Thursday, June 13, 2024

Agriculture: A Rare Bright Spot in Pakistan's Economy

Pakistan's agriculture sector grew 6.3% in 2023-24, far outpacing the overall economy that grew just 2.38%, according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2023-24.  This is good news for about 40% of the country's population working in the agriculture sector. By contrast, India's agriculture growth slowed to 1.2% in recent quarters. Studies have shown that strong growth in agriculture helps reduce poverty in developing nations like India and Pakistan. 

Snapshot of Pakistan's Economy. Source: Economic Survey of Pakistan 2023-24

The agriculture growth in Pakistan was the highest in 19 years. All major crops saw significant increases. Wheat output jumped 11.6% from 28.2 million tons last year to 31.4 million tons this year, the economic survey said. Cotton, severely damaged by floods and rains last year, reached 10.2 million bales compared to 4.9 million bales last year, growing by 108.2%. Rice output also saw a significant increase — up by 34.8% — reaching 9.9 million tons compared to 7.3 million tons. 

Strong crop output is in part the result of higher yields from increased water and fertilizer availability to farmers, according to the economic survey. 

The survey said the water availability during Kharif 2023 increased to 61.9 million acre-feet (MAF) from 43.3 MAF in Kharif 2022 (when the floods hit). For Rabi 2023-24, the water availability was 30.6 MAF, showing an increase of 4.1% over Rabi 2022-23.

Domestic fertilizer production during FY24 (July-March) rose by 17.3% to 3.25 million tons compared to 2.77 million tons in the same period of FY23. Fertilizer imports also increased by 23.7%, reaching 524,000 ton­s. The availability of fertilizer increased by 18.1% to 3.77 million tons. 

Pakistan's Rice Exports Soared 80% in Current Fiscal Year. Source: FT

The value of Pakistan’s rice exports soared to $3.6 billion over the last 11 months, up from $2 billion in July to May 2022-23. Its previous record for was 4.8 million metric tons of rice exports, valued at about $2.5 billion in 2021-22, according to the Financial Times

Pakistan is among the world's largest food producing countries. It produces large and growing quantities of cereals, meat, milk, fruits and vegetables. Currently, Pakistan produces about 38 million tons of cereals (mainly wheat, rice and corn), 17 million tons of fruits and vegetables, 70 million tons of sugarcane, 60 million tons of milk and 4.5 million tons of meat.  Total value of the nation's agricultural output exceeds $70 billion.  Improving agriculture inputs and modernizing value chains can help the farm sector become much more productive to serve both domestic and export markets.  

Agriculture is considered a key tool for reducing poverty in developing countries like Pakistan. It employs almost half of the rural workforce, contributes around 20% to the country's GDP, and provides raw materials for agro-based industries, according to a study by Yaping Liu, Asad Amin, Samma Faiz Rasool, and Qamar Uz Zaman.  However, some studies suggest that agriculture may only help mitigate rural poverty in the long term, while other sources say that sustainable agriculture practices can significantly improve agricultural production and reduce poverty.

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Saturday, June 8, 2024

Republican Congressman Exposes Powerful Israel Lobby's Bullying Tactics

In a rare act of courage by a serving congressman, Rep Thomas Massie of Kentucky has detailed strong-arm tactics of the Israel lobby to ensure unquestioning support for Israel. He said that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), also known as the Israel lobby, is unique in that it has designated representatives (Massie calls them "AIPAC persons") assigned to each Republican member of Congress to ensure the lawmakers vote for bills Israel supports. Massie has now banned his assigned  "AIPAC Person" from his office. 

