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New Govt: Leveraging CPEC-2’s Agriculture component

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
The immediate challenge facing the upcoming government of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif will be to provide urgent relief to the people bearing the brunt of high petroleum and commodity prices, soaring unemployment rates, and hyperinflation.
The economic and financial advisors of the PML(N) and establishment are most likely considering a range of measures to alleviate these hardships. These measures may include stabilizing essential food supplies through targeted agricultural support, streamlined procurement processes, steady flow of food items to the market, providing targeted subsidies, improving distribution channels and enhancing transparency in supply chains. Besides providing direct relief measures such as cash transfers and utility bill assistance.
Instead, the government should prioritize leveraging the agricultural components of CPEC-2 to provide self-sustained, permanent relief to the common man. This is crucial, considering that roughly 34.5% of Pakistan’s population, or approximately 69.58 million to 81.38 million people, are in need of immediate relief. Addressing agriculture-related challenges through CPEC-2 becomes even more pronounced when considering the scale of the population affected.
In Pakistan, the agriculture sector is of paramount importance, as it directly or indirectly employs between 62% and 64% of the population, which translates to roughly 99 million to 103 million people. Contributing approximately 18.5% to 22.35% of Pakistan’s GDP, the agricultural sector holds immense potential for growth.
Doubling its efficiency and productivity could propel its contribution to a staggering 37% to 44.7%, significantly bolstering the national economy. This remarkable surge would be fueled by increased output, reduced waste, export opportunities, and job creation across various industries underscoring agriculture’s crucial role in the nation’s economy and the livelihoods of its citizens.
The new government, facing significant financial challenges with a debt obligation of over $25 billion, equivalent to the entire yearly exports of the country, needs to prioritize the agricultural component of CPEC 2.0 as the cornerstone of its economic strategy to directly address the crucial issue of stabilizing essential food prices.
China and Pakistan with a view to deepen cooperation in the agriculture sector had established a Joint Working Group (JWG) and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in November 2018 aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity, technology adoption, and value addition, leading to food security and economic prosperity. The JWG had held various meetings, focusing on crucial areas such as capacity building, germplasm resources exchange, agriculture product processing modernization, technology extension, fisheries sector boosting, and establishing Foot-and-Mouth Disease-free zones in Pakistan. JWG also prioritized enhancing the skills and knowledge of Pakistani farmers, improving crop and livestock varieties, reducing post-harvest wastage, facilitating technology transfer, ensuring livestock health, and enhancing access to market information and trade opportunities.
In addition, Several protocols were signed to export agricultural commodities from Pakistan to China and involve Chinese businesses in Pakistan’s agriculture sector. Chinese enterprises like M/s Royal Group and CMEC had initiated projects for genetic improvements in buffalo and dairy farming, and large-scale farming and processing industry for chili crops, respectively.
Additionally, Qingfa seeds has introduced high-quality seed production methods for canola crop and established farmer training centers, focusing on modern farming techniques and advanced oil extraction facilities.
While significant milestones have been achieved, they have fallen short of expectations. To achieve the full potential of CPEC-2, a high level of political commitment is required from both the newly elected government and the establishment. Additionally, all stakeholders must agree to expedited implementation. This should be coupled with simplification of procedures, creating a corruption-free environment, streamlining bureaucracy, fostering public-private partnerships, and ensuring transparency and communication. These factors are key to building trust and ensuring the successful implementation of CPEC-2.
Foremost, the government should negotiate with China for the swift transfer of technologies related to high-yielding, drought-resistant crops. This can provide immediate relief by boosting domestic production of essential food items in the next planting season. Additionally, prioritizing training programs for farmers on these new technologies will ensure their effective utilization.
The government should clearly communicate to China its focus on immediate relief measures. Negotiations should prioritize projects with a faster turnaround time that directly impact essential food items. This approach will not only address the immediate needs of the population but also lay the foundation for long-term agricultural sustainability.
Side by side, the government should leverage CPEC 2.0 to collaborate with China on setting up infrastructure projects for the transportation and storage of agricultural goods. Negotiating subsidized tariffs for transporting essential food items from production centers to major consumption areas will reduce costs and ensure wider availability of affordable staples like wheat, sugar, and oil.
Additionally, negotiations should focus on the development of cold chain infrastructure within the CPEC 2.0 framework. This will minimize spoilage of fresh vegetables, fruits, and milk and would cover all parts of food production and distribution, from the provision of agriculture input like seeds and fertilizers, to farms and processing , to storage and transportation. It also includes plans for cold-water fish farming in Northern Pakistan areas with an abundant variety of freshwater fish habitats.
To truly revitalize Pakistan’s agricultural sector, the new government needs to adopt a broader strategy alongside CPEC 2.0. Firstly, the focus should be on cultivating water-efficient, high-value crops like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. These crops not only cater to the demands of water-scarce Middle Eastern countries but also provide lucrative export opportunities.
Creating a business-friendly environment for foreign investment through simplified regulations, tax breaks, and dedicated agricultural investment zones will attract foreign companies to invest in processing facilities, controlled-environment agriculture, and modern irrigation systems.
Secondly, encouraging Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) between Pakistani and foreign companies in areas like contract farming, seed development, and knowledge sharing will leverage foreign expertise while benefiting Pakistani farmers with better technology and market access.
Promoting cooperative societies among small-scale farmers will enable them to pool resources, negotiate better prices, and adopt modern practices more easily.
Thirdly, providing training programs for farmers on efficient irrigation, soil management, and post-harvest handling will empower them to maximize yields and minimize losses, improving overall productivity.
Negotiating trade agreements with water-scarce Middle Eastern and Western nations for the exchange of agricultural products and technology will open up new markets and opportunities.
Facilitating technology transfer from Western countries in areas like precision agriculture, data-driven farming, and drought-resistant crop varieties will enhance efficiency and long-term sustainability.
Developing a strong national brand for Pakistani agricultural products, highlighting quality, freshness, and sustainable production practices, can attract premium prices in international markets.
By implementing these comprehensive strategies, Pakistan can open its agricultural sector to the world, attracting investment, expertise, and new markets. This will lead to a revitalized agricultural sector, a boost to the national economy, and ultimately, a more robust and sustainable food system for the nation.
This strategic approach, while complemented by other essential measures, offers the most powerful path towards achieving food security and alleviating the burden on the nation.

Transparency and Oversight:
By strategically leveraging CPEC 2.0’s agricultural components, the new government can expedite improvements in essential food production, storage, and distribution. This will lead to increased availability and lower prices, providing much-needed relief to the Pakistani people.

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