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‘Agriculture remains a nonstarter under CPEC’

August 31, 2021

LAHORE: Despite extensive discussions at government level, agriculture related initiatives remain a nonstarter under the framework of much-trumpeted China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a provincial minister said on Monday.

It seems even both federal and Punjab governments of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are not on the same page when it comes to implementing agriculture related projects for boosting cooperation with China. In spite of vowing time and again to enhance cooperation between the two neighbouring countries, words are still words as no action has been seen at any level, it is learnt.

Not a single project had been finalised even on paper yet, let alone forming a joint venture under much-touted economic corridor, said an official. Since 2017-18, there have been various announcements to make CPEC functional in the Punjab province, which is the biggest contributor in the field of agriculture but to no avail. There are several statements mentioned in the budget documents since 2018 referring to “harnessing the potential of Western Corridor of CPEC” and “enhancing competitive position of agriculture sector in line with global and domestic market demands, including getting benefit from CPEC opportunities”.

Interestingly, emphasis on CPEC has been mentioned in the foreword of Annual Development Programme (ADP) 2020-21 but its scope is hardly seen realising in the shape of joint projects during the financial year. Hence, the statement of “leveraging CPEC for realising economic opportunities as key drivers of growth and development for the province” effectively remains rhetoric.

The progress on finalisation of agriculture related projects under CPEC stalled and wasn’t moving on even at a snail’s pace, said an official. Views about dismal state-of-affairs regarding agriculture sector being placed on the back burner in the CPEC, were echoed by Hussain Jahania Gardezi, the Punjab Agriculture Minister.

Talking to The News, he said, despite wide-ranging consultation with the federal government for last several years to jumpstart work on CPEC projects for the development of agriculture sector, “we are yet to launch a single project”.

“The pace of consultation is abysmally low with the federal institutions,” he said, adding, “Work on several key projects should have been started by now but after consuming so much energy and time, we are still waiting at the starting line”. There was a dire need to improve coordination between various departments at federal level if the government really wanted to benefit from the Chinese expertise in the field of agriculture sector, he observed.

Gardezi regretted that too much dependence on federal departments had been one of the reasons of no tangible development on forming joint agriculture ventures with China. Regarding under-discussion projects, Punjab agriculture minister said, one of the proposed key projects under the framework of CPEC was upgrade of all agriculture research laboratories with the technical collaboration of China.

“We are expecting a lot of improvement in the working of agriculture department for the betterment of farming practices with technology transfer from China,” Gardezi said. He termed introduction of early warning system for the natural calamities as well as pest attack including locust infestation as one of the major projects the provincial agriculture department wanted to launch with the help of China.

“Among others, agriculture mechanisation and introduction of precision agriculture has been an important proposed initiative we want to launch under CPEC.” However, voicing dissatisfaction with pace of work shown by federal entities, the minister blamed the very slow processing on various proposals submitted by Punjab to the federal government under CPEC.

When contacted, Khalid Mansoor, newly appointed Special Assistant to Prime Minister on CPEC did not comment on the stalemate holding back work on agriculture related projects.

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