Wednesday April 24, 2024

Let’s teach them to fish

By Dr Hassan Daud Butt
July 06, 2019

The rapidly dwindling agricultural land in Pakistan due to heavy horizontal urbanization highlights the requirement for food cultivation in smaller harvest areas through adoption of latest precision agriculture techniques.

Accordingly, agriculture patterns are changing – especially in Asia – and instead of growing traditional crops, farmers are now getting interested in growing crops that can sell at higher prices from a small area.

In Pakistan, farmers are more focused on growing cash crops rather than food crops. This brings Pakistan more close to food insecurity, keeping in view the increasing water scarcity and the growing population. Against this bleak scenario, promoting fisheries and aquaculture provide a reasonable solution to rightly address the country’s growing food needs.

Available data estimates the global demand for seafood consumption around 143.8 million tons per year, with China as the largest seafood consuming country followed by a growing demand in India. Aquaculture, also known as aqua-farming, is the farming of fish and other sea organisms for food consumption. Aquaculture now accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s total supply of food fish and the contribution of aquaculture to seafood supplies is increasing.

As per the World Bank study, ‘Fish to 2030’, “feeding an expected global population of 9 billion by 2050 is a daunting challenge and fact is that fish can play a major role in satisfying the palates of the world’s growing population”. Adding to this, among the 65 million tons of seafood consumed in China, only 15 million tons are caught from the wild, the rest of 50 million tons are raised through aquaculture ‘farming’. Thus the fishing sector offers a solution to meet the growing demand for seafood.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) enables us to learn from the Chinese experience. After one year of discussion on enhancing CPEC’s scope in the agriculture sector, Pakistan and China signed a framework agreement – during the recent visit of Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan to Pakistan – on agriculture and livestock development cooperation along with an MoU for setting up a Foot and Mouth Free zone in Pakistan.

The framework includes cooperation in Remote Sensing (RS) and Geographical Information System (GIS), food processing, pre-and-post-harvest handling and storage of agricultural produce, selection and breeding of new breeds of animals and new varieties of plants, specifically fisheries and aquaculture.

Pakistan is very naturally endowed to promote a sustainable growth in fisheries sector; develop fishing and aquaculture industry with the support of available resources in order to meet the needs of living and secure social stability in a five-year time span. However, water sources are still not being utilized for aquaculture purposes with minimal or limited contribution to socio-economic development. At this crossroads of economic revival, immediate steps including a policy framework to upgrade the existing facilities of fish hatcheries, nurseries and cage farming is required.

The government is establishing demonstration centres in the agriculture sector under the banner of socio-economic development cooperation via CPEC. However, while the government is actively working on a “green revolution” through excessive tree plantation, there is also a requirement to promote the “blue revolution” of aquaculture for sustainable economic growth, food security and poverty alleviation.

The good thing is that agricultural waste can be used as input in aqua farming, resulting in the optimal use of resources. This can be a good cycle for fish, shrimps as well as duck farming in the less developed areas of Pakistan. This will require giving focused training to farmers – in the demonstration centres – through a step-by-step plan of what they have to do in order to farm fish – specifically about species selection, site selection, feed selection, fertilization, harvesting methods, post-harvest storage etc – and giving them a cost-effective model where they can increase their income.

Importantly, Chinese experts can be invited to give training in specific areas for the capacity building of our experts who can later be utilized for tailored training. Similarly, young entrepreneurs can be encouraged to explore the aqua sector by training in universities’ incubation centres especially in Sindh, Punjab and the northern part of Pakistan.

Provincial governments should introduce policies wherein free feed, fish, nets and cages can be given to farmers and young entrepreneurs for at least two years to promote the sector. Similarly, large business leaders should explore joint-venture opportunities in Chinese markets to support the supply chain.

Although efforts were made in the past to promote the fisheries sector, a proper concerted strategy and planning is now required. Moreover, pragmatic policy reforms will be required for the current realities to catch up with the ambitions of CPEC. Local and foreign added projects are essential to ensure enhanced prospects for both fisheries and aquaculture. I believe the stage is set for all stakeholders to make use of the benefits that will come about through cooperation in the agriculture and aqua sectors under the umbrella of CPEC.

The writer is a project managementspecialist and a faculty member atvarious universities.