In a race to compete with the Global World Class City model, Pakistan has long forsaken any concrete development and attention to our stagnating agriculture sector, giving precedence to costly infrastructure projects and industrial regimes. With the imminent CPEC project boasting revitalisation in all socio-economic aspects of the province and the country, it’s impact on the agriculture sector of the province and incumbent livelihoods has yet to be debated. However, concerns have been raised in the cabinet that agriculture has been completely ignored in the multi-billion-dollar CPEC.

Where the three phase project is prioritising improvement in the energy matrix and infrastructure in Pakistan; undertaking construction of the country’s biggest airport, improvement of roads and establishing a railway link, it has relegated agriculture to later phases of the project.

On paper however, agricultural development is one of the seven areas of cooperation under CPEC, wherein China is specifically interested to explore areas like cotton productivity, efficient irrigation and post-harvest infrastructure along the CPEC route, a gateway for enhancing agriculture exports to China. Where infrastructure can undoubtedly serve in allaying the bottlenecks in the agriculture sector, this progression requires economic and political reforms by the government and private sector. The government should consider removing tariff and non-tariff barriers for agricultural trade with China, renegotiating the Pak-China Free Trade Agreement for better returns on its agricultural exports. The private sector and agriculture entrepreneurs should explore viable market opportunities and partnerships in the Chinese market and with international firms. Most importantly, a modern agricultural policy needs to be formulated to work in tandem with CPEC and support the rights of the local farmers.

The state must ensure that this project does not go the way of every other development endeavor and limit itself to serving a burgeoning industrial sector. Pakistan has a predominantly agricultural economy, the rapid decline in the sector has forced Pakistan into importing a number of food commodities to fulfill its own consumption needs. Besides contributing to more than 70 percent of total export earnings, it employs almost half of the country’s labor force. Yet our weighted economic policies view the agriculture sector as an obsolete paradigm, bereft of the government’s growth oriented impetus and thus need to be amended.

CPEC has the potential to significantly help in ensuring inclusive development, especially targeting socio-economic development of less-developed areas of the country. In the interest of supporting and improving the standard of life in the province, to improve an ailing agriculture that has long suffered under state neglect, and ultimately to enhance our exports in face of a harrowing trade deficit, the potential of CPEC with regards to the agriculture sector has to be fully utilised.