The champions of agriculture growth

The champions of agriculture growth


The Economic Survey of Pakistan (2023-24), released recently, has provided an estimate of overall GDP growth of 2.38% — a rate that, while modest, is better than expected and sufficient to allow a small rise in per capita incomes.

A significant portion of this growth is attributed to a 6.25% expansion in the agriculture sector — its best performance in the last two decades. In his pre-budget speech, where he presented the Economic Survey, the Minister of Finance lauded the resilience and crucial role of agriculture in the economy, calling it the “saviour” of the country’s economy. While agricultural output is influenced by a myriad of factors, including favourable weather conditions last year, several changes and innovations are also gradually steering agriculture towards a higher and more sustainable growth path.

One of the most exciting transformations in the sector is the enhanced use of technology. Modern technology has the potential to revolutionise farming and the entire value chain from “farm to fork”. Precision land leveling, correct fertiliser applications, improved soil husbandry and efficient farm-level water use can substantially reduce costs and increase production.

Increasingly, farmers, input suppliers and service providers are coming together to share ideas and experiences. Being tech-savvy, these groups are making use of social media. For example, Pak Agri Tech, led by Saad Rahman, is a vibrant WhatsApp community that has rapidly become a hub for innovators and leaders in Pakistan’s agritech space. With over 300 active members, this group includes some of the most influential figures and companies in agricultural technology, ranging from farmers and researchers to entrepreneurs and policymakers. Pak Agri Tech fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing, providing a platform for discussing cutting-edge advancements, sharing practical solutions and promoting sustainable farming practices. The community’s website is an additional resource, offering insights, updates and tools to empower its members and drive agricultural growth in Pakistan.

Another area of innovation is the adoption of environmentally friendly and sustainable systems. Paedar Qudratti Nizam Kashatqari (PQNK) — meaning Sustainable Natural Farming System — represents a groundbreaking approach to agriculture pioneered by Asif Sharif. Developed through first-hand experience, PQNK aims to replicate natural processes in farming, emphasising sustainability and efficiency. Dr Sharif’s method began with raised bed planting systems, particularly for rice, demonstrating that crops do not need to be submerged in water. PQNK integrates the systems of Rice Intensification and Conservation Agriculture to optimise plant spacing, soil health and water usage. Under PQNK, crops are grown on permanent no-till raised beds covered with organic mulch, minimising soil disturbance and enhancing water efficiency.

PQNK methods are open-sourced and available the YouTube page ‘PedaVer PQNK’. Thousands of Pakistani farmers have already adopted this system, reducing labor and input costs while improving crop yields and resilience.

Another significant innovation stems from the work of Dr Azeem Khan, former Head of the National Agriculture Research Center and ex-chairman of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC). Dr Azeem’s work has focused on developing and demonstrating how small farms — which constitute the bulk of farmers in Pakistan — can be made profitable. This is being achieved through the production of a selection of vegetables and fruits, as well as fish and flowers, which can generate good incomes throughout the year; reduced use of chemicals; and better soil management. He is also now also helping groups of farmers enter into multi-year contracts with high end markets.

A more recent and impactful innovation relates to launching of large-scale corporate farming in Pakistan. This approach is gaining traction, especially with the active involvement of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC). This aim is to modernise and boost agricultural productivity by leveraging large-scale, well-managed farming operations. The SIFC’s engagement in agriculture brings in substantial investment, advanced technologies and better management practices. This initiative is expected to transform traditional farming by introducing high-efficiency irrigation systems, precision agriculture and enhanced supply chain mechanisms.

Each of these technological and organisational models described above have a role to play in better managing our resources; meeting the challenges of climate change; and producing enough to feed a rapidly growing population, reducing imports and expanding exports.

However, what is most relevant for policymakers is that these innovations are largely independent of traditional government systems, in particular those tasked with technology generation and dissemination.

This raises an important question: is the large and expensive government system for agriculture development still worth maintaining? It may be time to drastically rethink the government’s role in agriculture. Instead of being the primary driver, the government could focus on creating an enabling environment for private sector innovations, ensuring regulatory support, providing infrastructure and facilitating access to markets.


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