NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 15

Lessons from China for Pakistan’s farm sector

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranks China first in the world in terms of production of cereals, cotton, fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs and fishery products. Pakistan is also among the world’s top ten producers of wheat, cotton, sugarcane, mangoes, dates and oranges, and is ranked 10th in crop production. Some rankings put the country at seventh place at the crop production index. Thanks to great importance attached to opening agriculture to the outside world, China has increasingly closer links with other countries in the field. However, Pakistan, despite having friendship “higher than Himalayas and deeper than oceans” with it, has failed to learn from it the art to get more yield from the fields.

Lately, there has been more talk of getting help from China to improve the agriculture sector under the framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Prime Minister Imran Khan told China’s Xinhua news agency in May 2021 that the Pakistani government was collaborating with China in learning agricultural techniques to enhance the yield of crops, modernisation of the irrigation system and value addition. The two neighbours have also launched an online platform to collect and display information and achievements of agricultural and industrial cooperation between them.

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics show that the agricultural sector contributes about 24% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), accounts for a half of the employed labour force and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. It definitely needs to change agricultural techniques to get more yields with the changing times. But, it is a pity, it is getting far less crop production compared with other agrarian countries of the world.

A report released by the Pakistan Business Council – a business policy advocacy group, said that the country was considered among nations which were getting the lowest yield of various crops in the world. Pakistan’s agricultural productivity ranges between 29% and 52%, far lower than the world’s best averages for major commodities, the report says. Pakistan produces 3.1 tons of wheat from one hectare, which is just 38% of the 8.1 tons produced in France – the world’s best productivity. Also, Pakistan produces 2.5 tons of cotton per hectare, which is 52% of the 4.8 tons produced in China.

The report revealed that sugarcane yield stands at 63.4 tons per hectare in Pakistan, which is 51% of the 125.1 tons Egypt produces from every hectare, while maize productivity is estimated at 4.6 tons per hectare, 41% of the 11.1 tons that France is producing. In the case of rice, Pakistan produces 2.7 tons from every hectare, which is merely 29% of the 9.2 tons per hectare in the US. Also, 50% of the agricultural products are wasted in Pakistan due to unavailability of a sufficient cold chain, logistics and processing facilities. The absence of efficient, new seed varieties, intermittent water supply and unenthusiastic marketing are killing our agriculture, believe agriculturists.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has been showing special interest in establishing the farm sector on modern lines with the help of China. He believes that China leads the world in agriculture mechanization and Pakistan can take advantage and learn from it and boost its agriculture sector. He says that collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences could be a game-changer for Pakistan. Pakistan needs to exchange expertise on mechanization, new variety development and germplasm, he said.

A meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, was informed last month that Zhengbang Agriculture Pakistan (Pvt.) Limited had planned an investment of Rs700 million to establish an agrichemical plant in the Allama Iqbal Special Economic Zone (SEZ), Faisalabad. With an area of 10.93 acres, the plant would be put into operation by June 2022 to produce 800,000 tons per year. Other projects in the process of establishment include large-scale vegetable and grain processing plants in Asadabad, Islamabad, Lahore and Gwadar; and a meat processing plant in Sukkur with an annual output of 200,000 tons and two milk processing plants to produce 200,000 tons a year.

The meeting was informed that China has been assisting Pakistan to improve the production of cash crops by imparting valuable knowledge and technology transfer. The country has also provided Pakistan with unprecedented support during the worst locust attack last year by sending experts, equipment and chemicals, saving the country from the threat of food shortages.

Syed Fakhar Imam, federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, told Cutting Edge that tropical agriculture was developed in China, and Pakistan could learn from it in order to promote and develop tropical farming in the country. He believes that there is huge potential for bilateral cooperation in production, processing and value addition of tropical fruits and crops, like banana, palm oil, king grass, etc.

The minister says that Pakistan’s crop productivity can be enhanced significantly by improving the availability of quality agriculture inputs like seed, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, water and their efficient, judicious and balanced use. Improvement in farmers’ access (timely and doorstep availability at reasonable price and subsidy) to these inputs and services through improved agriculture credit would improve land productivity tremendously, he hopes.

Syed Fakhar Imam says that waterlogged and salinised lands offer great potential for agricultural production if they are reclaimed by providing drainage infrastructure and using chemical and biological amendments. These lands are being paid urgent attention for drainage and reclamation on a priority basis for productive and sustained agricultural productivity.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian informed a press briefing recently that as the CPEC had entered its second phase, more Chinese agricultural technologies would follow suit and head toward Pakistan. China-Pakistan cooperation in cultivating rice, corn, soybean, sugarcane and other crops has yielded fruitful results and will play an important role in promoting the development of our bilateral relations and deepening friendship between our peoples, he added.