Pakistan’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, with the sector contributing around 24 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employing about 42 per cent of the country’s workforce. The total consumption of wheat is approximately 29 million tonnes; whereas the production of wheat is about 22 million tonnes. In Punjab, wheat is grown on nearly 16 million acres. Agriculture in Pakistan is characterised by a diverse range of crops, including wheat, rice, sugarcane, cotton, maize, and fruits and vegetables. However, the consumption patterns show that wheat is a dominant staple crop grown on arable lands.
The agriculture sector faces various challenges such as low productivity, water scarcity, insufficient mechanisation, lack of diversity in growth patterns and modern farming techniques. As a result, Pakistan has been unable to fully exploit its agricultural potential, leading to a low rate of agricultural growth and a high level of poverty in rural areas.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) governments in the past took several initiatives to improve the agriculture sector’s productivity and competitiveness. These include investments in irrigation systems, the development of high-yield varieties of crops, the provision of credit facilities to farmers, and the establishment of research and training institutes. Moreover, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), launched under PML-N, also created new opportunities for the agriculture sector by promoting the construction of new highways, railways, and ports, which could facilitate the transportation of agricultural products to global markets. Unfortunately, the inept government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) slowed work on CPEC, the benefits of which could not be accrued to the agricultural sector in the last four years.
The agriculture sector has a dual advantage; it can ensure food security and its products are exportable and can boost foreign reserves.
Pakistan’s agriculture sector still faces significant challenges. Climate change, locust attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic have all adversely affected the sector. However, the government and the private sector are working to overcome these challenges and unlock the sector’s full potential. Agriculture productivity in the country has been relatively low compared to other countries, despite the sector’s significant contribution to the economy. According to the World Bank, Pakistan’s agricultural productivity growth rate has been around 1.9 per cent per annum over the past decade, which is lower than the average for other developing countries.
Several factors contribute to low agricultural productivity in Pakistan. One of the primary reasons is the lack of modern farming techniques, including insufficient mechanisation and limited use of technology, together with the lack of training for small and medium-sized farmers. As a result, farmers still rely on traditional farming practices, which limit their ability to increase yields and improve quality.
Moreover, there is a lack of awareness among consumers about the diversification of their diet by adding to it grains like maize, millet and oat. This consumption trend puts an extra burden on wheat, which is a high-carb and high-gluten grain, but its yield per acre is far below the yield of other grains. Over-consumption of carbohydrates and gluten is resulting in many chronic diseases like diabetes, liver inflammation and cardiac diseases. Hence, the diversification of the agriculture sector is exigent to ensure not only food security but also the health of people.
Another major challenge is water scarcity, which is a severe constraint on agricultural productivity in Pakistan. The country has limited water resources, and much of the water used for agriculture comes from underground aquifers, which are depleting fast. Additionally, inadequate infrastructure, including poor road networks, lack of storage facilities, and insufficient access to credit and markets, also limits productivity growth in the sector. Around two to three per cent of arable land is being reduced annually for agricultural usage due to an increase in population and new housing needs. These challenges have hindered the development of a competitive and efficient agricultural sector in Pakistan. Resultantly, the country has to import wheat every year despite being an agrarian state.
In the wake of disastrous floods in 2022, the government led by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced Kissan Package worth Rs200 billion. The objective of this package is to provide relief and support to farmers facing various challenges, including low crop yield, water scarcity, and natural disasters. Under the Kissan Package, small farmers are provided with direct financial assistance in the form of cash grants, subsidised loans, and insurance coverage. The package also includes measures to improve access to markets, credit facilities, and agricultural inputs like fertilisers and seeds. Additionally, the government has taken several steps to support the farming community, including the provision of free medical care and education for farmers’ families, the establishment of new agricultural research and training centres, and the construction of new water reservoirs and irrigation systems.
The Kissan Package has had a significant impact on the agriculture sector in Pakistan, particularly on small-scale farmers in the wake of the floods of 2022. The package has provided much-needed financial and other forms of support to farmers who were struggling to make ends meet due to various challenges. Direct cash transfers to small and medium-sized farmers helped them overcome the negative impacts of the floods of 2022.
Despite these efforts, food insecurity remains a significant challenge for the country. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), around 40 per cent of Pakistan’s population is food insecure, and malnutrition is prevalent, particularly among women and children. The government needs to continue investing in the agriculture sector, improving infrastructure, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices to ensure long-term food security in the country.
Agriculture-allied sectors, such as horticulture, dairy, livestock, poultry, and fisheries also have tremendous potential for growth. When talking about agriculture, livestock is often overlooked, but it is a significant source of income and employment for many rural households. Unfortunately, lack of modern infrastructure, disease outbreaks, poor animal nutrition, lack of access to credit, limited research and innovation, climate change and general apathy towards animal welfare are some of the main issues facing this sector. During its tenure, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in Punjab (2008-2018) took several initiatives to modernise the livestock sector. This was an important step towards establishing institutions for the development of this sector and improving the productivity and profitability of livestock farmers.
To make Pakistan a food-secure and export-led economy, it cannot ignore the agriculture and livestock sectors as most of the raw materials used in these sectors can be supplied from domestic markets. Adaptations to international standards of agriculture and livestock sectors can increase the export of the produce which is not only sustainable but also feasible for Pakistan. Hence, for Pakistan, the agriculture sector has a dual advantage; it can ensure food security and its products are exportable and can boost foreign reserves. A combination of ‘green modernisation’ and ‘white revolution’ has the potential to transform Pakistan’s economy.