PAKISTAN Agriculture Research Council is trying to redefine itself. It made its first attempt recently when it convened a meeting of vice-chancellors of all agriculture universities in the country to set its new terms of reference.
The council, as a federal umbrella body, will need to lead from the front, especially in areas where provinces, by the very nature of their governance and resources, do not have access or reach.
Experts expect Parc to play an important role in coordinating research and development among federating units, serving as a national clearing house of projects to avoid duplication and wastage of resources, linking Pakistan to international research, setting national policy and out-reach agenda, national and international resource mobilisation and, most importantly, promoting provincial harmony. Parc will have its hands full if it lives up to these expectations.
In order to lead all above-mentioned initiatives, Parc needs to re-cast itself into a complementary role as far as provinces are concerned. If it continues to be perceived as a parallel and competing body, the federating units may resist all its efforts. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) — which has a strong presence at the federal level, adopts a supporting role when it comes to states — can be a role model for Parc. The same can be said for the Indian model.
Parc may even have to rename itself since agriculture, as a sector, has been handed to provinces and the very name ‘Pakistan Agriculture Research Council’ can draw constitutional and legal objections. It can still work on national food security issues. Parc may have to go for basic re-modelling to make an impact.
Post devolution, as was the case even before, huge overlapping and even straight duplications have been hallmark of agricultural research. All provincial departments conceive and lead their own research projects, without, in most of the cases, knowing what the others are doing. Different departments and government and private agencies are currently running 28 projects on bio-technology, around 25 on wheat and some 15 on cotton.
There is not a single body which keeps tabs on why these projects exist, what they are doing, how much do they overlap and what they are designed to achieve. That is precisely where Parc needs to find its role: work as a federal clearing house on research and development projects, ensuring that each penny spent brings maximum benefit to the country and community.
Linking Pakistan’s agriculture to the international sources of knowledge can be termed as an important work for Parc. Most of the world bodies will prefer working with federal bodies because it gives them access to the entire country. On top of that, there are certain areas, which only the federal government or its agencies can deal with; like food security situation and poverty and hunger in a particular country. The entire system of the United Nations (UNDP, WFP, and FAO) works with national governments. Parc, an already existing federal body, and find a role in all these areas.
As a federal coordinator, the Parc will also have access to national and international resources, both financial and human. Diverting them to critical areas of research, weak links in the production chain and ensuring results would be of decisive importance for Pakistan’s progress.
With Federal Committee on Agriculture defunct, there is also policy and planning vacuum at the federal level. It was FCA that used create projects of requirement, set targets for each crop and ensured what each province needed to achieve. With its demise after 2010, planning has fallen flat and a volatile market reflects that planning failure. In a federation, a coordinating and bargaining agent is always crucial.
One hopes that the rejuvenated Parc casts itself in all these roles and also gets necessary financial, legal and administrative support from the government as well. But in order to that all, the key word for it would be ‘federal.’ If it tries to hog areas of provincial jurisdiction, it would certainly be an exercise in self-defeat.