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Politically linked feudal profiteers stunt Pakistan’s agriculture

COLUMN-ENG-07-04-2020

IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva recently stated that the world is entering a recession that will be worse than that which followed the global financial crisis in 2009.

US President Donald Trump is already talking about a "task force" to revive the US economy. Potentially among countries likely to be hit hardest in the aftermath of COVID-19, Pakistan has, in the past year or so, made a tremendous effort to stabilize its economy.

The pandemic hit the world later; the earlier IMF bail-out has already taken a heavy toll with prices soaring. The partial and/or full lock-down necessary to keep the infection curve as low as possible hurts the economy whose downward curve Pakistanis have to think about for the future.

Read Also: Balancing life and livelihood in coronavirus-hit Pakistan

The mainstay of Pakistan’s economy is (and will remain) agriculture. Pakistanis have to protect it at all costs. They have to ask themselves how come a country that can not only feed and clothe itself but has considerable surplus for export, has shortages and skyrocketing prices?

To provide for sustainability in agriculture it cannot be “locked” down. Farmers have to be able to sow and plant, water the fields and bring in the harvest. Any disruption of food supply lines would cause hardships to the most vulnerable part of the population and reinforce the already present malnutrition.

Cereals remain Pakistanis’ main staple food providing 62% of total energy. As of 2018, Pakistan’s wheat output reached 26.3 million tonnes. According to the FAO, Pakistan produced 21,591,400 metric tons of wheat, more than all of Africa (20,304,585 metric tons) and nearly as much as all of South America (24,557,784 metric tons).Pakistan’s wheat production and processing must remain its first focus.

Barring the drought years, Pakistan is a net food exporter. Pakistan exports rice, cotton, fish, fruit (especially oranges and mangoes). It’s exports could grow in the global economic melt-down. Pandemic subsides will create openings if Pakistan keeps its produce intact or even raises production in the needed quantity and quality. For that Pakistan must ensure that agricultural works like sowing and protecting the seeds are not disrupted and supplies reach where they are needed.

Pakistan is the 4th largest producer of cotton in the world; It’s textile industry is the largest manufacturing industry in Pakistan; and it is the 8th largest exporter of textile commodities in Asia. Textiles account for over half of Pakistan's export revenues. Contributing 8.5% to the GDP of Pakistan, the textile sector employs about 45% of the total work force (and 38% of the manufacturing workers) in the country. Pakistan has the third largest spinning capacity in Asia after China and India, accounting for 5% of the global spinning capacity. 

Pakistan’s textile exports have declined significantly in recent years. With many countries producing garments depending on China for the supply chain of manufactured goods, raw materials and intermediate goods, a vacuum will be created in global trade in textiles once demand rises. This will create market openings and business opportunities for countries like Pakistan and India. 

India is already calling meetings at the highest level to draft a strategy to gear up its supply chain to take full advantage of this situation. Pakistani exporters who have both the potential and capability to enhance their exports are already receiving requests from Western buyers looking for alternative sources to create some space for additional orders. 

Due to abundant milk production, the level of milk consumption is significant in Pakistan, but the consumption of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat remains very low. The consumption of fruit and fresh vegetables, which are highly dependent on local seasonal availability, is also limited by the lack of marketing facilities. Supply lines must be improved and strengthened to make sure food shortages are avoided and malnutrition, especially of children, is prevented or reduced. The supply chains that are under lock-down right now need to be opened immediately.

The government has done extremely well by removing curbs and giving initiatives to revive the construction industry. The timely provision of supplies needs to be ensured. The federal and provincial governments need to keep supply lines open in order to secure timely supply of seeds and pesticides for all crops. 

Given the volatility of the situation with old supply lines collapsing new ones have to be established as fast as possible which includes ensuring that financial transaction are efficient and reliable. This includes an effective automatic refund payment system in the settlement of refunds.

The recent revelation of how the sugar and wheat cartels manipulate exports of the surpluses of wheat, sugar, etc (by which they get huge rebates while shortages are deliberately created), is mind-boggling. Several months ago I repeatedly requested someone I respected and even admired for both his business and political acumen to use his influence in government to disallow export of wheat and sugar. Convincing me not to force-multiply the rumours in the market by adding my voice to those in the media, he promised to ensure it. I was taken for a fool. He happened to be one of the major beneficiaries of the looting of Pakistan. One is concerned about his closeness to the nation's decision-making structure. Of more concern is that the intelligence agencies did not know about it. 

Now the many attempts to bring down Imran Khan's government from within begins to make sense. Remember PML (Q) and MQM stirring up trouble out of nothing? And what about Fazlur Rahman’s Dharna? Everyone knows it was “sponsored” to bring Imran Khan to heel. The time-tested formula for anyone to escape accountability is to deliberately create a problem and then solve it, for a price of course. That also is being used to in this case. The government was blackmailed in an attempt to stop the publication of the inquiry report.

A lot of lip-service is given to patriotism but who has the courage to prosecute these unscrupulous scoundrels and those who facilitated their activities by looking the other way? In China they would probably have been shot and their entire wealth confiscated.

Read Also: How Sindh police are restoring tranquility in the province

After the pandemic, the world and its economy will not be the same. It has brought hardships but because we can feed and clothe ourselves, the crisis gives us quite some opportunities.

However we cannot allow our feudal scoundrels who have force-multiplied their agricultural income by cartelising the downstream agriculture business to work against the people of Pakistan. 

Because the BJP hierarchy in India openly hates us, they are clearly our enemies. But the bigger threat is from those who camouflage themselves to be our friends and sit in our decision-making councils. They are our real enemies! During war (and other such emergencies) profiteers and hoarders are shot. Are we going to send them off to London to enjoy their loot? 

 

The writer is a defence and security analyst.