Friday, May 9, 2008

Can Pakistan Enhance World's Food Security?

While the term "energy security" has been in vogue for many years, the term "food security" seems to be competing with it for an equal or higher ranking on the world agenda. Food Security is particularly high on the list for countries such as China with the world's largest population to feed and the Middle East nations such as Saudi Arabia and Libya who depend on imported food.

So what are these countries doing? They are acquiring farmland in the nations considered world's breadbaskets. Countries in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe who have plenty of farmland but not a lot of money. While these efforts will help increase food production, a downside of an aggressive policy for more farmland is that it will accelerate deforestation and hurt the environment.

The Chinese agriculture ministry has drafted a proposal to support the acquisition of farmland, especially in Africa and South America, to help guarantee China's food security, the Financial Times reports. Beijing already promotes aggressive foreign acquisition by Chinese oil, banking and manufacturing firms -- to mixed receptions abroad at a time of heightened suspicion surrounding sovereign-wealth investments. A Chinese official tells the FT that there shouldn't be any problem getting the policy approved, but that Beijing worries that foreign governments may be "unwilling to give up large areas of land."

And at a time of relative food shortages and soaring prices for cereals and other nutritive commodities, China will already have some competition, says the Wall Street Journal. In the Middle East, the region most dependent on imported food, Saudi Arabia has said it plans to invest in farm and livestock projects overseas to get a handle on its commodity prices and ensure supply, while Libya has been talking to Ukraine about the possibility of growing its own wheat there. Any shift of economic power from the Middle East to the likes of poorer Ukraine, one of the world's biggest wheat producers, could revive the Heartland Theory of 19th-century and 20th-century geographer Sir Halford John Mackinder, who argued control of the natural resources of the East European breadbasket region was key to controlling the "World Island" of Europe and Asia, and thus the world.

This developing new dynamic creates an opportunity for Pakistan to form partnerships with the Chinese and the Saudis aimed at dramatic improvement in the productivity of its farmland in Sind and Punjab without actually selling the land to foreigners. Farm modernization to realize the full potential of its farmland is a goal Pakistan must set for itself for this decade. If pursued with a clear plan and strategy, Pakistan can not only feed its own population well but it could also become the breadbasket for the world and improve the living standards of Pakistan's rural population.

Prior efforts beginning in 2000 toward corporate farming have met significant opposition. For example, an official of Pakistan's Ministry of Food and Agriculture said in July 2000, "We are working to finalize a policy for introducing corporate agriculture in the country where large farm holdings will be allowed to companies which would seek listing in the stock exchange."

Under the proposal, foreign companies were to be granted a 30-year lease on government-owned land that could be extended for another 20 years. However, food rights campaigners expressed the fear that profit-driven agribusiness transnational companies (TNCs) would use Pakistan as a base for exporting cash crops which would replace staple cereals on the country's farms.

Since the failure of the effort in 2000, Pakistan has again initiated efforts in 2007 to build serious agribusiness using modern techniques as part of a mega project sponsored by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock, with the technical and financial assistance of Asian Development Bank. The executing agencies include Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL), Department of Agricultural & Livestock Products Marketing & Grading, State Bank of Pakistan, Provincial Agriculture, Livestock and marketing Departments, and the Agriculture and Livestock Departments of FATA, FANA and AJK. The Project has its headquarters in Islamabad and implementation offices in Punjab, Sindh, NWFP, Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal & Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

To the dismay of biodiversity advocates and environmentalists, Brazil has become a dramatic success in food production by making use of the Cerrado (literally meaning Closed), a region of grassland near the equator that was considered not cultivable. The large scale American agribusiness investments have transformed the region into a major producer of soybean and made Brazil a food exporter rivaling the United States. Soybean is a major source of protein for livestock. Livestock farming is in big demand as the world consumes more meat and dairy products. Brazil is also the largest producer and consumer of biofuels and self-sufficient in energy.

The world food and energy crises clearly present opportunities for investors to invest in countries such as Pakistan with plenty of fertile farmland but very low farm productivity. By bringing the farm expertise and enhancing crop yields, agribusiness companies such as Archer-Daniel, Cargill, Bunge, Dow and Monsanto and their international competitors have tremendous opportunities in South Asia. So do companies like Caterpillar, John Deere, Kubota, Hyundai, Mahindra and others in the farm machinery and construction business. While many South Asians may be concerned about the negative impact of big agribusiness on the society and the environment, the over-riding need for efficiency to feed the growing population and international export opportunities will likely trump these concerns.


Anonymous said...

This would lead to food imperialism. Poor nations who's land has been bought off by rich nations would not have resources to feed their teeming millions. The poor people of these regions would see the food grown in their own lands being taken away by foreigners.
I do not condone the purchase of land by rich nations. This has several advantages as you have noted. This would help the poor nations develop.
Things could be different if a sustainable option is sought. Instead of selling the land for very long periods of time, the land could be auctioned for a duration of 5 years. Farmers make an investment on land in terms of infrastructure. So, the new winning bid would have to cover the value of existing infrastructure. The outgoing customer would be returned the value of assets he leaves behind.
A food sharing plan needs to exist. The cultivator would need to pay taxes in terms of a percentage of his farm output to the host nation. This would ensure that the people in that country are fed. This percentage could be roughly worked out to be proportional to the ratio of cultivable area by the population of the nation.

Riaz Haq said...

