Produce is an abundant commodity in the Pakistani market. Various climatic zones are sustainable for growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. As industrialisation and urbanisation expand across cities however, a small percentage of people are concerned about the healthfulness of locally-grown produce, enough to buy into the agri-imports market. A whopping $1.37 billion have been spent to import vegetables into the country in the first half of fiscal year 2018, according to the State Bank of Pakistan. This is a big amount, 51 per cent up from a year ago, and ignites wonder about how spoiled we are as a country to import basic commodities that are easily accessible domestically.
Rejecting local produce is justified on the basis of health. However, the room for improvement should be the focus of our spending on commodities, not facilitating foreign economies. This sends a perplexing message to China which only recently expressed interest in importing Pakistani agri-products. Consumers are wary about the quality of water and soil used to grow crops along with the pesticides used. The requirement, thus, is to explore options for improving the quality of domestic produce to make them less prone to genetic mutations, which can lead to cancer. Instead, we are doing everything backwards. As if high meat and dairy consumption were not environmentally detrimental in the long term, we are also spending tens of millions importing both annually.
Priorities need to be realigned. Although awareness and discernment over the quality of foodstuff available locally is an advancement, it should encourage our policymakers and agriculturalists to improve domestic quality so that this developing country becomes more self-reliant. It is a fatal misstep to spend billions on importing produce, which only a small fraction of the population can afford to purchase.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2018.
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