NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 46

Unlocking agricultural potential

The global agricultural landscape witnesses China as an undisputed leader in mechanization and innovation. In this era of agricultural transformation, Pakistan has a golden opportunity to harness the wealth of knowledge and experience that China possesses to rejuvenate its own agriculture sector. Collaborations with esteemed institutions like the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences could be the catalyst that propels Pakistan into a new era of agricultural productivity.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ranks China as the world leader in the production of cereals, cotton, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, and fishery products. Pakistan also holds a prominent position, ranking among the top ten global producers of wheat, cotton, sugarcane, mangoes, dates, and oranges, securing the 10th spot in overall crop production. Some assessments even place Pakistan at seventh in the crop production index. Despite the cherished friendship “higher than Himalayas and deeper than oceans” with China, Pakistan has struggled to glean agricultural expertise from its counterpart to increase crop yields.

Recently, there has been increased dialogue about seeking assistance from China to bolster the agricultural sector within the framework of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In May 2021, former Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed to China’s Xinhua news agency that the Pakistani government was actively collaborating with China to acquire agricultural knowledge aimed at enhancing crop yields, modernizing irrigation systems, and adding value to the industry. The two neighboring nations have also launched an online platform to gather and showcase information and achievements in agricultural and industrial cooperation.

According to data from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the agricultural sector contributes approximately 24% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs half of the labor force, and serves as the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. However, it is imperative to adapt agricultural techniques to meet evolving demands. Regrettably, Pakistan’s crop production lags significantly behind that of other agricultural nations.

A report released by the Pakistan Business Council, a business policy advocacy group, indicates that Pakistan is among the countries with the lowest crop yields globally. Pakistan’s agricultural productivity falls within the range of 29% to 52%, well below the world’s best averages for major crops. For instance, Pakistan produces only 3.1 tons of wheat per hectare, a mere 38% of France’s impressive 8.1 tons. Similarly, Pakistan’s cotton production stands at 2.5 tons per hectare, just 52% of China’s 4.8 tons.

The report reveals that sugarcane yield in Pakistan is 63.4 tons per hectare, which is only 51% of Egypt’s 125.1 tons per hectare. Maize productivity is estimated at 4.6 tons per hectare in Pakistan, merely 41% of France’s 11.1 tons. In the case of rice, Pakistan produces only 2.7 tons per hectare, a mere 29% of the 9.2 tons per hectare achieved in the US. Additionally, an alarming 50% of agricultural products in Pakistan go to waste due to inadequate cold chain facilities, logistics, and processing capabilities. The absence of efficient, modern seed varieties, intermittent water supply, and lackluster marketing efforts are significant challenges hampering Pakistan’s agriculture, according to experts in the field.

China undeniably leads the global charge in agricultural mechanization, and Pakistan stands to benefit greatly by learning from their expertise to elevate its agriculture sector. Establishing a partnership with the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences could prove to be a pivotal move for Pakistan. Collaborative efforts should focus on knowledge exchange in mechanization, the development of new crop varieties, and germplasm sharing.

China has actively supported Pakistan in enhancing the production of cash crops by sharing invaluable knowledge and facilitating technology transfers. Notably, China extended unprecedented aid to Pakistan during the severe locust invasion last year, dispatching experts, equipment, and chemicals, thereby averting the looming threat of food shortages.

China’s expertise in tropical agriculture could be a valuable resource for Pakistan to promote and develop tropical farming within its borders. There is substantial potential for bilateral collaboration in the production, processing, and value addition of tropical fruits and crops such as bananas, palm oil, and king grass.

Significant improvements in Pakistan’s crop productivity can be achieved by ensuring the availability of high-quality agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and water, along with their efficient, judicious, and balanced utilization. Facilitating farmers’ access to these inputs and services, through timely and affordable availability and subsidies, could lead to remarkable enhancements in land productivity.

Furthermore, the reclamation of waterlogged and salinized lands holds immense promise for agricultural production if accompanied by the development of drainage infrastructure and the application of chemical and biological amendments. Prioritizing the rehabilitation of such lands can significantly boost sustained agricultural productivity.

In an ever-evolving world, Pakistan’s agriculture sector stands at a crossroads, poised for transformation and growth. Learning from China’s agricultural expertise, sharing technology, and fostering partnerships can unlock the door to a thriving agriculture industry in Pakistan. China’s unwavering support during challenging times, coupled with the promise of tropical agriculture and improved agricultural inputs, paints a hopeful picture for the future. As Pakistan embarks on this journey of agricultural revitalization, the deepening ties between these two nations through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) hold the key to a prosperous and sustainable future for Pakistan’s agriculture.