In spite of working on behalf of a foreign government, "AIPAC persons" are not registered as foreign agents under FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act). Others, such as Paul Manafort (working for Russia) and Ghulam Nabi Fai (representing Pakistan's interests), have been prosecuted, convicted and jailed for violating FARA. No other foreign country has such an organization focusing individually on each member of Congress. There is no British person or Russian person or Chinese person assigned to each member of Congress, Massie says.  He has so far defied and survived the onslaught of the Israel lobby which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads against him to defeat him in his district. He won over 70% of the votes cast in the recent primary against his Republican challenger funded by AIPAC. Massie is a serious technology entrepreneur and a businessman. He is a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with several inventions to his credit. He is a libertarian who opposes all foreign aid to any country, not just Israel. 

Rep Thomas Massie (R-Ky)

When asked why other members of Congress do not talk about it, here's how Massie explained it to Tucker Carlson: "It doesn’t benefit anybody. Why would they want to tell their constituents that they’ve basically got a buddy system with somebody who’s representing a foreign country? It doesn’t benefit the congressman for people to know that. So they’re not going to tell you that".  

Massie said the current Congress has spent more time in support of Israel than on any other issues, including domestic issues, in the last year, raising the question as to who do these Congressmen really work for: the American people who sent them to Washington to solve their problems or a foreign government? 

Israel is the Largest Recipient of US Foreign Aid. Source: CFR

Massie cited several bills recently passed by the US Congress under pressure from AIPAC. Among them are billions of dollars in aid to Israel, the TikTok ban and the bill against anti-semitism which Massie describes as a ban on the New Testament that says "Jews killed Jesus". Massie has called the TikTok ban a "Trojan Horse" for First Amendment rights of free speech. 

Congressman Massie's Tweet. Source: X

Massie is also opposed to aiding Israel because, as he puts it: "Approximately 1% of Gaza’s CIVILIAN population has been wiped out by Israel in 7 months. We should not fund this war". 

US Military Aid to Israel. Source: CFR

Here's part of the exchange between Carlson and Massie that occurred on the Tucker Carlson show

MASSIE: It’s like your babysitter. Your AIPAC babysitter who is always talking to you for AIPAC. They’re probably a constituent in your district, but they are, you know, firmly embedded in AIPAC.

CARLSON: And every member has something like this.

MASSIE: Every Re– I don’t know how it works on the Democrats’ side. But that’s how it works on the Republican side. And when they come to D.C., you go have lunch with them. And they’ve got your cell number and you have conversations with them. So I’ve had like–

CARLSON: That’s absolutely crazy.

MASSIE: I’ve had four members of Congress say, “I’ll talk to my AIPAC person.” And like that’s clearly what we call them, my AIPAC guy. I’ll talk to my AIPAC guy and see if I can get them to, you know, dial those ads back.

CARLSON: Why have I never heard this before?

MASSIE: It doesn’t benefit anybody. Why would they want to tell their constituents that they’ve basically got a buddy system with somebody who’s representing a foreign country? It doesn’t benefit the congressman for people to know that. So they’re not going to tell you that.

The Israel lobby showers its friendly politicians with money from wealthy Jewish donors. It also works to ensure the defeat of those politicians who dare to speak out against Israeli policies in the Middle East. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, put it on leaving office, ‘you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.’ Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, ‘when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: “Help AIPAC.”’

President Jimmy Carter who helped broker peace between Israel and Egypt knows the Israel lobby well. He told Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now" many years ago: "I think it’s accurate to say that not a single member of Congress with whom I’m familiar would possibly speak out and call for Israel to withdraw to their legal boundaries or to publicize the plight of the Palestinians or even to call publicly and repeatedly for good faith peace talks.....  And I would say that if any member of Congress did speak out, as I’ve just described, they would probably not be back in the Congress the next term ". 

The fact that Republican Congressman Massie and several progressive Democratic Congresspeople are questioning the power of the Israel lobby in shaping the US Middle East policy is an indication of a growing rebellion against the strong-arm tactics used by AIPAC to bully US elected representatives to blindly support Israel. Could it be that the mortal fear of the AIPAC is just beginning recede in Washington DC? Or is it something similar to what is happening on the US college and university campuses

Here's a link to the full video of Tucker Carlson's interview with Rep Thomas Massie: