder farmers.

The FAO says that about 85 percent of the world’s farms are smaller than two hectares and smallholder farmers and their families represent one-third of the world’s population, or two billion people. Our government should also encourage the smallholder farmers so that they can play their role vigorously for sustainable agricultural growth and food security in the country.

In sum, since Pakistan holds enormous potential for boosting the yield of food crops and other agricultural commodities and it could have a better chance of feeding its people with improved governance, more effective agricultural policies, better training and other measures what is needed the most it is continued, focused action on the agricultural sector and that will also lead Pakistan to vibrant agricultural growth and food self-sufficiency in this age of food prices hike and food items paucity.

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