Growth rate of more than 5 per cent in agriculture is essential to attain macroeconomic stability, rapid growth of national income, effective employment generation, securing distributive justice and a reduction in rural poverty levels in Pakistan. However, the overall agricultural growth from 2005-06 remained in between highest of 3.6% in 2011-12 to a lowest of 0.2% in 2009-10. During year 2013-14, overall agriculture sector including crop, livestock, forestry and fishing sub-sectors witnessed 2.1% growth rate, which is exceptionally lower than the countries with similar resource base.

This was stated by Dr M Saleem Rana, Chairman Punjab Floriculture Development Council & Executive Committee Floriculture Development Projects and former Member Task Force on Agriculture Marketing, Govt of Punjab.

Dr Saleem Rana observed that despite its declining importance, agriculture is a sector capable of accelerating growth, reducing poverty, containing inflation and improving the quality of life of its citizens. He suggested that small investment can bring substantial gains and the areas needing urgent attention are inputs use efficiency, reducing production/post production losses, credit availability and bringing more areas under cultivation through intercropping and tunnel farming, and seed certification and distribution policy. Areas needing attention in the short term are rural infrastructure, agricultural terms of trade, promoting investment, formulating land use policy, farm mechanization and improving rural non-farm sector, he added. Areas needing attention in the long term are agricultural education, adapting to climate change threats and introducing modern forms of production relations.

He said that agriculture research system with central focus on Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s well established agricultural research centers may be given central role for focus research on varietals development, nutrients management, plant protection and water management.

He also called for sustained growth of the rural economy which lies in the development of efficient and effective agri-based supply chains that link the agriculture sector with their corresponding upstream and downstream links in the rural non-farm to the national and international markets. He stressed for establishing modern agricultural produce wholesale markets in public-private partnership with cold storages, pack houses, customs facilities etc. Moreover, encouraging processing and value addition of agricultural produce to fetch better value, and to reduce post-harvest losses is also vital, he added.

Dr Saleem Rana pointed out that most of the farmers in Pakistan, especially those operating marginal and small farms, generally lack access (physical as well as financial) to quality inputs and extension services and generally have to pay higher prices. Improvement in access of the farmer to these inputs and services would enhance agricultural production.

Seed production and distribution remained mostly in the public sector that mainly focused on major crops and here too had a limited capacity. Since 1994 role of private seed companies has significantly increased as a result of more liberal policy of the government. The problem of seed adulteration, insignificant difference in yield performance of certified seed and farmers’ own seed, are the main reasons that the farm level use of certified seed and seed replacement rate remained low.

According to Dr. Rana, for food security of growing population and shrinking resource base, potential for allocating more land for crop production is difficult because of scarce water resources.

Similarly, use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides cannot be increased beyond a certain limit because of national health, environmental concerns and trade embargos. Therefore, a quantum shift in agriculture policy is imperative to increase technological change and improvement of technical efficiency for the desired rapid agricultural growth.

He stressed the need to conduct studies determining optimal farm size and optimal cropping intensity in various agro-ecological regions of the country and to provide required incentives so that majority of farms move towards the optimal size.

Moreover, he stated that there is a need to enhancing the capacity of research institutions to produce the pre basic and basic seed in sufficient quantities to meet the full requirement of the public and private sector organizations involved in seed production.

“In Punjab, the agriculture hub of the country, the method of variety approval facilitates the release of immature verities due to political influence. Most of these varieties do not perform in the field resulting in lower productivity and quality of the product. The institutional rivalry among the institutes at the time of variety approval also results in loss of high yielding cultivars through their elimination during the process.”

Pakistan has to rely more heavily on productivity enhancement through technological change and improvement of input efficiency for the desired rapid agricultural growth, he added.

He further said that the shortage of irrigation water would be the most limiting factor in the coming years. Additional reservoirs need to be built soon to store water in excess of what is required for deltaic conservation through proper quantification by the impartial experts/agency.  

Dr Rana added that integrated pest management is another area for research in agriculture. The high use of chemical pesticides to control pests and diseases has not resulted only in high production costs but also has serious implications for environment and national health.

According to the agri expert, the chemical residues have already started appearing in our food chain resulting in export losses. In these situations, it is particularly important that efforts are made to substitute chemical pesticides with environmentally safe integrated pest management and bio-pesticides, which are more target specific, do not destroy beneficial organisms and are free of harmful residues.

Highlighting the issue of research funding, he observed that its level is around 0.2 percent of agricultural GDP as against 1.5 percent recommended by the Pakistan National Commission on Agriculture. The ratio of salaries to operating cost is at about 90:10 compared to internationally accepted ratio of 60:40. The share of agriculture should be increased to at least 6-8 percent if agricultural production has to be enhanced by a considerable margin.

He said that Pakistan had 44 agricultural scientists in 1988 as compared to 2360, 1400, and 300 respectively, in USA, UK, and Egypt.

The agricultural research system in the provinces is poorly funded, ill equipped, weakly linked with stakeholders, thinly staffed with mostly low capacity and unmotivated, and generally mismanaged to meet even the present challenges not to speak of 2018 and beyond. The system cannot deliver up to the future expectations without management and funding from the federal level, essential human resource development, provision of modern laboratories, creation of a nice working environment, and offering the scientists good career opportunities and financial incentives.