Thanks to the latest rollover of a $2 billion Chinese loan, there is apparently little to worry about the rupee’s health till the end of March 2024. But the rupee’s prospects in April-June 2024 may not remain as certain. Weak fundamentals of Pakistan’s external economy — particularly growing external debt servicing requirements amidst no big hope for a sustainable boost to foreign exchange reserves will surely keep the local currency under pressure.

This will be happening under a weak coalition government at the Centre and equally weak governments in provinces — and amidst possibly high levels of political confrontation and chaos.

So, steering the economy out of crisis will remain a big challenge for the elected federal and provincial governments even if our powerful establishment manages to broker short-term sanity in the newly elected federal and provincial parliaments.

One area of the economy where the federation and the provinces need to develop sufficient harmony in their relationships is agriculture.

It will be difficult to address the structural issues that plague the farming community under a weak new coalition government

Agriculture needs to grow — and grow fast — to feed more than 240 million Pakistanis at reasonable prices and to create increasingly large exportable surpluses to increase badly needed export earnings.

But crops cannot offer better per-hectare yields by a powerful executive order. They do so only when farmers across Pakistan are well taken care of and structural issues of agriculture are constantly addressed. The same holds true for livestock and poultry and fishing and fish processing— two other key sub-sectors of agriculture.

Besides, it is also important to address deep structural issues of agriculture constantly to ensure better performance of this sector. And that is not possible without sincere efforts by all stakeholders including the farming community and the federal and provincial governments.

Green Pakistan Initiative, which seeks to revolutionise agriculture with the help of the armed forces and the promised partnerships of friendly countries, might be a good idea to pursue agricultural development. But its efficacy will be tested to the core under a weak coalition government at the Centre and coalition/majority governments of provinces working “on the same page” with the powerful establishment but with limited real political consensus.

So, for the new federal and provincial governments, the first major challenge will be to seek broader political consensus on key issues of economic development, including agriculture. In the present context, this means winning the support of the main opposition party, PTI (or the PTI-backed independents who won the Feb 8 elections).

The second major challenge will be reaching a broader consensus for key policy initiatives in agriculture within the coalition government in Islamabad and in coalition/majority governments in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan. PML-N represents our typical business class, and PPP represents the typical Sindh-based feudal class. PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz has become the first-ever female chief minister of Punjab. And her uncle, Shahbaz Sharif, is expected to become the prime minister of the country — once again.

That said, three structural issues of our agriculture sector continue to cry for resolution. First is a highly inequitable landholding pattern: Just two per cent of farmers (or people who claim to belong to the farming community) own 45pc of all agricultural land, and 98pc hold the remaining 55pc. Unless serious efforts are made to improve this pattern, no agricultural reforms can yield the best results.

Agricultural reforms cannot yield results without serious efforts to improve the highly inequitable landholding pattern

Secondly, 7.4m small farmers cultivate less than 12.5 acres of land and remain at the mercy of the big landlords, policymakers and market forces. Unless their representatives are given a fair chance to be heard before policy formulations and their interests are protected as much as possible, agricultural reforms will not help defuse the sense of alienation among them and will also not produce the best possible outcomes for the reforms.

Thirdly, on most agricultural lands, women workers work along with their male family/community members, and in some cases, they work longer hours. But as a Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) study titled “protection issues faced by women farmers” rightly points out, their labour tends to be undocumented, and they are rarely referred to as “farmers.”

With Punjab now under a lady chief minister, one hopes that the province will take the lead in empowering our women farmers. Agricultural reforms that do not address this issue will ring hollow.

The current practice of depriving women of the right of farmland ownership (which is mostly done by their male relatives) and paying them less than the amount of work they do just because of their gender must come to an end now. Otherwise, all dreams of revolutionising agriculture will remain just that — dreams.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 4th, 2024

Follow Dawn Business on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for insights on business, finance and tech from Pakistan and across the world.

Opinion

Editorial

IMF’s projections
Updated 18 Apr, 2024

IMF’s projections

The problems are well-known and the country is aware of what is needed to stabilise the economy; the challenge is follow-through and implementation.
Hepatitis crisis
18 Apr, 2024

Hepatitis crisis

THE sheer scale of the crisis is staggering. A new WHO report flags Pakistan as the country with the highest number...
Never-ending suffering
18 Apr, 2024

Never-ending suffering

OVER the weekend, the world witnessed an intense spectacle when Iran launched its drone-and-missile barrage against...
Saudi FM’s visit
Updated 17 Apr, 2024

Saudi FM’s visit

The government of Shehbaz Sharif will have to manage a delicate balancing act with Pakistan’s traditional Saudi allies and its Iranian neighbours.
Dharna inquiry
17 Apr, 2024

Dharna inquiry

THE Supreme Court-sanctioned inquiry into the infamous Faizabad dharna of 2017 has turned out to be a damp squib. A...
Future energy
17 Apr, 2024

Future energy

PRIME MINISTER Shehbaz Sharif’s recent directive to the energy sector to curtail Pakistan’s staggering $27bn oil...