You are correctly pointing out the potential issues with the rich buying out farmland and staking claim on the produce in poor nations. Just think of the current situation with oil and you can visualize the dangers. However, if done as a crop-sharing deal with short-term leases as you suggest, rather than land sale, farm investments and expertise can help the farmers in South Asia, Africa, East Europe and Latin America become much more productive and acquire wealth in the process.
And they can feed their countrymen better as well. I believe it can be done without compromising national sovereignty or taking away food from the poor by the rich.

Riaz Haq said...

Gulf Arabs in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been buying farmland in Pakistan as part of plans to increase food security and to reduce inflation, according to recent news reports.
The Financial Times reported on May 12 that Dubai-based Abraaj Capital says it is working with the UAE government on the strategic agribusiness investments in Pakistan. The government in Abu Dhabi has been holding talks with Islamabad about a framework for investment in its agricultural sector as it seeks to secure cheaper long-term supplies of staples such as wheat and rice.
The details and the terms of such an arrangement are not clear.
I think the word "buying" seems a little troublesome if Pakistan loses control of the produce from the farmland that eventually may leads to contentions between UAE and Pakistan. Although such arrangements can bring benefits to both, they should be approached and crafted with utmost care.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Pak Tea House story of Jinnah School for Congolese children:

Congo’s Children With Pakistan’s Founder
Pakistani Blue Helmets In The African Nation

Jinnah Public School is commonly known as the Jinnah School in this central African country. The Congolese students honor Pakistan once every year at the annual function by reciting the Pakistani national anthem. Some 4000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers are helping Congo-Kinshasa stand on its feet.

Congo kids with Quaid's Portrait-1.jpg

MUHAMMAD USMAN | Thursday | 17 February 2011 | Pakistani Blue Helmets In Congo

KINSHASA, Congo—I am serving with the UN mission in Democratic Republic of Congo. The contribution of Pakistani civilians and military in this country under the UN has earned a lot of respect for Pakistan. I have attached a recent photograph of JINNAH PUBLIC SCHOOL here in Bukavu which is the capital city of South Kivu Province. The school is named after the leader of the Pakistan Independence Movement, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The school was established by Pakistan Army officers and soldiers as a gift to the people of Congo.

Pakistani Blue Helmets in Congo are earning respect and honor for Pakistan through service to humanity.

The effort is acknowledged by the people of this war-torn country in Central Africa.

The school is more commonly known here as the Jinnah School.

The students here sing the Pakistani national anthem every year during their annual function at Jinnah School. When I saw this scene for the first time, I had tears in my eyes.

More than 4000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers are serving in DR Congo under United Nations. One of the main missions of the Pakistani contingent is WHAMS, Winning of the Hearts And Minds through activities like the Jinnah School.

We all are grateful for the nation’s support and that of Pakistanis like you at this forum.

The writer is a Pakistani Blue Helmet in Congo-Kinshasa.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Daily Times on wheat seed resistant to rust disease:

The above wheat seed variety has the potential to resist the virus UG99, said PARC Chairman Dr Iftikhar Ahmad while briefing the committee. He further said, “Experts say it is only a matter of time before wind carries a deadly wheat stem pathogen into Pakistan, the ninth largest wheat-producing nation in the world. Known as UG99, the disease could potentially decimate the country’s highly vulnerable wheat crop and cause a huge food security problem.”

Crop scientists say that next destination of this ‘time bomb’ is obviously Pakistan and then India.

UG99 originated in Uganda in 1999 and has migrated to many countries. It has reached Iran and become a regional threat that now confronts wheat production and stability. The PARC has established the UG99 resistance variety and multiplied and provided to farmers at the time of wheat sowing. For this year, the PARC chairman said 72 tonnes UG99 resistance wheat seed is available and being provided on demand. Every year, the seed is multiplying and soon the country will be able to fully protect against the UG99 deadly disease.

Apart from, Ahmad said that PARC is coordinating with all research institutes across the country. We have commodities base coordination on wheat, maize, sorghum and millet, pulses, oilseed crops, fodder crops, rice and rice hybrid and sugar crops. The PARC also helps the government in mechanisation and coordinattion between private sector and concerned departments. Apart from it, there are a number of collaborations with Punjab in promotion of agriculture research and projects.

The committee was also briefed about the livestock department in federal government after devolution process in the country. Livestock Department Head Dr Khurshid told the committee that livestock has 55.1 percent contribution to agriculture value addition and 11.6 percent share in national gross domestic product. During the year 2011-12, the livestock share in total foreign exchange earning is 8.3 percent. During the year 2012-13, the livestock population is; cattle 38.3 million, buffalo 33.7 million, sheep 28.8 million, goat 64.9 million, camels 1.0 million, horses 400,000, asses 4.9 million and mules 200,000 million.

He told the committee that livestock sector’s prospective role towards rural economic development may well be recognised from the fact that nearly 8.0 million families involved in livestock raising are deriving more than 35 percent income from livestock production activities. He said the government has taken a number of measures to improve the pace of development in livestock sector with focus on value addition.

The import of agro based machinery and equipment including machinery and equipment related to livestock farming and dairy processing units is allowed at zero tariff. Import of high-yielding exotic dairy and beef animals and their semen and embryo are allowed. He also informed the committee that sales tax exemption has been allowed to processed milk, yogurt, cheese and flavored milk, butter and cream.

About future plan, he said the department is planning to persuade the polices to achieve 5.0 percent more growth in meat and 8.0 percent or more in milk production through shifting from subsistence livestock farming to market-oriented and commercial farming with a focus on entire market chain. The future road map is to enter into global Halal food trade market, controlling trans-boundary animal diseases of trade and economic importance through provincial participation and rural socio-economic uplift....\01\08\story_8-1-2013_pg5_9