Green Pakistan Initiative and corporate agriculture

By modernising key practices, corporate agriculture can take the economy in the right direction

Green Pakistan  Initiative and corporate agriculture


he Green Pakistan Initiative (GPI) was launched this week under the auspices of the Pakistan Army. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif was the chief guest at the ceremony and the Chief of Army Staff, a guest of honour.

Pakistan has a geographic area of 79 million hectares (1H=2.47acres). Out of that 15.7 million hectares are cultivated. Besides, more than 8.2 million hectares are classified as culturable waste (uncultivated farm area that is fit for cultivation).

The highest percentage of waste land is located in Balochistan (46.6 percent) followed by Sindh (19.5 percent), the Punjab (17.8 percent) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (16 percent). Bringing more land under cultivation is an open choice, provided we can make our water use more efficient. The corporatisation of culturable waste is an immediate target of GPI by mobilising investment into land development, irrigation systems and precision farming. The current development plan will cover only about 0.5 million hectares.

The command areas of new irrigation schemes like the Jalalpur Canal, the Greater Thal Canal, the Katchi Canal and the new small and medium dams, should be designed for high efficiency irrigation schemes where flood irrigation must be banned. Corporatising water resources, i.e., private small dams, canal outlet storage, and demand/ indented supply mechanism, must be tested.

The British built the canal irrigation system using bank loans and floating bond which were paid back with heavy interest. Collectors were appointed to collect water charges (abiana). Why can this model not be used again?

The GPI is a step in the right direction of modernising agricultural practices in Pakistan. Earlier in the week, the Land Information and Management System (LIMS) was launched. The LIMS forms the basis of the next Green Revolution. The LIMS and GPI initiatives are an opportunity to corporatise agriculture for economic revival.

If we trace the history of colonisation, we realise that surveys were the primary source of information and planning. The Chenab Colony (based on canals taking off the River Chenab that irrigate the Hafizabad, Chiniot, Faisalabad, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Nankana Sahib and parts of Sheikhupura districts) was the first to be developed based on surveys conducted by a military contingent headed by the colonisation officer, Captain Popham Young.

Similar expeditions were later carried out in other parts of the subcontinent. New cities like Lyallpur (Faisalabad), Sargodha and Montgomery (Sahiwal) were founded as markets to handle the produce. Thal Development Authority (TDA) was a post-partition initiative that greened large areas in the Mianwali, Khushab, Bhakkar and Layyah districts.

Development also occurred downstream Kotri and in canal commands of Balochistan. Considering the large culturable waste in the country (deserts, riverine belts, rangelands), new land development is essential to make our country food secure and to reinvigorate the economy. LIMS offers a modern survey system.

Today, a range of geo informatics (GIS, remote sensing, satellite imagery) provide precise maps of land resources (coordinates). The topographic surveys are available on the computer screens. Precision agriculture tools use sensors, IOTs, block chain and drones for decision support systems and applications.

A whole range of farm mechanisation is supported by sensors and digital technologies. The precision agriculture applications are making resource use more efficient. As a result, the profits can be higher. 

A whole range of farm mechanisation is supported by sensors and digital technologies. The precision agriculture applications are making resource use more efficient. As a result, profits are higher.

However, confusion persists in provincial digitised land records and traditional revenue structures. The LIMS, Provincial Land Records Authority (PLRA) and the patwar systems need to be synchronised.

Currently, 90 percent of the farms are 12 acres or smaller; farms on less than five acres are the dominant category (more than 60 percent). Owners of these farms lack the capacity to absorb the technological advances required for modern agriculture, i.e., mechanisation, inputs and access to markets. Hence, the land and water productivity has stagnated.

Climate change adaptations and long-term mitigation measures are also beyond the means of small farmers. Corporatisation of services is a way forward to make small farms efficient. The ever-increasing land fragmentation and migration are responsible for lack of innovation at small farms. There is an opportunity for default corporatisation by providing access to technology at the doorstep or by treating land as equity in the corporations.

The military-led corporatisation of agriculture promises to bring a disciplined work force and better governance. Examples of this have existed in many parts of the world since the colonial days but more recently in Xingjiang, China, and Nile Valley in Egypt. In India, corporate farms are exempted from the land holding ceiling.

In Pakistan, converting land into corporate equity will require legal cover as well as tax incentives. The conversion fees, if realised, could bring the corporate land holding into the tax net.

Corporate agriculture has a higher potential for vertical integration, supply chain management and marketing options. Corporate entities can enter contracts for customised production. Preference should be given to import substitutions (oilseeds, soybean, pulses) and exportable surpluses (maize, rice, wheat, fruits, vegetables, hay and silage).

For the cotton crop, a complete modern solution based on the Xinjiang model should be adopted (120-day determinate variety planted at high density with drip irrigation, mulching and mechanical harvesting).

Once demonstrated, the corporate structure will attract private investors. The potential for investment will be an opportunity for rapid technology transfer and improved access to regional/ overseas markets. In the West, corporate farming evolved from cooperatives. Despite a long history of cooperatives in the subcontinent, our social structures have failed this option.

Research and development are important in the new farming paradigm. The challenge is to make agriculture a business and not a subsistence activity. New SMEs, entrepreneurship, skills and innovations will be needed. Farming in all categories and forms is linked to rural development, alternative sources of income and youth employment. Any rewriting of the land ownership must address the rural sociology of the country.

The GPI is meant to create jobs and address rural poverty and hunger. I remain a strong proponent of corporate farming and efficient use of land and water resources through application of modern technology. An enabling policy environment is the key.

The writer is the vice-chancellor of University of Agriculture, Faisalabad

Green Pakistan Initiative and corporate agriculture