Minister floats idea of seed banks


Seed technology of Pakistan requires a paradigm shift and the country needs to learn from other nations how it can add value to its seeds to build resilience to climate change, diseases and pests, said Minister for National Food Security and Research Fakhar Imam.

Speaking at a webinar titled “China-Pakistan Agricultural Cooperation and Prospects”, organised by the China Economic Net and The Express Tribune on Thursday, the minister said that Pakistan should establish seed banks so that seeds from other countries could be stored there.

He stressed that Pakistan needed to learn from China’s expertise in the agriculture sector. “China has performed exceptionally well and raised its cotton production by a huge margin,” he told the webinar participants. “Pakistan used to produce a mammoth amount of cotton but unfortunately we have fallen behind now.”

The minister emphasised that Pakistan should learn hybrid seed production from China because currently it was importing high-yielding rice seeds from Beijing.

He recalled that in March 2020 Pakistan and China had signed a memorandum of understanding to make technology and agriculture part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

“We look forward to benefitting from it because agriculture contributes 19.3% to Pakistan’s GDP (gross domestic product) and employs 40% of the workforce,” he said.

“With all the measures the government is taking to facilitate investors from China, we hope that relations between the two countries will deepen in future,” he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Board of Investment Secretary Fareena Mazhar pointed out that the agriculture sector represented a fifth of Pakistan’s economy, however, the output had been declining for the past few years.

She stressed that Internet of Things (IoT) could help farmers optimise resources and enhance productivity, adding that the government had introduced reforms aimed at energising business growth to uplift the agriculture sector.

She pointed out that 64 out of 313 tariff lines included in the second phase of China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement were related to agricultural products.

Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Director Market and Trade Research Office Zhai Xueling said that cooperation between Pakistan and China in the agriculture sector had solid foundations.

“Comparative advantages are at play on both sides. Pakistan has low-cost labour while China has the technology to aid the agriculture sector of Pakistan,” she said.

“China’s trade with Pakistan has increased, and both imports and exports have jumped.” China mainly imported rice and aquatic products from Pakistan.

According to Zhai, China can help Pakistan with drip irrigation as well as primary food processing techniques, which would help leverage Pakistan’s geographical position.

She was of the view that Pakistan’s economy was in a good shape having massive potential and excellent investment climate. She voiced hope that Pakistan’s production of nuts, cotton and yarn would expand in the coming years.

National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Ehsanullah Tiwana held the opinion that improvement in agriculture was the only way for expanding Pakistan’s economy.

He lamented the bureaucratic hurdles in the sector as quality seeds failed to reach farmers. “We are making efforts to introduce a policy, which will result in agricultural surplus,” he said.

He pointed out that Pakistan, despite being a cotton-producing country, was importing the commodity due to shortfall caused by climate change and substandard seeds. In that regard, he revealed, he would present policy recommendations to Prime Minister Imran Khan within six to eight weeks.

Recovery of Pakistan’s power loom industry and agriculture with positive growth despite Covid-19 should be taken as positive signals, he stressed and highlighted that at present the agriculture sector had a shortage of workers, which was a positive sign as jobs were being generated.

Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Nong Rong said that China and Pakistan had jointly established communication channels for business-to-business cooperation and information sharing.

“This will encourage both sides to invest in seed industry, agricultural material, agricultural industry and agriculture product processing,” he said.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Moinul Haq said that agriculture had been identified as the sector that would be given special attention. Under CPEC phase-II, agricultural cooperation was included as part of the socio-economic development strategy, he said.

He told webinar participants that a special working group on agriculture was established in cooperation with China in March 2020 and a plan of action was being discussed between food ministries of the two nations to implement a large number of joint projects.