The agriculture sector which has long been neglected has at last begun to get some attention. Pakistan’s agriculture sector contributes 22.9 percent to the GDP and employs 37.4 percent of the labour force. It is a major contributor to foreign exchange earnings and produces valuable industrial raw material.
The present government has taken some significant steps to revive the sector. These initiatives have been taken under a collaborative effort between the government of Pakistan and the Armed Forces. Sustainable growth of the agriculture sector is vital for ensuring food security and rural development in the country. A national seminar on Food Security was held at Jinnah Convention Centre in Islamabad recently at which a new project Green Pakistan initiative was launched to kickstart what has been described as a second Green Revolution under the ambit of Special Investment Facilitation with the support of the army.
It may be added here that the first Green Revolution took place in 1965 when there was a three-fold increase in output of food grains during 1967-1992. During this period modern equipment like tractors was first used in agriculture.
Over decades, population growth has led to increased food consumption. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the global demand for food is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2050. This poses a serious challenge to a country like Pakistan where the agriculture sector has seen steady decline over the past two decades.
Some of the initiatives taken recently to put a new life in the sector are noteworthy. Nine million hectares of uncultivated wasteland will be utilized with the help of the Land Information and Management System (LIMS) established by the Pakistan Army. This marks a paradigm shift in the nation’s approach to land administration and agricultural development. LIMS being a state-of-the-art System will revolutionize agricultural development through real time information about land, crops, weather, water resource and pest attack. It will not only address food security concerns but also enable the country to explore export opportunities. Moreover, by granting access to state land for modern agro farming, there will be an influx of investments which will create new job opportunities.
Another initiative is the U.S.-Pakistan Green Alliance framework which is a transformative approach addressing today’s most pressing environmental challenges, especially water management, climate-smart agriculture, and renewable energy. Beyond mitigating climate change and its effects, the partnership recognizes that green choices also present tremendous economic opportunities, opening doors for increased bilateral trade and investment, as well as the creation of new jobs and industries. The initiative actively promotes the inclusion of women in the economy to ensure that the path to a greener, more sustainable future is empowering for all.
The government has proposed special incentives for the agriculture sector in the federal budget 2023-24, including duty exemption on the import of seeds and abolition of sales tax on plant saplings, combine harvesters, dryers for agricultural products, no-till-direct seeders, planters, trans-planters and bovine semen. The budget has also proposed a massive package of incentives amounting to Rs 1800 billion during the ongoing financial year which is four times more than what the farming community was getting during the preceding year. Proposals also include a concessionary tax rate of 20 percent on the banking company’s income for additional advances to agriculture and an exemption on importing shrimps/prawns/juveniles for breeding in commercial fish farms and hatcheries.
Besides providing unprecedented incentives to the agriculture sector in the recent budget, the government is also in contact with other countries for uplifting the agrarian economy. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has assured Pakistan that it will continue to play a leading role in transforming the country’s agriculture and food systems to make them more efficient, inclusive and sustainable. Collaboration is also in process with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain for various agriculture projects for exports. Finland is working for seed, forestry and biodiversity. The overall aim is to make Pakistan self-reliant in terms of food production.
The recent unprecedented flash floods caused by heavy rains had not only massively damaged and destroyed roads, infrastructure, bridges and affected more than 33 million people, but also completely washed away standing crops over four million acres in different parts of the country. Needless to say, the government’s efforts to improve the agricultural production systems will not only cover the losses caused to the economy but will also go a long way to increase farm income, reduce consumer prices and enhance food supplies besides generating an exportable surplus.