Islamabad: Syed Fakhar Imam addressed the 42nd Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations via Zoom today.
Agriculture is central to the economy and social fabric of Pakistan. The agriculture sector contributes 19.3 percent to GDP, employs 35 percent of the country’s labour force and contributes to the growth of other sectors of the economy. The healthy expansion of the agriculture sector stimulates domestic demand for the for improved food products, industrial goods and supplies raw materials to agro-based industries.
A more vibrant rural economy and increased food security will depend on the county’s effort to stimulate the agricultural sector. Agricultural transformation will not only raise incomes for small holder farmers, but it will also and more importantly promote expansion of the rural non-agricultural sector ¾ with beneficial effects on rural poverty and social stability.
In the Pakistani context, most of the rural population are linked with the agriculture sector either as farmers, daily wage labourers or rural micro entrepreneurs. The link between agriculture productivity and rural poverty has an important relationship in the context of poverty alleviation in Pakistan.
Today, the world confronts a looming agricultural crisis. The global population will soon reach 8 billion people. Six hundred million suffer from hunger. Over 100 million children are stunted due to under nourishment. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to worsen the situation and push more people into extreme poverty.
In Pakistan, the Prevalence of Undernourishment in the total population is estimated around 21 percent on the national level with important disparities at Provincial level.
This high prevalence of undernourishment is more than a public health issue and is a serious barrier to Pakistan’s economic development. It is estimated that undernutrition reduces Pakistan GDP by approximately 3 percent every year, approximately reducing GDP by USD 3.7 Billion. Addressing malnutrition in a holistic manner is therefore essential for the economic and social development of the people of Pakistan.
In response to the recession triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Imran Khan, proposed a “Global Initiative on Debt Relief” last April. Also at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister proposed several measures for generation of early financing to enable developing countries’ recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, including;
– Comprehensive debt relief and restructuring;
– The creation of 500 billion dollars in SDRs;
– Larger concessional financing; and
– Measures to halt and recover illicit financial flows from developing countries to haven destinations and to richer countries.
Pakistan plans to go even further in trying to end poverty and hunger. Some key initiatives in this regard are;
Investing in Green and Sustainable Agriculture Infrastructure – to shorten agriculture value chains. Financing infrastructure including roads, food storage, localized energy grids and markets will greatly improve food systems and will assist with increasing food and nutrition security in Pakistan.
Shifting from Low Value crops to High Value Crops – this will help improve the livelihoods of small farmers across the country. The government plans to work on areas of credit, capacity building of farmers and improving the access and availability of high–value crops and varieties, clubbed with agriculture value chain investment, which will help increase farmer’s incomes and empower the women in agricultural communities.
Use of Innovative Agricultural Technologies and Techniques – technology has the potential to offers a wide range of solutions to Pakistan’s agricultural and food challenges. This calls for efficient utilization of production resources by adopting modern technologies, ensuring internet and broadband access in rural areas and improving digital literacy will be vital for Pakistan to build more efficient domestic and international supply chains.
Competitive and Comparative Price Regimes – The current government plans to ensure fairer market prices for agricultural and food products in Pakistan. For a long time, the people of Pakistan have suffered from market manipulation techniques employed by middlemen, monopolists and hoarders. Small holder farmers cannot be left to the mercy of the corporations, but at the same time, international agricultural trade must be rationalized. The huge agricultural subsidies provided by certain richer economies distort global markets and make it impossible for farmers in the developing countries to compete.
Improved Food Patterns – Pakistan must re-think Pakistans food consumption patterns and the food systems that support these patterns. We can eat better, and many Pakistanis would do well to eat less. Pakistan can produce food with greater respect for nature. Pakistan can stop the pollution of our lakes, rivers and oceans. We can produce more with less water, more respect for soil and without dangerous chemicals.
Knowledge Intensive Agriculture – In order to bring about agricultural transformation in Pakistan, the farmers need new knowledge about how to use improved methods and techniques for increasing yield and value. Knowledge based agriculture is an even bigger requirement in the era of climate change where a harsher environment and extreme weather phenomena are changing our productive landscape, varieties and techniques.
Despite Pakistan’s financial difficulties, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have provided a relief package of around USD 8 billion dollars to the neediest members of our society. It included emergency cash assistance to the poorest families and other vulnerable groups, including women and children. Pakistan achieved this through our Ehsaas programme, which means compassion, fully utilizing digital technologies and data bases. This was the largest poverty alleviation programme in Pakistan’s history.