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Transformational dynamics

March 01, 2012

ABDUL Haque moved to the city of Lahore from a nearby village about 40 odd years ago. Initially, he came alone and started working as a construction worker but over time he became a guard/night watchman and has also bought a small house in the outskirts of Lahore where he has moved most his family.

His sons came to get an education in Lahore and then found jobs in the city and did not go back. Eventually, as his own brothers/sisters passed away, he brought his wife and younger children to the city too.

He still goes to the village as he is one of the ‘elders’ of the village now (the incongruity of his two roles and positions in society, as an elder and a night watchman is also worth dwelling on, but some other time — it reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) but his children’s connections with the village have weakened.Abdul Haque’s story is not atypical. It was and is the model of growth we have been following in Pakistan for a long time. Job and educational/skill acquisition opportunities are mostly created in the larger cities, through industrialisation, growth of commerce and the service sector and so migration, from the villages to the cities, continues.

Muhammad Ali, a driver in a Lahore household, has his family in a village in southern Punjab. He would love to move his family to Lahore too, but he cannot afford to do so. Anwar, an office boy in Islamabad, is from a village near Sargodha. Anwar has just started his job and he might also not want to go back anymore.

Zaheer’s family is in a village near Mansehra while he works as a cook in Lahore. He does not want to move to Lahore due to joint-family reasons and wants to eventually return to the village and become an electrician. He feels that with the growing number of appliances and gadgets coming to his village, work as an electrician would be an expanding and lucrative enough business. But he needs to learn the skill as well as acquire the needed capital. So he is in the city for that.

Musharraf’s family is from Azad Kashmir. Most of the men in his family have been working in Lahore for the last many decades.

He brought his nuclear family to Lahore in the wake of the earthquake that destroyed his house and his village. The children were admitted to schools in Lahore. Now they do not want to go back. The school in his village has not been reopened.

This model of growth where people have to move to the cities to get jobs, acquire skills, get access to capital and to good education for the children goes back to the 1950s and 1960s and the notion that development will happen with industrialisation and cities will lead the way in industrialisation. The development of commerce and the expansion of the service sector were added to the story later. The growth paradigm in Pakistan is still very much based on this vision: the recent growth strategy formulated by the Planning Commission of Pakistan is a good example of this vision.

Clearly, industrial growth is important. We need to be at a point where we can produce products at levels that can be and are exported. And our service/trade sector needs to be at that level too so that it can not only support the industrial sector, but can also be a producer of value on its own. But are these aims possible to achieve without focusing on the agriculture/livestock sectors and the rural economy? And more importantly, should rural/small-town areas not be seen as potential engines of growth? And should we not be looking at our growth model again?

Agricultural productivity is quite low in Pakistan, even compared to similar countries and agricultural economies. The livestock and dairy industries are poorly organised despite Pakistan being one of the larger producers of milk in the world, and we export little of our fruit or vegetables even though world markets for juice and other vegetable/fruit extracts are huge and lucrative.

A lot of our industry depends on the health of the agricultural economy, and growth in agriculture would help with growth in industry too, at least the agro industry. More cotton, more milk, more rice, sugarcane and wheat and more fruit and vegetables could enable not only the development of the relevant agro industry, it could help exports as well. Also horticulture does not need as much land as cash crops to be profitable.

We need to think of other connections too. Under Article 25A of the constitution we now need to educate every five- to 16-year-old as a matter of basic right. Clearly, this education needs to be of adequate quality or it does not serve our purpose of imparting literacy and numeracy, the ability to think and the ability to be active citizens to our children. This education needs to go to the children, wherever they are.

The educational network needs to expand and its quality needs to improve. Up to Matric education has to go to villages, degree colleges need to go to the smaller towns and university campuses to the larger towns. Similarly, we cannot expect people to move to acquire basic skills.

These training facilities, with the help of educational institutions or otherwise, also need to get a lot closer to the people. Giving people education and skills, investment in their human capital, would allow us to create the conditions for changing agriculture as well as the agro industry. It will have the salubrious effect of reducing migratory pressure from cities as well.

With a population of 180 million people, a large proportion being very young and the majority still living outside large cities, models that look only to large cities or a few cities as ways of developing and creating transformational change in the entire country seems quite counter-intuitive. And it seems to fly in the face of notions of absolute/comparative advantage too. We need to rethink our theory of change, transformation and growth.

The writer is senior adviser, Pakistan at Open Society Foundations, associate professor of economics, LUMS, and a visiting fellow at IDEAS, Lahore.