Pakistan’s Agricultural Sector: Challenges and Response (Part 3)

Shahid H. Raja
5 min readSep 18, 2023

How to respond to these Challenges

Pakistan is not the only country in the world whose agriculture is trying to tackle the myriad challenges mentioned above. In fact, every country from Somalia to Sumatra and Bangladesh to Brazil is facing these issues, some with less severity in some and more in others. This has given an opportunity to Pakistan’s policymakers, think tanks, advocacy groups, and other interested quarters to study how other countries are responding to these challenges, learn appropriate lessons from their successes and failures, and then press to apply those that are applicable to Pakistan, keeping in view its political economy and ecological and topographical imperatives.

Vision and Policy Framework Needed

Although the above-mentioned challenges impede the development of a competitive agriculture sector, the most important of these is how to transform Pakistan’s overwhelmingly subsistence agricultural farming into a commercial one by making agriculture an efficient, productive, and profitable sector of the economy in such a manner that its growth is sustainable, and its outputs are competitive.

For this, we need to formulate a comprehensive agricultural policy which should indicate the broad direction of the agriculture sector, create institutions, define their respective roles, make rules for coordination, set safety standards and provide an incentive and reward system for various stakeholders

Within this framework, the Government’s role should be confined to policy formulation, regulation, capacity building, and facilitation, while the private sector will take the lead in investment and value chain development, either on its own or in a public-private partnership. Within the national policy setting, agriculture will be developed with the following five broad strategic objectives;

  1. Accelerating national economic growth by increasing the rate of growth of this important subsector of the economy
  2. Reducing unemployment by creating jobs in the agriculture sector
  3. Increasing Pakistan’s foreign exchange earnings by increasing the quantity, quality and variety of agricultural exports
  4. Ensuring food security and nutritional balance of the people’s food intake by providing them with vitamin-rich agricultural products
  5. Helping the state in its poverty alleviation efforts by providing them with a labour-intensive, low-capital-intensive investment
  6. Improving the condition and status of women by providing them opportunities to own resources

Main Thrusts of Agriculture Policy

In line with the above-mentioned agricultural policy, we can formulate an agricultural strategy which will make interventions in the following four areas;

A. Horizontal Expansion: Increasing the area under cultivation

B. Vertical Expansion: Increasing Productivity

C. Structural Transformation: Diversification and Value Addition

D. Cross-cutting Issues: Agrarian Reforms

Let me explain them in a bit of detail

A. Horizontal Expansion

Agricultural production can be increased either by increasing the areas under cultivation (horizontal expansion) or by increasing the yields of the various crops grown in the country through input use efficiency (vertical expansion). There are four ways to increase the areas under cultivation in Pakistan, namely,

1. Bringing New areas under cultivation

2. Rehabilitating Degraded Lands

3. Intercropping

4. Urban and peri-urban farming

1. Bringing New areas under cultivation

Although cultivable waste is a misnomer as there is no piece of land that can be termed as wasteland because even in barren areas livestock are reared by the villagers and nomadic tribes, a case can be made for bringing them under cultivation by reserving a set percentage of these lands to grow fodder for the animals. It is estimated that more than 9.0 million hectares of cultivable wasteland are available in the Barani areas of the country for development/reclamation.

However, there are two limiting factors for this horizontal expansion: water availability and technology. The availability of water can be improved by the construction of new small and medium dams and by popularizing rain harvesting techniques. Secondly, a sizeable amount of water can be saved by reducing water losses through proper water conveyance and efficient irrigation techniques. Thirdly, economical management of groundwater pumping through incentives, legislation, and awareness can also result in more water being available for this purpose.

Considering the low crop productivity of Barani Areas, the promotion of a diverse range of affordable technologies and water management practices with the potential to improve land and water productivity can improve the level of investment and enhance production and income.

2. Rehabilitating Degraded Lands

The second potential area to be brought under cultivation is the land that has degraded over a period of time due to water logging and salinity, the twin spin-off effects of flood irrigation techniques. These degraded lands can be brought back under cultivation through the appropriate use of chemicals, proper harvesting techniques, and the cultivation of suitable crops and trees in these areas.

Gypsum is one such chemical that can rehabilitate these lands. We must launch a sustained campaign for the use of gypsum on every acre and provide incentives for its use. Similarly, we should forbid by law the burning of stubs of wheat and rice and encourage the farmers to plough them into the fields. They are an invaluable source for increasing the fertility of the land. Encouraging the sowing of humus making plants soon after the harvesting of wheat and plowing them back into the land is another such technique.

3. Inter-cropping

Intercropping has been practiced all over the world and throughout history as a good agricultural practice to increase food availability. We should encourage eco-friendly inter-cropping practices such as cultivating vegetables in between rows of crops or fruit trees. Agroforestry is another profitable option for farmers and the country. However, farmers must be given proper technical support for this practice, as inappropriate intercropping can reduce the production of the main crop.

4. Urban and Peri-urban Farming

Growing fruits and vegetables on the lawns of urban areas or reserving areas around towns and cities for this purpose is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. Besides ensuring the convenient and timely availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, organically grown, to urban residents at affordable prices, this is a practical and cost-effective way of alleviating poverty and empowering women.

In our next article, I will discuss the measures to increase the productivity of the agricultural sector: vertical expansion