September 26, 2023

THE government has put into gear a new strategy, backed by the army and financed by the food-deficit Gulf countries and China, to tackle critical issues of low agricultural productivity, food insecurity and food imports.

The Land Information and Management System–Centre of Excellence, launched on Friday, will focus on transforming how farming is done in Pakistan with a view to optimising agricultural output for improving domestic food security and creating exportable surplus for the Gulf states and China.

It is being financed by Saudi assistance of $500m. The GIS-based initiative aims at enhancing modern agro-farming, and utilising 22m acres of uncultivated state land. The government is expecting huge investments in agriculture from the Gulf and China under LIMS.

It is perhaps the first multipronged strategy designed to simultaneously target urgent challenges related to agriculture: growing food insecurity, a surging food and agricultural import bill and diminishing export surplus. The success of the new scheme is projected to address these issues to a large extent.

While the LIMS initiative is a step in the right direction, its scope is likely to remain confined to the foreign-funded agriculture projects under it — mostly for producing exportable surplus for investing nations. With food insecurity rising in the country — the World Food Programme has said that 37pc of Pakistanis are food-insecure and one-fifth of them are facing a severe food crisis — it is imperative for policymakers to quickly design strategies to deal with long-standing, deeper structural issues such as climate impact, soil erosion, land fragmentation, lower crop yields, etc, All these are pulling down Pakistan’s important agriculture sector.

This becomes even more critical as the population is projected to grow to 367.8m by 2050. The surging population has already put unbearable pressure on the food system, and food insecurity in the country is billed to worsen in the coming years unless remedial steps are taken now.

With the country’s agriculture sector characterised mostly by smallholder farmers, the rise in the demand for food has to be met either through an increase in yield or expansion in cultivable cropland. Pakistan needs to work on both as climate change, resulting in droughts, floods, uncertain weather patterns, etc, is likely to increase the already considerable stress on the food supply system.

There is no doubt that the government needs to encourage the utilisation of uncultivated state land to boost crop output. Besides investing in swathes of wasteland to make them cultivable, it must also put a stop to the encroachment of agricultural lands by sprawling housing schemes.

A lot is required to be done to ensure food security and create exportable agricultural surplus. The LIMS initiative is only the first step. The next one should focus on strengthening the capacity of agricultural research institutions to increase yields.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2023

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