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Pakistan’s Abandoned Agriculture Sector

Pakistan's Abandoned Agriculture Sector

The road to development goes through agriculture

Agriculture is the lifeline of Pakistan’s economy. This sector plays a dual role in the economic development of the country as on the one hand, it produces crops to meet people’s basic needs of food while also saves huge foreign exchange by curbing imports of food items, on the other. It is a pivotal sector of the economy owing to the fact that it provides raw material to the industrial sector and a large chunk of Pakistan’s exports consists of agricultural produce and the items manufactured from them which earn a lot of foreign exchange through exports.

Agricultural sector accounts for 19.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 42.3 percent of the labour force. In addition, it provides raw material for several value-added sectors. It also has, direct or indirect, bearing on other sectors of the national economy and thus plays a central role in socioeconomic development of the country.

However, it is a startling reality that with every passing year more and more people are abandoning agriculture as a profession. This appalling fact has been unveiled by the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015-16 which reveals that during 2014-15, 23.37 percent of Pakistan’s total employed labour force, aged 10 years and above, was related with agriculture, and its subsectors like livestock and fishing – a steep decline from 46.79 percent from the figure from 1994-95. It means that during these twenty years, there has been a decline of 9.66 percent in the number of people employed in this sector. This decline has been more conspicuous in urban areas where it was recorded at 10.86 percent whereas in rural areas it was 5.36 percent.

At provincial level, the biggest decline was recorded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 31.56 percent people employed in agriculture left the sector between 1994-95 and 2014-15, as the ratio has fallen from 50.50 percent to 34.56 percent. The second biggest decline was seen in Balochistan where the ratio of people employed in this sector dropped from 55.48 percent to 43.43 percent – a decline of 21.72 percent. It is important to note here that in 1994-95, the biggest chunk of employed labour force of Balochistan was in agriculture sector. Balochistan is followed by Sindh province where this fall was 7.35 percent with the figure falling from 42.35 percent in 1994-95 to 39.28 percent in 2014-15. Punjab occupied the fourth place where the ratio of people employed in this sector fell from 44.70 percent in 1994-95 to 47.21 percent in 2014-15.

This increasing abandonment of agriculture as a profession does warrant special attention of the country’s policymakers; however, another aspect that deserves far more urgency in this regard is the pressing need to boost our agricultural produce amidst the bulging population of the country. An analysis in this context suggests that the population of Pakistan has grown by a whopping 57 percent between 1998 and 2017. On the contrary, our produce of crops like wheat, rice, bajra, jowar (sorghum), maize, barley, gram, sugarcane, cotton, rapeseed and mustard, sesame and tobacco has grown only by 52 percent.

A comparative analysis of economic surveys over the years suggests that during the five-year period immediately before the 1998 census i.e. 1992-97, average annual production of the abovementioned 12 crops was recorded at 67,879,580 tonnes but that for the five-year period before the 2017 census i.e. 2011-16, was 103,065,740 tonnes. During these two decades, the production of wheat grew by 51.81 percent, of rice by 71.52 percent, of maize by 253 percent, of sugarcane by 46.58 percent, and of cotton by 25.71 percent whereas the production of eight fruits rose by 34.54 percent.

Growth in population and that in agricultural produce can be analysed from another perspective as well. Average annual production of major crops between 1992 and 1997 and the results of 1998 census depict that in 1998, per-capita agriculture produce of wheat, rice, bajra, jowar (sorghum), maize, barley, gram, sugarcane, canola, rapeseed and mustard, sesame, cotton and tobacco was 512.87 kilograms. But the figures on production during 2011-16 and the 2017 census results suggest that per capita availability has decreased over the years as it now stands at 496.04 kilograms, thus recording a decline of 3.39 percent during the period between the two censuses.

Wheat is the most important major crop of our country and plays a vital role for national food security. During the abovementioned period, the per-capita availability of wheat has gone down from 123.81kgs to 119.73kgs. The availability of sugarcane has also seen a decline and has fallen to 306.02kgs from 323.73kgs. Hence, during this period, the availability of both crops has dropped by 4kgs and 21.71kgs, respectively. The availability of cotton has also gone down from 11.76kgs to 10.35kgs per person. However, for rice and maize, it has shot up as the former rose from 28.45kgs to 31.09kgs and the latter from 10.14kgs to 22.82kgs.

Although this imbalance between population growth and agricultural produce is, apparently, insignificant, yet it serves as a warning sign of the threats we may face in the near future. Besides, it further reaffirms the need to take timely measures to meet the food requirements of a growing population. Increasing per-hectare produce should be the topmost priority in this regard.

Although the per-hectare produce during 2011-16 was far more than that in 1992-97 — nearly 30 percent addition per hectare has been achieved in the production of wheat, rice, sugarcane, maize, gram and cotton — yet we lag far behind other South Asian countries in terms of per-hectare agricultural produce. For instance, as per the data published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in 2014, Pakistan was ranked 62nd in terms of per-hectare production of wheat but still the country was far behind India and Bangladesh in this context.

During 2014, Pakistan produced wheat at an average of 28,241 hectogram per hectare (hg/ha) ­– one hectogram equals one kilogram or 1000 grams – whereas it was 31,457 hg/ha in India and 30,319 hg/ha in Bangladesh.

In terms of paddy yield, Pakistan was at 87th place in the world but, perplexingly, was behind six South Asian countries: Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, India, Nepal and even Afghanistan. In addition, the country occupied 96th place in the world in terms of jowar (sorghum) production but, again, lagged behind five South Asian countries: Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and India. However, we are much better placed in the South Asian region when it comes to maize production – only Bangladesh gets more hectogram per hectare production than Pakistan – but still the country is at 70th place in the world. In hectogram-per-hectare production of barley, we were at the 93rd place in the world and other South Asian countries like India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh are better placed than Pakistan. However, in terms of sugarcane yield, Pakistan was behind only India in South Asia but occupied 54th position in the world ranking.

In addition, Pakistan is at 62nd place in the world in terms of sesame yield; however, in this region, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India are ahead of us in this ranking.

Despite all these facts and the host of problems faced by our agricultural sector, Pakistani farmers, in 2014, reaped world’s 8th largest crop of wheat, 5th largest of sugarcane, 13th largest of paddy, 25th largest of maize, 66th largest of sorghum, 43rd largest of barley and 20th largest of sesame.

If we improve the country’s per-hectare agricultural yield and increase our cultivable land (the area that was sown at least during the year under reference or during the previous year) from the existing 22.01 million hectares – as per a comparative analysis of 1995-96 figures and those of 2015-16, we could effect an increase of only 1.52 percent and still we have 8.25 million hectares culturable wasteland (the uncultivated farm area that is fit for cultivation but was not cropped during the year under reference nor in the year before that) – there is no reason why we cannot become an agricultural power. It is especially so because Allah Almighty has bestowed Pakistan, unlike many countries, with two crop seasons namely “Kharif” and “Rabi”. The first i.e. “Kharif,” is the sowing season during April-June and these crops are harvested during October-December. Rice, sugarcane, cotton, maize, moong, mash, bajra and jowar (sorghum) are important “Kharif” crops whereas the second i.e. “Rabi,” is the second sowing season that begins in October-December and is harvested in April-May. Wheat, gram, lentil (masoor), tobacco, rapeseed, barley and mustard are important “Rabi” crops.

We can get record yield of all these crops; however for this, we will have to put in sincere, concerted efforts to resolve the issues faced by our farmers and the agricultural sector at large. We should draw up the requisite policies by taking them on board and ensuring that they are provided with ample opportunities to boost this pivotal sector of Pakistan’s economy.

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