Honorable Agriculture Minister of Punjab, Dr. Farrukh Javed; Executive Director, State Bank of Pakistan, Syed Samar Hasnain; Director Marketing Fatima Group, Muhammad Zahir; Director Marketing Dawn Media Group, Masud Hamid and distinguished guests–Assalam u Alaikum.
It is an honor for me to be here with you today for this special event. As many of you know, we are standing on ground where ancient communities were among the first in the world to cultivate crops such as wheat and barley and to domesticate animals such as goats and cattle. Indeed, for centuries, agriculture has played a critical role in the lives of those who reside within the basin of the Indus and its tributaries. That tradition continues today as agriculture accounts for a fifth of Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product, a third of male employment, and three quarters of female employment.
Blessed with an agreeable climate and the world’s largest interconnected irrigation system, Pakistan has made great strides in agriculture and now ranks among the world’s top 10 producers of cotton, wheat, milk, and sugarcane. Nevertheless, for many crops, yields are lower than they should be; losses along the value chain are higher than they should be; and many farmers, particularly the landless, continue to struggle to earn enough income to care for their families. Tremendous work is going on at Pakistan’s universities and elite research institutions—aimed at the efficient use of water, fighting disease, boosting yields, improving soils, and, ultimately, raising farm incomes. This is critical for the future of Pakistan and its rural communities.
Yet, too much of Pakistan’s labor force is engaged in production agriculture, resulting in considerable underemployment in rural communities. For these farmers, higher yields may not be enough to lift them out of poverty. Instead, their future prosperity may lie in diverse rural and urban economies that either augment or wholly replace farm income. That is why this conference, with its emphasis on competitiveness and value addition is such an important event for Pakistan’s rural communities. True, Pakistan has large processing industries that add value to rice, cotton, wheat, and sugarcane, but moving beyond these basic processing industries to storing, canning, transporting, freezing, processing, weaving, sewing, and retailing are all ways in which increased value addition in agriculture provides new employment opportunities.
I want to commend the Government of Punjab for helping to make Pakistan a major producer of key crops. Minister Javed—the work that your government is doing to connect researchers and small farmers holds great promise for boosting yields, conserving water, and raising farm incomes. I also commend you for your efforts to diversify Punjab’s agricultural economy by developing the dairy, meat, textile, and fruit sectors through greater productivity and processing. These sectors hold great promise for providing additional income to small farmers, greater choice for consumers, and new job opportunities for workers. I want our efforts to build on the strong foundation laid by the Government of Punjab, and to complement the government’s efforts. It’s a model for how we should work together, in partnership.
For our part, the United States government continues to support Pakistani agriculture across the country. My colleagues at the United States Agency for International Development have agriculture projects designed to increase productivity and profits, as well as enhance collaboration with key agricultural stakeholders. USAID projects work directly with farmers, farmers’ groups, and agribusinesses to impart the latest techniques and best practices to increase yields, and, in turn, incomes.
USAID also works with producers to improve harvesting, packaging and marketing so that their final products meet the highest quality standards, here in Pakistan and abroad. Through strategic work with universities and research institutes, USAID addresses limits to agricultural productivity by disseminating the latest research and technologies throughout the agriculture sector, as well as working with our Pakistani government partners to help address agriculture policy issues.
Similarly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has programs focused on aquaculture, combatting plant and animal diseases, improving cold chains, water and soil conservation, and developing regulatory capacity.
While there is much that governments can do, especially in establishing the necessary regulatory framework, rule of law, and intellectual property protection, it is the private sector that is most likely to drive real change in Pakistan’s agricultural and food processing sectors. Private firms and private investment, by following tested and proven methods that have succeeded in other countries, have helped to modernize Pakistan’s poultry industry and segments of the dairy industry. U.S. restaurant chains are also helping to develop the supply chains and quality standards that are necessary for a modern food processing and retail industry in Pakistan.
Pakistan can further establish itself in the international market. For example, not long ago Pakistani basmati was unknown outside of South Asia and the Middle East. In the span of a few short years, your basmati has developed an international reputation for quality and excellence. Similarly, foreign seed companies are introducing quality seeds and stand ready to bring in the latest seed technologies under the right regulatory framework.
In addition to the programs that USAID and USDA are highlighting, I am pleased to see private U.S. firms participating in this Expo. To those firms, I would say we appreciate your investment in Pakistan, and I hope that the presence of U.S. businesses at this Expo will grow like in the years to come!
In closing, we at the Lahore Consulate stand ready to assist in facilitating linkages between U.S. and Pakistani companies in the food and agriculture sector. I encourage you to get in touch with us to learn more about the programs that can connect you with U.S. exporters of equipment, technology, and agricultural products. My best wishes for a profitable and fruitful exposition that leads to many new opportunities for investment and enhancement of the agricultural sector.