Abdullah Shah Bokhari is the CEO of Enrichers Investment Group (EIG) founded in 2011. The group of companies facilitates investment in financial markets, physical trade, real estate and agriculture.
The News on Sunday (TNS): You started with a single company and now you are accelerating business growth in several sectors also. What are the three basic drivers in your successful model of business expansion?
Abdullah Shah Bokhari (ASB): Passion steers the ship of a successful organisation. When I founded the EIG, I was keenly aware of the fact that the corporate world requires preparation like a marathon race and not a sprint. I strongly believe that one should be ‘obsessed’ about one’s work. One also needs to be disciplined. We built the business brick by brick while maintaining our core values, mission and competitive organisational structure.
TNS: What major opportunities do you anticipate in the agricultural commodities trade in the coming years? How can we transform our agriculture mechanisms?
ASB: Pakistan is a resource-rich country blessed with a vast topography of a diverse agricultural landscape and four seasons. Despite this, the country risks becoming a net importer of food. The food import bill for the first eight months of the current fiscal year stands at a whopping $6.4 billion.
I strongly believe that among the two wings of our commodity trading, i.e., cash settled futures and deliverable futures, the latter can play a critical role in helping the economy. However, deliverable futures come with a unique set of complexities. A recent initiative by PMEX under the name of Global Commodity Trading Platform (GCTP) has opened a gateway of opportunities. Selling commodities electronically to overseas buyers can break the shackle of vicious cycles for farmers who are subject to manipulation by mediators. This may turn out to be a milestone to drive our economy. A better understanding of shifts in supply and demand, commercial practices, risk management, effective quality assurance and well-developed support infrastructure can transform the market and increase the number of market players.
TNS: What measures are needed to rev up our economy?
ASB: Some uncertainties in the system need to be addressed to strengthen both social justice and economic growth. Unfortunately, there is no reliable system in place to educate the farmers. It is often said that “our farmer is born in debt, grows up in debt and dies in debt”.
Education can change that not only by enhancing the farming skills and productivity of farmers but also by empowering them to make the right decisions. Our farmers work in difficult conditions. A clear identification of long-term goals and awareness of marketing and finance-related practices can eliminate farm hazards and enable the farmers to leverage well-proportioned pesticides, balanced fertilisers and the right land preparation. Agriculture education combines applied science and business management. To create a strong threshold effect and get the ball rolling, it is important to disseminate vital information. As main driver of socio-economic development, agriculture can boost social progress and cause economic transformation.
Pakistan should capitalise on its salt mines and prohibit illegal hoarding and export of salt through uncompetitive bidding.
TNS: How can we boost opportunities in the agriculture sector?
ASB: I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that agricultural industries can mitigate food insecurity and climate crisis. These can also enhance economic opportunities for Pakistan. Agriculture can boost the livelihoods of farmers, generate employment and make reasonable profits for investors. Continuous research and development are necessary to ensure food security. Progress on this front will also facilitate environmental sustainability. The responsibility need not be borne by the government alone; the private sector should play its role by investing in diverse agriculture-related projects through Mushurakah model.
TNS: How can we boost export-oriented production in Pakistan?
ASB: Our Asian counterparts are taking the lead on account of their higher level of integration with regional and global markets. Explanations for Pakistan’s unimpressive growth are to be found in our enormous dependence on international business intermediaries, low margins, vulnerable fluctuation in prices and terms of trade, energy shortages, adverse trade policies, tariff and non-tariff barriers, and unhelpful customs procedures.
With respect to exports, a relatively poor productivity growth rate is an obstacle. To keep pace with the global food demand; there has to be a shift from domestic demand-generated growth to export-oriented growth. For that, we need to have precise geographically explicit knowledge about gap analysis with local-to-global relevance aligned with grading and sorting potential methods of market segmentation. Our policy makers, development professionals and entrepreneurs can cultivate avenues of growth by promoting our products to create demand and find the best match to manage the demand-supply bottlenecks. Exports are not about a ‘one size fits all’ model. A successful reorientation of our trade policies will keep in view the accreditation protocols of export destinations. Understanding what is legal in each market is crucial. Quality assurance needs to be accredited.
In addition, educating farmers can improve productivity outcomes that can create a holistic impact on export-oriented growth. Having said that, we need to create capabilities of growth by linking research to strategies to comply with Pakistan’s economic growth potential.
TNS: Mineral resources can provide some countries with incredible opportunities for economic development. How can mineral resources change the export landscape of Pakistan?
ASB: Pakistan has a comparative advantage with respect to some minerals. It is a home, for example, to some of the largest salt mines and coal reserves. The Himalayan salt or pink salt is mined from the Khewra Salt Mines in the foothills of the Salt Range in Jhelum. However, it is exported cheap to China and India. India then re-exports it worldwide, labelled as ‘Made in India.’
Pakistan should learn to capitalise on its salt mines and prohibit illegal hoarding and export through uncompetitive bidding. We should also seek “topographical indications” under the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Export dynamics are now tossing old rules aside. The business is more about handling information; our sluggish export mechanisms need serious reform. The government should reconsider the terms of its mine leases and impose heavy taxes on exporters. The taxpayers should receive a fair market value for the national resource.
The writer is a staff member of The News Internatinal