The entire public sector of Pakistan is affected by the incompetence and bad governance of successive regimes. Primarily an agrarian country with over 70 percent population residing in the rural areas, the agricultural sector is one of the most neglected areas of Pakistan’s economy.

Despite the fact that almost all civilian governments in Pakistan have had a significant presence of feudals and mega landlords, both as legislators and ministers, there has been little development in the sector.

As compared to the manufacturing industry, the agricultural sector is a relatively slow moving business area that focuses on long-term productivity and results. Investors generally tend to be attracted to businesses that can reap quick profits. As a result, there is little self-based initiative by the modern investor to venture into this area. Concurrently, the public sector has also neglected, mismanaged and mishandled the agricultural industry. Accordingly, when compared to international standards, Pakistan is far behind in yield per acre, in milk and meat yield per animal.

Needless to say, the agricultural sector has a significant contribution in Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan is considered the fourth-largest milk producing nation in the world. Twenty-three percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) comes from this sector, 51 percent of which is attributed to the livestock sector. The contribution to GDP from the livestock sector is 11.4 percent, which is higher than the contribution made by the entire crops sector (10.9 percent) of the country. Rs 53 billion were earned as foreign exchange from livestock in 2000-2001.

The last decade saw the introduction of imported cows and buffaloes for mass milk production from Australia, Europe and the United States. The role of the various government departments involved in promoting the import of milking animals from countries, having a totally different weather profile than ours, has been highly controversial with high casualties. There is a clear-cut lack of policy and assistance for the indigenous small to medium livestock farmer.

The SMEDA has assumed the role of an importing agent of foreign cows and buffaloes; hence, it is accused of neglecting the development of the indigenous livestock industry. Clients approaching SMEDA for assistance on starting a dairy farm are aid to be only encouraged to set up an imported animal farm and no help is available to assist in the farming of indigenous breeds.

The indigenous livestock sector is characterised by very low milk yield per animal. The dairy sector mostly operates on non-commercial basis in the unorganised sector, while the organised sector processes only a small fraction of the country’s total milk production. To meet the domestic demand, Pakistan imports powdered milk. Average annual deficit of fresh milk is projected at 1170.41 million litres.

The major milk producing countries in the European Union (EU) and North America provide regular farm subsidies to the dairy sector, while none are offered to the dairy sector in Pakistan. The fact is that Pakistan enjoys comparative advantage in milk production, despite its very low milk yields per animal.

Several years ago, our world renowned Sahiwal breeds famous for high milk production were imported by Australians to improve their milk yield per animal through crossbreeding. Due to the long productive cycle of these animals, it takes several years to develop breeds of animals with high milk yields. The countries with a long-term vision and policy, thus, opted for this route, while our reactive approach oriented governments preferred the shortcut by encouraging the import of Australian and Swedish milking animals.

The Australian milking animals yield over 20 to 30 litres per day, while the Swedish animals yield between 30 to 40 litres per day. Special controlled sheds are needed to keep the temperature 5° to 10° below the atmospheric temperatures of the day. The feed for these animals is also procured from specific companies. In addition, specially trained dairy technicians and managers are needed to run these farms. Also, the cost of these imported cows and buffaloes is 2 to 3 times more than the average price of our domestic animal. Then the setting up and maintaining of controlled shed dairy farms is an expensive affair and not advisable for the small to medium livestock farmer.

To make our livestock and dairy sector efficient in the long term, we need a balanced policy to ensure that the small farmer is not adversely affected by modernising the industry through practices favouring the rich and the wealthy. Farmers need to be educated and facilitated through sustained efforts to improve their animal stocks, management systems, and production technologies.

The writer is a former member of Civil Services of Pakistan, and change management consultant and a public sector management analyst. Email: drsaniachaudhry@gmail.com