GCC investments in Pakistan’s farmlands: The regional collaboration dreams are made of

GCC investments in Pakistan’s farmlands: The regional collaboration dreams are made of

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In an age where geo-economics is gaining increasing traction, investments are all the vogue. The days of economic assistance or grants are fast fading away. China’s impressive economic development and India’s upward economic trajectory both got initial boosts from foreign investments supported by their respective diasporas. Successful foreign investments are, of course, a win-win situation for both parties. 

Enter the regional collaboration of dreams.

The food needs of GCC countries are increasing as their populations grow and Pakistan is well-poised geographically with vast virgin cultivable lands-- an area estimated at 9.14 million hectares. Half this land is in the massive province of Balochistan which has a long coast on the Arabian Sea. The province also has large herds of livestock and vast potential for marine food and quality fruits. Though recent years have shown a decline in foreign investments in Pakistan, GCC countries’ new interest in investing in the country’s agricultural sector has been warmly welcomed by the government. In this regard, a Special Investment Facilitation Council (CIFC) has been established which will be a one-window operation obviating the need to go to various offices for needless bureaucratic approvals.

Pakistan is the third largest exporter of rice after India and Thailand. In 2020, Pakistan exported meat worth $303 million and 70 percent of it went to GCC countries. This included beef, mutton and poultry. Saudi Arabia has announced an investment of half a billion dollars in CIFC. Large amounts are needed to make paved canals in the Thar desert of Sindh in order to make it agriculturally productive. This initiative will pave the way for the development of corporate farming in Pakistan. It has the potential to introduce highly mechanized farming, quality seeds, modular drip irrigation, standard fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

There is unimaginable scope for increasing crop, milk and meat production in Balochistan by introducing modern methods that rely on science.

Javed Hafeez

The textile sector accounts for the bulk of Pakistani exports. Cotton production dropped significantly last year due to heavy rains in southern Sindh province. Pest attacks are on the rise in the cotton growing areas due to humidity in the sowing season. One way to increase cotton production is to sow it in Balochistan which has relatively dry weather; ideal for the cotton crop. This province also produces quality fruits like apples, pears, melons and peaches. 

Balochistan makes up 44 percent of Pakistan in terms of its land mass. For a human population of six million, the number of livestock is almost equal. The bulk of the livestock is raised on vast pastures, through traditional propagation and grazing. There is unimaginable scope for increasing milk and meat production here by introducing modern methods that rely on science.

Pakistan is one of the five largest milk producers in the world. However, its domestic production is not sufficient to meet local demand. In fact, Pakistan imports dry milk worth more than a billion dollars annually in recent years. With GCC investments in the dairy sector, hopefully this import quantity will diminish. 

New jobs created in the process promise not only to generate income for those employed but also result in profits for investors. Animals raised for protein needs will contribute to food security in GCC countries as well as in Pakistan. As labor costs are reasonable in Pakistan, Pakistani livestock and dairy products can compete in the international market. Top class veterinary care will be required to achieve the desired results and Pakistan has that expertise.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are particularly interested in promoting the production of wheat, cotton, rice, sunflower, fruits and poultry in Pakistan. And apart from GCC countries, China is also emerging as an investor in Pakistan’s corporate farming scene. The bulk of the farmers in Pakistan have small land holdings and cannot afford mechanized farming or expensive inputs like high quality seeds, drip irrigation and pesticides. This is why their per-hectare yield remains low. On the other hand, there are feudal lords who, more often than not, dwell in cities away from their farms. These absentee landlords too cannot achieve optimum yield. Corporate farms with efficient managers can achieve far better results. In fact, this new initiative could usher in a fresh green revolution in Pakistan.

GCC investments in Pakistani agriculture are adding a new dimension to the already strong bilateral relationship. The strong political ties between them always deserved an economic relationship to match. Now, that relationship appears to be well within reach.

- Javed Hafeez is a former Pakistani diplomat with much experience of the Middle East. He writes weekly columns in Pakistani and Gulf newspapers and appears regularly on satellite TV channels as a defense and political analyst.
Twitter: @JavedHafiz8

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view