Muhammad Asif Noor
Agriculture is at the heart of Pakistan’s economic life, and it has been the biggest beneficiary, both directly and indirectly, from the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In Pakistan, agriculture still relies on traditional farming methods, and there are many challenges to be overcome including diseased seeds and yields, the variable quality of fertilizers, as well as a lack of energy resources, and ineffective water management.
The aim of building this sector in the CPEC is not only to improve farmers’ livelihoods but also to link Pakistan’s agricultural sector with regional and international markets. It is high time that Pakistan became a leader in agricultural products.
Increasing its exports of agricultural products to China would also help Pakistan reduce the trade imbalance with China. For this to happen, Pakistan needs to connect to the food value chain of China.
It is pertinent to note here that China accounts for 20 percent of the world’s total agricultural output by value, producing cotton, fish, rice, potatoes, tomato, tea, barley, corn, and peanuts, along with other important items including fruits.
For instance, oil seed production is another important value crop meeting the demand of industry and with a large share in China’s exports of agricultural products.
Other important cash crops of China are green and jasmine tea, black tea, sugarcane, and sugar beets, while the fiber crops are jute, hemp, flax, and others that also include the country’s old practice of raising silkworms and producing valuable silk materials.
Pakistan can be a leading bread basket for the Belt and Road food chain depending upon how well we use the technology and learn from China’s leading expertise from the farms to fields, factories, and best practices.
The CPEC has now entered its second phase, and the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) has three major cooperation agreements with different leading Chinese agriculture development, research, and academic institutions, including Lanzhou University, China Agriculture University, and Gansu Academy of Mechanical Sciences, besides the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.
It will also sign a memorandum of understanding with the Agriculture Research Council and China Machinery Engineering Corporation.
These are the beginnings of long and strong agricultural cooperation in which research, knowledge, and scientific exchanges will be conducted.
Taking the lead, the PARC has curated important projects to collaborate with Chinese institutions for agriculture machinery display and training centers, identification, adoption, and testing of innovative post-harvest processing technologies for value addition of fruits and vegetables in Pakistan; improving the capacity of the agriculture engineers, technicians, and machinery manufacturers; and also to collaborate on renewable energy technologies for agricultural needs.
Apart from the basic uplift, it will give the entire agriculture structure by building on these initiatives, another important step was taken by the Speaker of the National Assembly which has established the National Assembly Special Committee on Agricultural Products.
It is the National Assembly Special Committee with the largest number of members of the National Assembly, reflecting the importance of agriculture.
The committee comprises representatives from all the political parties and experts from leading Pakistan institutions and its purpose is to support and strengthen agriculture.
The committee focuses on linking the CPEC with farmers in order to improve their livelihoods, hence strengthening the basic foundation of the economy.
Apart from this, a working group on agriculture under the CPEC has also been established. These two important bodies work in close collaboration with each other so as to maximize the overall benefits and improve the agriculture sector of Pakistan.
Both Pakistan and China are resolved to work in close collaboration with each other in the agricultural sector.
Some of the areas that they can collaborate on include hybrid seed technologies, crop production and management, bio insecticides and pesticides, capacity building for veterinary research institutes, disease diagnostics and surveillance, vaccine development, innovative production methods, diversifying animal feed, reproduction methods, honey bee, and hive management, including adding value to honey farming.
These are just a few of the areas for cooperation. Another important area is water management and its use in the agricultural sector, including training farmers to effectively use water.
Climate change and its accompanying threats to crops, farming, and overall agriculture is another area in which both countries can fruitfully work together.
The CPEC is not only a game changer but a destiny changer for Pakistan and its people. The agricultural sector, as the mandate of both countries, has continued to focus on this sector, which is connected to people’s well-being. It is the right time to build synergies and learn from each other’s experiences.