Balanced agriculture policies, value chain investments needed to curb food inflation and manage strategic commodity reserves

Karachi (Muhammad Yasir) The government needs to introduce balanced agriculture policies and modernize the value chain to control food inflation and manage strategic reserves of certain commodities in Pakistan, according to experts who participated in the Agri Webinar Series organized by Engro Fertilizers and Pakistan Agricultural Coalition.

The session, titled “Rethinking Pakistan’s approach to managing food inflation and strategic reserves”, included Dr Akbar Zaidi (Executive Director, IBA), Syed Mahmood Shah (Senior VP, Sindh Abadgar Board), Rashid Langrial (Additional Secretary, Ministry of National Food Security & Research) and Imran Nasrullah (CEO, Cargill Pakistan) as the panelists. The session was moderated by Arif Nadeem, CEO of Pakistan Agricultural Coalition.

According to Dr Akbar Zaidi, weak supply chain infrastructure, changes in demographics, currency devaluation and transition towards the market economy are some factors contributing to food inflation in Pakistan. To manage the food inflation and food security challenge, there needs to be a greater focus on comprehensive planning and forecasting to accurately determine the supply-demand dynamics. While strategic reserves are important, the basic challenge of maintaining those reserves by preventing pest infestation and spoilage would remain till investments are made in the supply chain and infrastructure.

Syed Mahmood Shah also reiterated that basic infrastructural issues need to be fixed to enable the development of value-added exports and to enhance the country’s food security. There is a dire need to replace ad-hoc policies with long-term solutions that promote farmer well-being, otherwise the growers will not prioritize crop yield and quality. Further, the government must provide credit facilities and ensure power supply to rural areas to integrate rural centers in the value chain through the development of processing units in those areas.

Imran Nasrullah added that Pakistan has remained a food deficit country for the last few decades as systemic issues of yields and capacities are not being overcome. Pakistan should learn from global examples, such as Indonesia, to develop balanced agricultural policies that promote value-addition and exports to offset the import bill and ensure food security through staple crops. He added that the country has tremendous potential in exports of milk, rice and wheat through value-addition, and improvement in quality controls and logistics. Further, based on global learnings, Pakistan should take urgent steps to promote women empowerment in cooperatives and farming to enable them to add greater value.

Highlighting the initiatives of government to uplift the agriculture sector, Rashid Langrial shared that the government is seriously contemplating building strategic reserves of certain commodities to counter any price manipulation in the market. The government is fully focused on the agriculture sector with its agricultural transformation plan to modernize the infrastructure, develop cold storages and commodity warehousing facilities, boost farm level productivity, and mechanization and research. With the launch of pilot projects, new export opportunities in the value-added sector, such as shrimp farming, are also being explored.