The Sindh government is struggling to meet the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as far as the agriculture sector is concerned.
The provincial government had set up an SDGs Support Unit in its Planning & Development Board (P&DB) two years back to meet 169 targets of these 17 goals.
Of the 17 SDGs, three pertain to agriculture directly or indirectly. These are poverty (SDG-1), zero hunger (SDG-2) and climate action (SDG-13). The last one is very important as far as sustainable growth in the farm sector is concerned.
Vibrant farmers’ bodies like the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), however, regret that no substantive progress is seen. The government tends to link donor-funded programmes with SDGs and there are no success stories in terms of agriculture which continues to face extreme weather events like rainfall and drought that affect the growth process.
“Climate change — one of the main SDGs — has emerged as a major threat for the farm sector and this leads to serious losses in productivity while we sit idle,” argues SAB vice president Mahmood Nawaz Shah. He is worried about the lack of investment in research and development-oriented works that can otherwise play a pivotal role.
‘If we don’t act to address climate change issues then Sindh will lose 20pc of its GDP’
“Research enables governments to achieve SDGs relating to ‘zero hunger’ and ‘poverty’ because it helps increase yield per acre with given available resources. Surpluses don’t resolve matters because it is availability and accessibility of food around the year that is required [to end hunger]”.
Sindh has come up with a policy that also talks about climate-smart agriculture but to borrow SAB vice president’s words, a paradigm shift is needed to link the agriculture sector with this policy in all spheres. “If we are unable to find the solution to perennial problems we are doomed and huge losses in the agrarian economy will be a foregone conclusion. Perhaps research alone helps protect the farm sector and achieves SDGs”, he asserts.
The SAB leader is not wrong. In the last few years, Sindh has been at the receiving end of torrential rains that played havoc with the cotton crop. Even keeping aside the damage wrought by the monsoons, the province has not been able to meet its cotton bales production target for the last several years.
A P&DB’s SDG Support Unit official Mumtaz Halepoto says that “Sindh remains a hot spot within Pakistan in terms of climate change scenario.”
“We conducted a study relating to SDG-13. According to it, if we don’t act to address the climate change issues then Sindh will lose 20 per cent of its GDP. An investment of 2pc will allow the SDG-13 to be achieved and thus save 18pc of GDP,” he remarked.
But the agricultural department doesn’t have a clear understanding or knowledge of the issues either. “This is an institutional puzzle — people within different departments don’t know how to develop linkages for addressing the climate change phenomenon,” said an SDGs Support Unit official.
This is the challenge that the Sindh government is trying to overcome by connecting different new and on-going schemes of the agriculture department to address SDGs related to poverty and climate change. For example, the Sindh Chief Minister has committed plantation of 200,000 trees for 2019-20 under the Sarsabz Sindh programme.
According to Rafiq Mustafa Shaikh of the Support Unit, the government has also reflected on an allocation of Rs6.5 billion in its annual development plan (ADP) 2019-20 for a ‘social protection programme strategy to reduce poverty” and Harris Gazdar, an expert, is working on it. “Administrative departments have to work in tandem to avoid lack of understanding and that is what the government is precisely aiming for”, he says.
But given the overall size of the development portfolio, which is around Rs283.5bn for 2019-20, he is also concerned about the gap in resource availability and federal fiscal transfers. And it is not the agriculture sector alone that faces these resource constraints but other departments do as well.
For instance, Mr Shaikh says, to address safe management of water and sanitation — as expressed in SDG-6: clean water and sanitation — Sindh requires Rs80bn every year for 10 years. But realising its importance, the Sindh chief minister gradually increased the Public Health Engineering allocation from Rs4bn two years back to Rs19bn in 2019-20.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 23rd, 2019