Karachi: Pakistan’s low crop yield per hectare has not gotten any better for a long time and now it has sunk to one of the lowest levels in the world, according to a report released recently by the Pakistan Business Council – a business policy advocacy group.
A major part of Pakistan’s economy relies on the agriculture sector, which had a 19.5% share in the gross domestic product – the total size of the economy – in 2016.
Pakistan’s agricultural productivity ranges between 29% and 52%, far lower than the world’s best averages for major commodities, the report says.
Pakistan produces 3.1 tons of wheat from one hectare, which is just 38% of the 8.1 tons produced in France – the world’s best productivity.
Similarly, Pakistan produces 2.5 tons of cotton per hectare, which is 52% of the 4.8 tons produced in China.
Sugarcane yield stands at 63.4 tons per hectare in Pakistan, which is 51% of the 125.1 tons Egypt produces from every hectare while maize productivity is estimated at 4.6 tons per hectare, 41% of the 11.1 tons that France is producing. In the case of rice crop, Pakistan produces 2.7 tons from every hectare, which is merely 29% of the 9.2 tons per hectare in the US.
“Low crop yields hamper Pakistan’s ability to realise its full potential; Pakistan is not an agriculture country any more,” comments Gada Hussain, founder of the Sindh Abadgar Board – a lobby group of farmers.
Agricultural commodities, particularly cotton, provide critical inputs for Pakistan’s major manufacturing industries. However, lower harvests translate into low industrial production and higher costs, says the report.
Pakistan exports a number of agricultural commodities and their value added products. Sugarcane is used to make sugar and confectionery items that are exported. Rice and maize are also exported.
According to the report, the low productivity acts as a major barrier to Pakistan becoming a major player in the world’s processed food industry.
The agriculture sector employs around 42% of the labour force. A thriving and more efficient agriculture sector will help lift living conditions of a large number of people and also improve competitiveness of the industry, the report says.
However, 50% of the agricultural products are wasted in Pakistan due to unavailability of sufficient cold chain, logistics and processing facilities.
“Absence of efficient, new seed varieties, intermittent water supply and unenthusiastic marketing are killing our agriculture,” says Hussain. Urbanisation is also gaining pace as a lack of basic facilities like safe drinking water, health care and children education is compelling farmers to move to cities.
After toiling for four to five months to grow a crop, a farmer earns less than Rs100 per day, which is far lower than the Rs600 to Rs800 he can earn in cities as a labourer, according to Hussain. “So, we are losing agriculture which is the main driving force behind the economy.”
Media reports suggest the Chinese government is looking for avenues to enter Pakistan’s agriculture sector. The Chinese state and banks are expected to provide capital and loans to the Chinese companies interested in setting up ventures in Pakistan.
China is going to set up a fertiliser plant that will produce 800,000 tons per year. It plans to establish meat processing plants in Sukkur with annual output of 200,000 tons and two milk processing plants to produce 200,000 tons a year.
Chinese will also invest in high-yield seeds and aim to build a nationwide logistics network, warehousing and distribution system from Gwadar to Islamabad.
China will also install vegetable processing plants with annual output of 20,000 tons along with fruit juice and jam production plants with a capacity of 10,000 tons.
“Though self-sufficiency is desirable, there are fears Chinese investors may dictate their terms due to their huge investments,” says Hussain.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2018.