Aurora Magazine

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Just Saying

Aurora's editorial from the March-April 2024 issue.
Published 10 May, 2024 11:36am

Nowadays, agriculture is the latest panacea that will solve Pakistan’s systemic economic problems and put us all firmly on the path to progress.

Remember how, in 2020, it was the building and construction sector that was going to do the job? It would heave us out of the Covid-19 induced economic doldrums, create jobs within the industry and across all supporting sectors. And oh, by the way, what happened to the Imran Khan government’s pledge to build five million units for the underprivileged? Not much, as it turns out. In fact, the economy is in an even worse state today – yes, that turned out to be actually possible. Not that one can compare agriculture with building and construction. Agriculture is Pakistan’s lifeline. It accounts for 22.7% of our GDP and employs 37.4% of the workforce. Crucially, it is what gives us food security and protects us from the kind of social upheaval that we would prefer to not even imagine.

Yet, far from living up to its potential, agricultural growth is in decline. Pakistan has one of the lowest crop yields in the world. Despite being the sixth-largest dairy producer in the world, our livestock are also underperforming. Our soil health is poor and degrading and our water resources are becoming scarcer by the day.

Why? The answers are known to all, and so are the solutions. Our farming techniques are archaic and we seem unable to consistently introduce the agricultural practices that would enhance our productivity, improve the quality of our soil, repair our broken irrigation systems, manage our water resources, develop our added value capabilities, solve our supply chain issues, increase our exports – and put an end to our food insecurity. Instead, we seem to prefer to cling to our subpar status by applying band-aids rather than adopt the many good ideas and proven solutions that are on the table and which could turn around our agricultural potential.

But then it boils down to a question of political will. Repairing all that is wrong with our current agricultural practices means stirring a hornet’s nest of vested interests, and any government attempting to tackle this will inevitably get badly stung. Hence the band-aid. But, the problem is even worse. Even political will – should it miraculously manifest itself – is not enough. Agriculture is too big and complex to not be heavily dependent on government policy. We are not talking about the automobile or the construction sectors where the private sector can attempt to assume a lead role. Agriculture cannot function without state policies (it is how it works everywhere else in the world), and unfortunately, the functionaries in charge of conceptualising and implementing such policies are not up to calibre. Years of political meddling have put people in charge of departments they know nothing (nor care) about, when the reality is that meaningful and sustained change can only be driven by qualified, motivated, energetic and committed people – and such people are almost non-existent within our state institutions. That is the reality.

Can this change? Of course it can. But it will require extreme mega changes in mindset by all stakeholders – public servants, corporates and farmers. And honestly, that is all there is to it. The solutions are there and they are neither expensive (relative to what is being spent) nor that hard to implement – and because the bar is so low, improvements will come quickly. The change in mindset, however, will take at least a generation. Now would be a good time to start.