Rethinking agriculture.

WITH Covid-19 and the ensuing Great Lockdown threatening the future order of things, Pakistan needs to reset agriculture to ensure food security of its 220 million people.

Currently, Pakistan's vast and diverse agriculture somehow feeds its people. It also leaves some surplus for exports though tricky issues such as productivity gaps and low value addition undermine its potential.

But whether the country maintains this position post-pandemic depends on how quickly and efficiently it resets its entire agricultural machine. Food security remains an issue even today owing to a high rate of population growth and a lack of meticulous planning. Food exports remain confined to grains and low value-added products. In both areas, survival and growth depend on some big-bang change.

In the current political regime, agriculture is suffering more from a lack of harmony between federal and provincial authorities than anything else. Meanwhile, other structural problems continue to undermine agricultural productivity. The most important ones are: scant funding of agricultural research aimed at closing yield/productivity gaps, water shortages, low-level modernisation and mechanisation, poor infrastructure for storage and transportation, high pre- and post-harvest losses, broken supply chains, and financing policies that ignore the seekers of development loans and farmers of smaller provinces.

Maintaining supply chains and dealing with the menace of hoarding and black marketing are key challenges

Apparently, there is no big hope for Pakistan to absorb a food supply and distribution shock. Ensuring food security during a national emergency is such a crucial thing that cannot be left to governments alone. All stakeholders, including the private sector, media and academia, ought to contribute positively to the quick reframing of the food security policy. State institutions need to ensure its implementation in letter and spirit.

The federal committee on agriculture is expected to meet online by the end of this month to set targets for Kharif crops and review the output of Rabi crops. Till then, official estimates of wheat, pulses and oilseeds of the present year's crops will remain unknown. Till then, the nation may not know how much rice, maize, sugar cane and cotton could be produced in Covid-19-struck Pakistan. Sugar cane and cotton keep competing for the area under cultivation with sugar cane elbowing out cotton most of the time.

It will be difficult for the...

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