Punjab on board for agriculture reforms

LAHORE: Agriculture Economist at the World Bank in Pakistan Dr Johannes (Hans) Jansen has said the Punjab government is on board for agriculture reforms in the province.

In an interview with The News on the sidelines of the 14th International Conference on Management of the Pakistan Economy, he said that substantial changes have been witnessed in allocation of resources in the Annual Development Programme (ADP) for the sector in Punjab during the last year.

Dr Hans said the “(World) Bank has been working with the Punjab government for a comprehensive package of change for the agriculture (sector) with a focus on three (major) elements”.

The first element is policy reforms, which consisted of agriculture research, crop markets, livestock markets, agriculture insurance etc. The second element of the package is institutional change. To bring about a real change in policies, it must be ensured that the institutions should not continue doing what they had been practicing for the last 40 years.

The third element is substantial change in allocation of public investment and it is reflected in Annual Development Programme allocations for the agriculture sector. “It is good news that since the last year, there’s a substantial change in the ADP allocations for agriculture. The government of Punjab is realising what the World Bank is saying, and it’s fully on board,” Dr Hans added.

Dr Hans said the Bank is working with the Punjab government for a comprehensive package of change with three elements. “For the next five years, the World Bank has started supporting the change programme through a US$300 million five-year loan, which is not a standard investment loan. It is a result-based loan and the Bank calls it a programme for result.

“Therefore, together, the WB and the government of Punjab have agreed on a set of 12 indicators, and see them as millstones. As soon as each of those achieved in the agreed upon time period, a certain chunk of the loan amount would be disbursed,” Dr Hans disclosed.

Pakistan can learn from Chinese and other South-East Asian countries’ agriculture experiences, including India. Even the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would become hard to continue if Pakistan does not move forward for agriculture reforms, the expert said.

Pakistan was a star performer in agriculture sector in 1970s and 1980s, way ahead of India and others, but now it has fallen down to the last place. “But it is a fact that Pakistan can bounce back to its earlier position with right policies and investment.

There is no reason why Pakistan agriculture sector can’t flourish, can’t increase its exports again,” Dr Hans says.

China has been importing up to US$500 billion food items, and if Pakistan can only get slice of 3 or 4 per cent of that agriculture items import, it can boost its exports by US$20 billion.

Dr Hans believes that Pakistan’s agriculture has great potential, but it has not been realised because of outdated, old-fashioned, conventional policy frameworks. “These policy frameworks were good 30 or 40 years ago, but are not in use nowadays. The government policies are only focusing on so-called major crops such as rice, wheat, sugarcane,” he added. However, demand for these crops, mainly rice, is on the decline currently, but the demand for other crops like horticulture and livestock have a regularly growing demand in the world. So the policies must accommodate these demanding crops, instead of focusing on the major crops only.

Secondly, the investment of the public sector is also aimed at major crops only, instead of efforts to stimulate the other commodities, including horticulture and livestock that actually have very good growth prospects. These are few of the major issues, due to which the country is unable to tap the real potential of the sector.

Furthermore, Dr Hans said no country in the world could achieve agriculture development without creating thriving agriculture sector and having first-class, top-rated agriculture research and extension system.

The second important issue is lack of resources for research and extension. In Pakistan, agriculture research was quite good in the 1970s and 80s, which unfortunately had gone down in both availability of resources for research and the policy prospects. Both have not kept pace with the changing times, as was required.

On the water issue, Dr Hans said: “It is a misconception about Pakistan that it is a water-scares country.” There are many countries in the world which have less per capita water available compared with Pakistan. Israel is just one example, which has 300 or 400 cubic metre water per year, compared with Pakistan’s 1,100 cubic metre water per year. So the issue is not water scarcity, but the climate change. There is no climate change projections project in Pakistan, which shows the water flow of Pakistan going down in the next 30-40 years.

“Problem of Pakistan water sector is management of available water resources, which is extremely poor. There is a competition for water; over 80 per cent is used by the agriculture sector, while remaining 20 per cent is left for industry, drinking and sanitation.

“Now all these demands are rapidly increasing. Karachi is one example of increasing water demand, as the city is expanding exponentially. To meet its needs, the water can come from only one source, and that is agriculture,” the WB agriculture economist said.

He suggested that the agriculture sector must judiciously use the available water resources. “That means the management of irrigation schemes should be improved greatly. Distribution of water system should be improved, which will help tackle the issue of water theft as well,” Dr Hans added.

Pakistan will have to stop growing extremely water-guzzling crops, such as sugarcane, and also use water for rice and wheat crops judiciously. Pakistan needs to reduce the wheat sowing area, because it’s too much wheat at too higher price.

It should stimulate high efficiency irrigation system (HEIS), which can bring provide water to crops much more precisely, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation system. But the irrigation departments in provinces have to be turned into water resources management departments, because currently they are only looking after the water needs of the agriculture sector, and not managing its judicious use for crops.

Dr Hans recommended that the agriculture department must develop a system in which water has a price. “In all developed countries, farmers pay for water just like a consumer pays for water at home for each drop of water it uses. Here in Pakistan, water charges are very low.” Under smart Punjab programme, the WB has started tackling some of these issues in the province, such as measuring water delivery performance ratio in the surface system, mapping out tube-wells, registering tube-wells, passing the ground water act, passing the water policy, etc., Dr Hans revealed.