Exporting food items

While talking to German journalists at Berlin on Saturday, Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif looked forward to the day when Pakistan, with the help of German know-how and technology, would be counted among the front rank countries in the export of food items. Pakistan is participating in an exhibition of agricultural products and industrial goods being held in Berlin and Mian Shahbaz was on a sales promotion visit. One would not question the Chief Minister’s motives in exporting these items abroad and earning the much-needed foreign exchange. However, there are certain prerequisites that he would do well to fulfil. We have, no doubt, vast areas of cultivable land that have not been put to use so far, and the productivity of the land already under cultivation is so meagre that it stands no comparison with the international standards. There is no dearth of agricultural labour, which would be ready to work on the cultivable areas and would be receptive to new techniques and the use of modern inputs to improve productivity. While these requirements can be catered for with German expertise and assistance, agriculture’s basic need, water available at the right time and in required amount, would have to be met locally. And that is becoming increasingly difficult whether to meet the demands of the present crop areas or the needs of the growing urban population.
Unfortunately, our traditional resources of water are drying up, thanks to the indifference of our rulers to India’s theft of our share of water guaranteed under an international treaty. And on top of that, regional thinking that overlooks the national interests is in the way of harnessing the available resources by building big storages in the upper reaches of rivers. Little does the parochial mindset realise that its attitude ultimately works to the detriment of all the federating units. The Punjab Chief Minister’s first priority should be to work for changing this mindset with a crusading zeal so that the country can have as many as large reservoirs of water as feasible, including the Kalabagh Dam and any other dam that meets the required standards.
But once the water question has been solved, Pakistan would have to ensure that the food items it produces must first be available to the local consumer at affordable rates. As it is, the export of fruits, meat, poultry and several other edible goods, which have a huge market in the country, leads to raising their prices beyond the reach of the common man. Besides, the best quality products are usually set aside for export, while Pakistanis are left to choose from the rest. Thus, the urge for export and foreign exchange should not blind us to the lack of essential prerequisites. With these requirements adequately met, Mian Shahbaz would find it much earlier to woo foreign investors to bring their expertise and funds to give a further fillip to agriculture, the bedrock of our economy.

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