It is hapless to note that a proclaimed agricultural country has been witnessing intermittent shortages in agriculture produces ever since its creation. Even though the green patches still pervade a huge chunk of land available, however, they are diminishing at an alarming pace into the vast wilderness of barrenness. There have been innumerable factors, contributing to the languishing agriculture sector, but mismanaged water resources, meagre allocation of resources for the agriculture research, ever indulging middle man role to market the finished good, and absence of accurate data, are to name a few. We have been experimenting with different ideas like rapid industrialization and private sector investments in the services sector in an attempt to give the economy a boost, and for it to function beyond the sphere of agricultural influence, however, the situation remained economically precarious. We have to understand that it is only a preponderate agriculture sector that would guarantee a prosperous future for Pakistan.  

Pakistan irrigation system had been an expeditious conduit irrigating vast agricultural land immaculately. However, poor management and entrenched corruption have a pernicious impact on the overall functionality of the irrigation system, leaving the poor farmer at the mercy of abrupt floods or dry watercourses during cultivation cycles. Pakistan could” run dry” by 2025 as its water shortage is reaching an alarming level. The authorities remain negligent about the crises that are posing a serious threat to the country`s stability. IRSA’s recent study revealed that Pakistan receives 145 million acre-feet of water every year but its ability to save water is restricted to 13.7 million acre-feet only. Pakistan needs 40 million acre-feet of water but 29 million acre-feet of our floodwater are wasted owing to a fewer number of dams. India has already raised this issue with the international bodies that Pakistan rendition in water management has been reeling therefore she may be allowed to use western rivers that had been allocated to Pakistan through IWT.

We have to get rid of the devil-may-care sense of complacency and should undertake a comprehensive water conservation strategy by focusing on building water reservoirs in politically less volatile regions. The bulk of Pakistan`s farmland is irrigated through a canal system, which is only generating a quarter of its actual operating and maintenance cost in terms of revenue collection. An efficient tax regime aimed at subsiding the small farmers and taxing the large growers may help to bridge this gap. It is pertinent to mention that the all available annual surface water is largely untaxed in Pakistan. In 1947, forests were 5 per cent of the total area that plunged to 2 per cent presently contributing to less precipitation and eroding the water holding capacity. It may appear surreal that despite having tree plantation drives every year for the last three decades still area under forestation has been continuously declining.

Food security and to increase yields have been the top priorities for all developed countries. They have been exploring new avenues to achieve their targets of food self-sufficiency. Whereas we are still banking upon the primitive and antiquated ways of research at NARC and PARC. The budget allocation for the agriculture sector had been slashed by 48 per cent in the current fiscal. It is a fact, our agriculture scientists have been doing a fantastic job in innovating new varieties by managing the research work within meagre financial resources, but they require more financial allocations to allow them to decipher the genetic knots with the help of modern technologies.

The agriculture sector has been witnessing a paradigm shift of capitulating its most fertile pieces of land to the housing societies. Over a period of the last two decades, high prices of agricultural inputs have been denting the profitability of farmers. Small farmers facing financial doldrums are the most convenient targets for the housing tycoons. In addition to the skyrocketing input costs, the role of middleman in our agriculture sector has also played a prime role in inflicting financial despondency upon the farmers. Instead of farmers reaping the benefits of their hard work, it is the middleman who is consuming the profits. The government can lessen the misery of small farmers by offering them free of cost storing sites for their produce. Besides farmers` market concept has never been implemented in Pakistan. There have been quite a few instances where influential and large growers had set up displays in large cities but with little success. If large growers were unable to leverage this concept, then for small farmers it is a dream which will never come true until it gets government patronization.

This year`s wheat fiasco has brought to fore the possibility of having gruesome repercussions, after the provision of incorrect data. We still are relying on the orthodox model of forecasting crop area under cultivation and their respective yields. Our current forecasting model comprises numerous old fashion bureaucratic layers with lots of manual work. Old fashioned district administration entities have been responsible for the incumbent agriculture data collection upon which mega decisions of import or export have been taken. Artificial intelligence is being used across the globe to ascertain the accuracy of data, so the decisions made entails a minimum risk of failures. Whereas in Pakistan, we are somehow adamant not to use AI in its true sense. The geo-fencing process can be used to have the best estimates of area under cultivation and expected yields.

Just a reiteration of being an agriculture-based economy would not make us one. Our wheat crop has been facing a roller coaster drive since time unknown, Cotton – only true cash crop has been succumbed to poor quality infectious seeds, subjected to intense spray cycles regime, that had brought down the production form 11000 ( 480 lbs. bales ) in 2011 to 6200 ( 480 lbs. bales) in 2019. When sugarcane crop ripens to harvest, it offers the best time to twist the arm of the grower, as any procrastination in harvesting would lower down the quality of sugarcane, thus leaving farmers completely at the mercy of mill owners. Even nowadays farmers’ associations have been taken to the roads pushing the government to have a magnanimous approach towards farmers’ problems by establishing support prices. We have to admit the fact that defending the geographical frontiers of any country requires filled stomachs too. A safe, affordable, and the plentiful supply of food is a national security issue.

— The writer is a private sector professional and aspires widening of social discourse.