FAISALABAD-China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the golden opportunity for the overall development of the region thus the government should reorganise the agriculture sector to get a major share from $100 billion imports of agriculture produce by China, said the Punjab secretary agriculture.

M Mehmood was addressing a launching ceremony of a Study Report on CPEC-Prospects & Challenges for Agriculture. He said that one fourth population of the world lives in China alone and most of their exports will be routed through Pakistan in the coming year after the completion of CPEC.

He noted, “The containers full of exportable surplus will be sent to various international markets but on return back, these containers will be empty and we must exploit the opportunity to export our surplus agriculture produce to China.” He said that the per capita income of China is increasing substantially, bringing a visible change in their living style and food habits. "Like other affluent societies, they also prefer rich and costly food and fruits. We must brace ourselves to get maximum benefit from this emerging change,” he said.

He said that Agriculture Department of Punjab is fully aware of the situation and taking necessary steps to harvest maximum benefits. "We are concentrating on high-value crops and in this connection a 10 years comprehensive programme has been evolved to develop one Lac Acre of land in Potohar region for the cultivation of grapes and other high value crops," he said. He added that major Chinese imports would also be invited to utilise the land for the cultivation of high value fruits in addition to developing agriculture processing sector on modern scientific lines.

"Its trickling effects will provide an opportunity to our farmers to upgrade technologies and develop agriculture as a profitable business by shunning century old practices," he added. He said that foreign consultants have been engaged to analyse why Pakistan is unable to get its due share in Chinese imports despite its friendly relations and close proximity.

He said, “We should renegotiate bilateral trade agreement and in this connection a meeting is expected during this or next month. After these meetings we would be in a position to decide that which strategy is suitable for Pakistan to enhance its shares in the Chinese imports. I have already talked with commercial consular of China on this issue," he said. He said that more deliberations are needed to finalise the renegotiated bilateral trade agreement.

To a question about a research project on "China-Pakistan Agricultural Technical Cooperation" proposed by the Research & Development Cell of FCCI, the secretary said that Punjab Agriculture Research Board (PARB) is extending liberal grants to the viable projects received from public or private sector. "Initially a sum of Rs259 million was allocated for this purpose. The funding was immediately increased to Rs750 million and it would be further enhanced to Rs3 Billion within next three years,” he said. He asked the FCCI president to submit the project to PARB where a group of experts will review its viability and allow the requisite grant.

Secretary agriculture also explained the numbers of innovative e-projects to streamline the agriculture sector fully compatible with contemporary needs with inherent ability to compete with the developed agrarian economies.

Earlier, Faisalabad Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FCCI) President Engineer Saeed Sheikh expressed concern over the massive migration from rural to urban areas. This has not only inflicted colossal loss to the agriculture sector but also created multiple problems for the cities. He said that the concept of green areas around major cities has become redundant and fertile agriculture land is mercilessly used for commercial purposes. He demanded complete ban on the use of agriculture land for commercial purpose.

"The new and planned cities could also be developed at a suitable distance from the existing ones," he said and added that green areas around cities must be preserved to cater to food related needs of each city. He said that everyone is getting food and when world population swells to 10 billion even then Allah Almighty will provide them food. He criticised the drastic increase in the price of wheat during Zardari era, and said that the increase in wheat prices from Rs600 to Rs900 per mound fomented a new wave of the price spiral. He said that the Word Bank in its report had also warned that the step will certainly play a catalytic role in increasing wheat production but it will badly disturb the whole economy.

He said that he was not against giving maximum relief to the farming community but the increase in the prices of agriculture produce is not in national interest. "The option of giving subsidy to the farmers instead of increasing price of agriculture produce was also available but government intentionally ignored it," he added.

He further said the government had now wheat stocks of many years. "Our wheat is costly as compared to other countries’ and hence we are unable to sell it in the international market. We could import wheat at much cheaper rate from other countries to meet our domestic needs and instead of concentrating on traditional crops. We should switch over the high value crops which are in high demand in international markets,” he said. He also stressed a need to import high yielding seeds to increase the production. Similarly standardisation of fertilisers and pesticides is also imperative and for this purpose government should set up laboratories in addition to taking severe action against the adulterators, he said. He said that textile is the mainstay of local economy but the members are also involved in the business of agriculture. Hence the president FCCI or his nominated persons be included in all BOD's and BOG's falling under the administrative domain of the agriculture department, he demanded.

Vice President Ahmed Hassan said that the Study Report published by the R&D Department of CPEC will help reorganise agriculture on modern lines. He said that per acre yield of China is almost double to Pakistan’s, hence the government should exploit china's experience through modern farming, technology up-gradation and by launching joint ventures for value addition in collaboration with Chinese entrepreneurs.

Hafiz Azhar gave an explicit, comprehensive and detailed presentation on the study report CPEC-Prospects & Challenges for Agriculture.