I have talked to people in power corridors on kick starting Pakistan’s economy with my oft repeated hypothesis of sustainable growth at grass roots. My argument is based on statistics that appropriate the bulk of Pakistan’s GDP and GNP to these poor segments. I also argue that despite this contribution, they are the lowest recipients of government funding, state patronage and worst affectees of consumerism.

 Power elites do not have time to dilate into the brass tacks. They retort dismissively wanting an immediate solution. This attitude is endemic with our elites and bureaucracy; reasons why Pakistan’s issues are never resolved rather pile up. It is this disconnect that makes Pakistan a floating economy with no base. Economic management is a racket from top to bottom.  For as long as these elites and racketeers control the affairs, Pakistan will remain a dependent country. 

Agriculture sector is central to Pakistan’s economy accounting for over 21 percent of GDP. According to ministry of finance, it absorbs over 45 % of the country’s total labour force while 62 percent of the country’s population resides in rural areas, linked with agriculture for their livelihood. These are not very accurate statistics and the ministry admits that agriculture sector’s strong linkages with the overall economy are not fully captured. 

The ministry argues that while on one hand, the sector is a primary supplier of raw materials to downstream industry, contributing substantially to Pakistan’s exports, on the other; it is a large market for industrial products such as fertilizer, pesticides, tractors and agricultural implements.  The entire history and pathology of the downfall of Pakistan’s agriculture lies in this statement. The industrial sector with an unclear policy is the curse of Pakistan’s agriculture and small scale manufacturing. The two never complement due to ever widening social disparity. 

In the past three decades, while agriculture has shown a consistent decline in quantity and quality, the service industries, fertilizer industry and agro chemicals have shown a constant rise. This had exponentially added cost inputs making agriculture counterproductive. So where is the problem; with the cost inputs or the agriculture? 

One explanation that I shall pursue is that fertilizer and agro chemical industry, quacks and their middlemen have made slaves out of farmers. With negligible on-farm advice available from agriculture research centers busy in prompting this industry and imported BT seeds, the farmers have become financial hostages. These quacks operate an informal chain of pesticides, seeds, locally produced fertilizers and self-style advisors.  The contrasting growth in services indicates that the dynamics have shifted to consumerism an egg laying wasp feeding on live carcasses. 

Following the coup of 1999, there was tremendous pressure on General Musharraf to dismiss Dr. Zafar Altaf the federal secretary agriculture. Rather than order investigations against him, I studied the cases and decided to visit his office. The man was arrogant and very sure of what he said. That year Pakistan’s agriculture showed a remarkable increase. Next spring Pakistan had a bumper wheat crop and the government had to advance summer vacations to store wheat in schools. Dr Zafar attributed the success to two factors; early sowing resulting in a longer season and seed management. There was a corresponding decline in use of fertilizers and chemicals. No wonder then that everyone was against Dr Zafar. Straight and simple with no funding. 

Dr Zafar was a psychologist turned economist with a PhD in International economics from UK. He was a proponent of home led growth and fought lifelong battles with cartels and consumer mafias. Being a psychologist, he played mind games using market elasticity as his major weapon. He was not an agriculturist but had the ability to rally the best scientists and agriculturists around him. Blessed with unmatched skills at project management and entrepreneurship, he played his shots through gaps that were not covered. Pakistan’s agriculture and its entrepreneurship owe a lot to this Lone Ranger. Strawberries, cheekos, olives, varieties in cotton, oilseeds, wheat and rice are all his endeavours. 

Dr Zafar considered agriculture input industry as a mafia that worked for foreign cartels like Monsanto and Bayer. He was against unrestricted use of fertilizers and pesticides as environmental and economic disasters that would one day bring agriculture to a standstill. He has been proven right.

There are three major projects of Dr Zafar Altaf that have been shelved in Pakistan permanently.

Canola is a derivation of the Pakistani mustard oilseed with health benefits equivalent to olive oil. In the 70s the Canadian government gave a grant of 40 million dollars to promote Canola Oil in Pakistan. In 23 years, the Pakistan Oilseed Development Board just managed to bring 5,000 acres of arid land under cultivation. 

The project was handed over to Dr Zafar Altaf to make it more productive. Within a year the cultivatable area jumped twenty fold to 100,000 acres. By 1997, 500,000 acres all over Pakistan were under cultivation. The edible oil bill of Pakistan reduced from 1 billion dollars to $615 million, a decrease of over 38% in foreign exchange. The same year, the US Government agreed to give a grant of $240 million spread over six years. This funding had the potential to completely change the edible oil landscape of Pakistan. 

The government through the ministry of agriculture gave Rs. 60 million to procure best quality seeds for distribution by the government to the farmers. In 1995-96, the government distributed seeds worth Rs. 25 million. In 1996 the Government of Benazir Bhutto was dismissed. Under pressure from lobbies, the government stopped the seed distribution. In 1997, the interim minister of industries Mr. Shafqat Mehmood closed the Mamta Oil factory on an alleged default of Rs.35 million. No one cared that the project had saved Pakistan excess of Rs. 15 billion in import bills. Canola project in Pakistan came to an end. 

Seeing the mismanagement, the US government withdrew its grant. The German government froze all grants to Pakistan. General Musharraf’s minister of industries refused to restart the project. Under pressure from German Government that had invested in the project, the factory was handed back to original owners in 2008, now a junkyard.  Meanwhile the import bill of edible oil has jumped manifold. Had the project not been closed, Pakistan would have become an oil exporting country. 

PARC under Dr Zafar Altaf was always under intense pressure from BT Cotton lobbies to discontinue research on indigenous cotton seeds in the country. The lobby included an ex federal minister of industries and the agriculture minister of PPPP government.  The major reason was that Dr Zar Quraish had developed successful varieties of cotton with many times more yield than BT Cotton of Monsanto. With arrest warrants issued against him by Government of Punjab, Dr Zafar was no more effective. 

Zar Quraish seeds were successfully grown all over Pakistan including KPK, Potohar and Islamabad. Once PMLN came to power, the cell in PARC was closed and handed over to cotton research institute Multan. Dr Zar Quraish was dismissed. The seed was promptly declared ineffective. The institute is now the strongest advocate of Monsanto. 

The same fate fell Idara e Kissan headed by Dr Zafar Altaf. Against court orders, the Halla Milk project in Lahore was shut down by Khawaja Saad Rafique and Chief Minister Punjab. Dr Zafar was declared a fugitive and lived under a protective bail until his death. Idara e Kissan that sustained poor women for 32 years suddenly became a non-profitable racket in the 33rd. The fall of Halla Milk opened doors for Inhar Milk in Chiniot. 

This is how the racket operates. Just imagine if Dr Zafar Altaf had been allowed to continue his agricultural revolution. Pakistan would have become a world leader in wheat, cotton, rice, edible oils, dairy products and organic foods. Imagine the effect it would have had on exports, food security, textiles and environment. Tragically, all this happened during the last push to the summit; 1994-2013. 

Pakistan is always so unfortunate because vultures perch where eagles dare. No one has time to unlearn and study the politics and management of greed.