STAFF REPORT IBD —The agriculture sector is widely considered the backbone of the countrys economy. But official data show the growth of this sector has slowed down in recent years, largely due to water related woes. Growth of the countrys agriculture sector slowed down to an average of just 2.7 percent in the first decade of this Century as compared to 4.4 percent in the 1990s and 5.4 percent in the preceding decade, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2010-11. Floods make headlines and the activities of myriad non-governmental organisations during recent deluges ensured losses were, at least, partially reported.
However, the lack of adequate and timely water supply is a big a hindrance to the growth of agriculture; especially in Sindh. Unfortunately, this hindrance seldom catches the eye of the government or media persons. So a recent meeting of Sindh government officials over the development of a link canal from Nara Canal along with water storage schemes at Nai Baran and Nai Gaaj are welcome developments.
Sindh Agriculture Secretary Agha Jan Akhtar told participants that the China Academy of Agriculture and Mechanised Authority intends to lend its expertise and $200 million, for the development of these projects. He also revealed that the Chinese authority will help develop agriculture development zones in the province which it will jointly own and manage with the provincial government.
Yet these plans appear to miss one vital link: the private sector. Talking to BR Research, Developmental Economist Ayesha Gulzar said: “If the government is going to collaborate with the Chinese or other investors for agri-based production and related industry it should ensure that the private and the citizen sector are linked in three-way partnerships with the foreign interests to ensure that adequate technology and research does benefit the grass-roots level farmers and not just the big players.” Highlighting that Sindh has a huge comparative advantage in fruits and vegetables including guava, dates, chilies, onions, potatoes and tomatoes; Ayesha Gulzar also stated that investment into specific regions and commodities should take into account their respective “water productivity factors and their potation to add value to farm income and to the economy”.
Though the government has already identified 100 locations for the establishment of food storage plants, the Economist asserted “before setting up any zone or institution or other intervention, a socio-economic ecological baseline study should be conducted to monitor the progress of the eco-system with regards to the land/crop development, advancement, depletion and impact on the people and the economy.”