Let’s start with a few facts.
Pakistan is the fourth largest milk producer in the world, and second only to India in buffalo milk production. In fact, only China, India and the US produce more milk. We are the fifth largest sugarcane producer at 63,800 thousand metric tonnes (TMT). At 26 million metric tonnes, our wheat production is the eighth highest in the world. We produce three percent of the beef supply of the world and stand at ninth position. We are the fourth largest cotton producer and our cotton production is about one third that of India, the top country, despite being about one-seventh on size. Pakistan holds one of the largest copper deposits in the world. Not to mention, that we are the sixth most populated country in the world, about to overtake Brazil for the fifth position.
Nevertheless, we prefer our stuff ‘imported’.
Imported copper wire. Imported cereal. Imported toothbrush filaments. Imported shampoos.
Oh, scoffing at locals and locally made products is our national hobby. For years we have been ridiculing our neighbours for the ‘Shining India’ branding. When our government tout its achievements and some positive developments, our social media warriors spare no effort in discrediting it on a global scale: it is almost as if any positive development in Pakistan is only acceptable if our leader of choice is responsible for it. By extension, a Pakistan ruled by people we don’t worship blindly, isn’t worth existing. Harsh but true.
Whereas people from most other nations celebrate their country and make tall claims about it, sort of like a doting mother spinning her son’s low grades into something much better, we do everything to spread negativity in the name of ‘truth’. Cynicism, moping and self pity are our natural habitat.
We have an inherent distrust of anything locally sourced – from biscuits and sweets to cloth, to locally-assembled cars. I too am guilty of advising others to buy an imported vehicle.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that no advertiser likes to market a ‘made in Pakistan’ product. Whereas in other countries locally produced goods are highlighted, in Pakistan the ‘imported’ label is used to entice buyers. Our supermarket chains highlight imported goods separately. Our automotive manufacturers make sure that the vehicles they import from Thailand are labelled correctly. One fast food chain prides itself on having everything from its beef patties to its french fries imported from abroad.
It is not that simple though.
All the other countries I mentioned, such as China, India and the US have a huge research and development infrastructure. They are able to develop and produce most of their products at home.
Our business community bemoans government regulation and competition from China as factors impeding their growth. Yet, they hide the fact that they consider expenditure on R&D and training a waste. You just have to spend a few minutes in the offices of any local company to realise that.
Accordingly, we have become a nation of commodity producers and value added goods importers. We can produce bumper wheat crops, yet rely on foreign research to do it more efficiently. We produce huge amounts of cotton, yet have to send the fabric abroad or import the machinery to treat and finish it in order to compete internationally. Our milk is treated with imported machinery and chemicals. Accounting software, report templates, selling techniques, CV formats; we even importing our expertise from abroad rather than brainstorm locally.
We have lost the habit to think and come up with something original. For education we seek guides and ready-made notes. For article ideas and research, we just Google everything rather than conduct research ourselves. Our slogans (10 problems, one solution – remember?), package design, imagery – are all is inspired or directly lifted. It has become so bad that most international ad campaigns are just re-edited and dubbed in Urdu to serve our market, the sixth largest nation on the planet. . You won’t get away with peddling a French ad in Germany, a British ad in USA, or an African ad in India – but you can conveniently shoot a ‘Pakistani’ campaign in the Far East with Indian models and Middle Eastern camerawork and post production.
We no longer make: we derive, appropriate and repurpose.
We, therefore, should not complain when all our business, be it creative, services, manufacturing, you name it, are bettered and superseded by goods and services from other countries. We sell potatoes or at most french fries; they take our potatoes, cut them into strips, freeze-dry them and send them to us as frozen french fries in various, sizes and flavours, with a breaded outer coating – at 10 times the price.
However all is not lost. An interesting observation is what do Pakistani expats buy when they come here? For one, they do grand weddings. They buy designer suits. They hoard masalas. They even take home tinned and packed restaurant food. And they buy tons and tons of biscuits and cookies, confectionery, toffees, snacks – your Hilal Pan Pasand, your Top Pops, your Slims, your Nan Khatais. According to them, our indigenous biscuits and candies are the best. And remember, they have virtually the entire world’s produce at their disposal.
This adoration doesn’t come because those goods are Pakistani. They have built their products through decades of hard work and continuous improvement. Our designer lawns have turned a very ordinary cotton based fabric into a world-class product. Our cookies turn simple wheat and flour into amazing products that we can’t have tea without and whose taste travels with us throughout our lives, no matter where we are. Our masalas enable preparation of world class dishes in every home.
Do you think these products were developed by churning out the same thing over and over again?
Research. Experiments. Continuous improvement. Proudly sourcing, producing and manufacturing the products within our own country, down to the branding, packaging and ad campaigns. Instead of importing our bed linen from abroad, we should import their attitude, desire to improve and above all, the love for their own country.