FOOD processing and packaging across the world have seen a boom in recent times, and the Pakistani market is no different. The rise in the local market is undeniable but it is still not at its optimal level. Our food processing and packaging brands have even crossed borders and are very popular in international markets, but the gap between our yield from food crops and the quantity in which we produce processed and packaged food is considerable. We could achieve much better results from this industry but it has been hindered for numerous reasons one of which is our negligence towards upgrading the farming procedures and equipment.

For a country which relies massively on agriculture for foreign exchange earnings and a better part of our 200 million population is in one way or the other associated with agriculture, we are way behind in modernising the sector.

According to industry experts, we are not just spending enough to introduce modern practices in the agriculture sector and we are criminally behind in terms of agricultural research and development. The new government seems focussed on increasing our export figures in an effort to make Pakistan self-sufficient financially, and, that being so, there is better way than to improve our food export figures, say the experts.

Pakistani industries, like, say, textile and its value-added products, which represent a pillar of our country’s exports, are also dependent on one of our main agricultural produce; cotton. There is almost no other logical way to improve our country’s cash inflow from exports without massive and meaningful improvements in our agriculture sector.

We do have agricultural research departments and even full-fledged universities focussing on agriculture alone, but are they doing enough? We haven’t seen a breakthrough in any agriculture-related research in quite some time that would have given us an edge over our competitors in the international market. Other agriculture-based countries are way ahead of us in the race for modernising their farming practices and subsequently high-end value addition in food industries.

We produce surplus in numerous crops every year and after fulfilling our national requirements we just export what is left of it without any value-addition to the crop. Even what value-addition we do for the local market is at best minimal. Apart from some basic products that we have been making for decades, we do not come up with products or even concepts which encourage value-addition and processing part in the national food industry. For the very basic products that we create with value-addition, the quality is still not up to the mark in most cases when we talk of international markets.

With CPEC, we are entering a phase where a lot of international players from different industrial sectors are expected to take interest in making investments in Pakistan. There is every reason for us to particularly promote foreign investments in agriculture, food-processing and packaging domains.

Foreign investors should be offered financial and taxation incentives for setting up industrial units for food processing and packaging. If it happens alongside technology transfer, it would be the proverbial icing on the cake This seems like a very good opportunity for the new government to work upon and achieve its goals of not just increasing exports but creating the promised job opportunities.