2014 has been one of the worst years for the agricultural sector in Pakistan. It witnessed floods, inundating swathes of croplands, culminating in a price crash of at least two major crops, and causing the loss of billions to the agricultural sector.Environmental changes, natural disasters, lack of regulation and predatory profiteering are draining the lifeblood from our agricultural sector. Left unchecked, this situation can undermine our near self- sufficiency in food production, making it difficult to feed a population of 200 million, which is growing at a rate higher than average in South Asia.No other major area of our economy is as badly managed as the agricultural sector. It is the single largest sector, contributing 22% to our national income, and employing nearly half of the country’s population. However, in terms of efficiency, it is nowhere near international standards. At the heart of this malfunction lies seasonal flooding, water crisis, derelict agricultural departments, and bad economic policies.Environmental changes, glacial melting and altering rainfall patterns are posing serious challenges to growers, subjecting some areas to floods, while creating drought like conditions in others. Flood is a calamity that hits us perennially, destroying farm lands and infrastructure. Despite its regular occurrence, we have failed to adopt effective flood prevention measures.With environmental change, water stress has emerged as another issue having serious repercussions for the agricultural sector. Pakistan is already a water stressed nation. Owing to mismanagement, nearly 50 percent of our water is lost before reaching the farm gate and another 15 percent on the farm. It is not hard to imagine that in the coming years, water will emerge as our predominant issue.This situation is further aggravated by the government’s weak regulatory and executive authority. For the agricultural sector, the executive and regulatory functions are performed by provincial agricultural departments, whose officials could have made a difference had they remained in contact with the growers. Unfortunately today, most farmers complain of the neglect by the agricultural officers, who rarely visit fields, caring little for the issues dogging the growers.The negligence of the agricultural department doesn’t end there. It has completely failed to regulate the agricultural inputs market. Owing to weak oversight, markets are flooded with low quality seed, pesticides and fertilizers, available at exorbitant prices. Use of such products affects the farmer’s per acre yield, often causing his entire crop to fail.Vagaries of weather and the negligence of government officials is accompanied by the rising prices of inputs. For the last few years, the rates of main crops have not risen in par with the prices of inputs. According to some estimates, the prices of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides have increased by more than 100 percent, whereas crop prices have increased at most 40 percent or so. The price of fertilizer alone has experienced a three fold increase over the last few years. As sowing season sets in, the artificial shortage of fertilizers is created to beef up prices. Exploitative pricing is negatively affecting fertilizer use, with the potential to undermine agricultural productivity.Agriculture is the backbone of our national economy. Even our industry heavily depends upon the raw material produced as agricultural commodities. Agriculture’s relevance to food security makes it an indispensable element of our national security.To address this situation, the government should ensure that quality agricultural inputs are available at reasonable prices. The prices of fertilizers have to be brought down and no firm should be allowed to plunder farmers. Officials of the agricultural department should provide necessary guidance to the farmers, acting as conduits of technology dissemination.Environmental challenges perhaps require the most judicious response. It’s impossible to escape from natural disasters but timely planning, better preparation and a swift response can play an important role in containing the damage. Similarly, better management of water resources can reduce water stress.To feed our rising population, we need to organize the agricultural sector along modern lines, giving our growers cost effective means and the latest agricultural know how. Such a policy can spur agricultural output, uplifting millions out of poverty.The writer is a freelance columnist and has worked as a broadcast journalist. He can be contacted at adnanfalak@gmail.com