by Muhammad Asif Noor
ISLAMABAD, May 23 (Gwadar Pro) - Agriculture has remained at the heart of Pakistan’s economy contributing nearly 19 percent of the country’s entire GDP. Being a well-integrated sector, agriculture is providing the largest employment base to nearly 30 percent of the labor force contributing towards overall wellbeing of Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan is amongst top producers of rice, mango, dates, citrus, cotton, and sugarcane with attached livestock, fishery and forestry sectors contributing immensely. With recent changing climatic conditions and due to lack of innovation including use of advanced technology has led agriculture to remain sluggish in its economic contribution. Despite having a huge potential, agriculture in Pakistan continues to remain struggling to survive with the available resources. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor emerged as a lifeline to this sector. The first phase of CPEC, apart from other important steps, had focused on the overall development of communications and network projects including roads, bridges and motorways. CPEC energy projects are energy booster to not only industry but also for agriculture sector as well. This has created a lot of opportunities to farmers to connect not only with the tremendous network at the local level but may reach to the global markets. However, this was also realized that with the development of networks, roads and other communications links alone will not help the agriculture and there is more to be done. As a result, in the second phase of CPEC, apart from other important focus on the areas of collaboration, agriculture has received primary and immediate attention from all sides. We have also observed that new to the second phase of CPEC and emphasis of both Pakistan and China, China has recently appointed agriculture commissioner that has oversight of the cooperation between the two countries. As a result of these effective measures and efforts, CPEC is also turning into a green corridor which galvanized the mutual opportunities in the entire cooperative framework.
Recently the second meeting of the Joint Working Group on Agriculture was hosted online to further deepen the filed cooperation. There were discussions primarily in setting priorities for the agricultural development. Both Pakistan and China agreed to jointly implement the Memorandum of Understanding on further cooperation in dealing with disease and pest control including locust, plant diseases and insect and pest prevention. There was also discussion on finalizing modalities to establish a sustainable plant pest control center in Pakistan. The decision and discussion during this join working meeting has reflected China’s emergency assistance especially where Pakistan is currently battling with the desert locust. During the meeting there were other options for cooperation in trade, investment and construction as well. Representatives from the Chinese Secretariat of the CPEC and Pakistan Affairs Bureau of the CPEC were present during the meeting. All the projects under the CPEC are moving on a fast track to be completed under the given timeline. With building of institutions and cooperation’s on exchange of technology sharing, Chinese government is supporting Pakistan in its drive to diversify the agriculture sector and improve the yield for better growth of economy.
CPEC is a combination of phase wise implementation of diverse range of projects including short, medium and long term with estimation of completion of each phase in 2017, 2025 and 2030. Agriculture sector is part of the second phase. We have observed that as a result of the strong cooperation and effective implementation of Phase I, there is larger connectivity that has made the linkages from farms to the market hence providing ample assistance to farmers to reach to not only local but regional and international markets as well. CPEC energy projects have also helped boost the level of contribution for agriculture which was under stress as a result of the lack of energy resources. CPEC is overall strengthening the entire agriculture system in Pakistan. The plans that include in CPEC are to promote and introduce the water management techniques, improve the crop yielding, storage and transportation of agriculture products in pre- and post-harvest period apart from creating innovation for marketing and sales. As a result of larger and closer cooperation between Pakistan and China under the CPEC framework, there have been several important steps taken in order to provide effective ways and transfer of technology along with learning experience between experts, farmers and connected agriculture value chain that is making headways now in various directions. During the ongoing phase as the primary focus is on agriculture, industrial cooperation along with socio-economic projects, these all are overlapping and building one way or the other. Especially when we look at the industrial cooperation, we also observe that many of our industrial units are relying heavily on the agricultural products including cotton, etc. This gives a multiplying effect to overall strategy for improving business. The second phase of CPEC is focusing also on the agriculture sector in order to improve Pakistan’s agriculture-based exports which are currently lingering on only 18 percent of the entire export. It is also important to note here that our agri-based exports to China are also at 8 percent. Pakistan is looking for capitalizing on the building and evolving opportunities created by the CPEC and trying to add high value products that can be exported to China for consolidating and reaping the fruit. Recently a list of the items were enlisted 313 items that are free from any duties, most of them are agricultural products or by products.
One of the important sectors within agriculture is that to have effective seeds and yields and better production capacity including training and helping farmers to build their capacities in order to come out of low production syndrome. It is strongly believed that the joint ventures between Pakistan and China have the capacity that can bring Chinese researchers, agriculture experts and business investors to develop joint cooperation to boost the agriculture sector. In order to consolidate the entire process of cooperation a special center for the Pakistan-China agriculture exchange was established under the Pak-China Agriculture Cooperation Exchange Framework. Another important step is to protect the yield from disease as well. In this regard, experts and scientist are working together for sharing information and developing new pesticides and helping to develop seeds that are disease-free and high-yield as well. In this regard, several Chinese agriculture institutions and agencies are in close coordination with the Pakistani counterparts.
During the recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan, there was a detailed discussion of initial agreement of cooperation on agriculture as well. The visit has put an impetus towards building and attracting Chinese investment and technical assistance in all sub-sectors of agriculture. One leading Pakistani company Fatema Group has also signed agreement of cooperation with the two important leading companies China Machinery Engineering Cooperation (CMEC) and Xinjiang Tianye Group. Xinjiang Tianye Group specializes in irrigation and water-saving drip irrigation technologies. Pakistan Agriculture Research Council is a leading specialized institution in developing synergies in Pak-China agriculture cooperation. There has been as special committee on agricultural products formed within the parliament initiated by the current speaker of the National Assembly, which is one of the largest having members of National Assembly from across Pakistan overlooking the entire agriculture cooperation, and one of the important subjects is CPEC and its agriculture-related steps. These collaborations, institutions and connection at people’s level is making CPEC cooperation to a much higher level and creating cementing ties amongst people at the grassroot level.
CPEC is an opportunity corridor and is transforming Pakistan’s entire economic base with proven results as we have witnessed in first phase of the project. Pakistan needs to adopt changing methods and techniques that are offered in this unique cooperation period and beyond. All we have to do is to gather our energies and make every possible step to benefit from this emerging and established opportunity.
The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and established Centre for BRI and China Studies at the Institute.