FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 38

GPI: towards a second green revolution

The Green Pakistan Initiative (GPI) launched by the government has the potential to revolutionize agriculture in Pakistan provided the new scheme is implemented in the spirit in which it has been conceived.

Addressing a national seminar on Agriculture and Food Security in Islamabad recently, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that the Gulf countries were ready to invest in the Green Pakistan Initiative which would enhance Pakistan’s agriculture productivity and equip it with the latest technology. He added that the initiative was likely to attract investment to the tune of thirty to fifty billion dollars in the next four to five years.

All this sounds promising. It is better late than never. But the taste of the fruit is in the eating. Over decades, population growth has resulted in increased food consumption and rising food insecurity. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the global demand for food is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2050. This poses a serious challenge to a country like Pakistan which is witnessing a declining trend in agricultural production. Pakistan’s agriculture sector contributes only 22.9 percent to the GDP despite employing 37.4 percent of the labour force. In order to transform the economic landscape, this low-productivity needs immediate reform.

Pakistan has a geographic area of 79 million hectares. Out of this, 15.7 million hectares are cultivated land. Besides, more than 8.2 million hectares are classified as culturable waste (uncultivated farm area that is fit for cultivation). The highest percentage of waste land is located in Balochistan (46.6 percent) followed by Sindh (19.5 percent), the Punjab (17.8 percent) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (16 percent). Bringing more land under cultivation is a great opportunity, provided we can make our water use more efficient.

The Green Pakistan Initiative is a welcome step towards modernising agricultural practices in Pakistan. Together with GPI, the Land Information and Management System (LIMS) has also been launched. These two schemes, if diligently pursued, can form the basis for the next Green Revolution.

For decades, successive governments in Pakistan have neglected this vital sector with devastating consequences. From being a wheat exporting country, Pakistan has now become a net importer of food. Various international surveys have shown that Pakistan is a food insecure country and the situation is worsening with the passage of time.

Needless to say, for Pakistan the development of the agrarian sector is the shortest and fastest route to economic progress. Pakistan is blessed with abundant fertile land, an extensive irrigation system, a hard working labour force and a variety of seasons suitable for growing almost all kinds of grains, fruits and vegetables. But we never made long-term plans to exploit these resources.

Given our dismal performance in the past, the Green Pakistan scheme comes as a breath of fresh air. It is reported that some Gulf countries have offered to make huge investment in the agriculture sector of Pakistan to boost production for mutual benefit. If everything goes as planned, Pakistan can become the food basket not only for the Gulf States but also for the wider Middle East region. But this is easier said than done.

The green revolution in the 1960s happened because we built dams and canals and introduced new varieties of seeds and modern agriculture practices. For the success of the Green Pakistan initiative, we will have to increase the availability of irrigation water. This calls for building new water reservoirs and small dams.

Currently, 90 percent of the farms are 12 acres or smaller. Farms on less than five acres constitute more than 60 percent of the total cultivated land. Owners of these farms lack the capacity to absorb the technological advances required for modern agriculture, including mechanisation, inputs and access to markets. A solution to this problem lies in corporatization under which a wide range of services, especially modern technology, can be made available to small farmers.

According to experts, the corporatisation of agriculture will usher in a new green revolution because it facilitates vertical integration, better supply chain management and marketing options. Corporatisation will also make for customised production of various crops and seeds to meet the needs of specific markets.

Once a start is made, the corporate structure will attract large numbers of private investors because it offers an opportunity for rapid technology transfer and improved access to regional and overseas markets. Another crying need is continuous research and development to meet the needs of farms and farmers. We badly lack in this sector.

The GPI is expected to create jobs for over four million people, reduce poverty, enhance food security and increase exports. This calls for detailed planning and a carefully worked out implementation strategy. The authorities concerned will have to ensure that with rising farm output, the cost of production should not go up. The basic goal of the GPI should be the maximum welfare of the small farmer.