Karachi: Agriculture is now center stage as the sector that can help salvage the economy by wiping out Pakistan’s trade deficit, said former Governor State Bank Syed Salim Raza.

Leading corporates, business houses, and financial institutions congregated at Pakistan Agricultural Coalition’s inaugural Agri-Connections 2023 conference and exhibition which was attended by over 275 leaders of industry, finance, government, donors, academia/international experts, global investors and the farming community.

Seed emerged as a key theme raised by many speakers. The legal and regulatory framework for seed must be improved, said National Foods CEO Abrar Hasan.

Meskay & Femtee CEO Shahid Tawawalla spoke against relying on subsidies as a policy instrument since they can only bring temporary relief. Subsidies are important but must be focused on improving productivity of farmers rather than just for inputs. Speakers were of the view that important needs such as crop insurance and technology upgrades should be supported by government.

Pakistan Agricultural Coalition CEO Arif Nadeem said that while finance is about taking risk and managing risk, in Pakistan’s agriculture sector, the farmer is the only one who is shouldering most of the risk. Bank of Punjab President Mr. Zafar Masud said that the absence of development finance institutions is a critical problem that requires resolution at the systemic level.

Water reliability is the highest priority of the farmer. Water should be metered and priced to at least recover the operational expenditures of the irrigation system.

The panel on maize was in consensus that GMO technology must be introduced to rapidly increase yields. Mr. Khalil Sattar stated that many food products in the USA and Europe are based on GMO crops and there are no problems with their consumption.

Dr. Ishrat Husain, former advisor to Prime Minister, stated that government should get out of the way, particularly away from defining prices and over-regulation.

Pakistan Agricultural Coalition Strategy Advisor Kazim Saeed said that, to realize the potential of agriculture, it is important to listen to the farmer—both the individual farmer and the corporate farmer.

The seven conference resolutions were: the legal and regulatory framework for seed must to be improved to allow reputable, technology-driven seed companies to invest; new avenues for bringing finance to farmers must be facilitated particularly for upgrading farm productivity; water delivery must be made reliable and metered; government policy and regulation must be shifted towards encouragement of formal sector investment, reduced intervention in agri-commodity prices, and from consumption subsidies to support for productivity enhancement; and land acquisition in rural areas must be made easier to allow corporate agriculture; service providers must be facilitated in the formal sector particularly for storage & logistics, mechanization, etc.; and a village development approach must be adopted to improve agriculture across the board, rather than only focusing on a single crop.

Eleven leading industrial groups from banking, insurance, textile, and agribusiness sponsored this event organized by Pakistan Agricultural Coalition. PAC is a non-profit sponsored by leading sector stakeholders, focused on creating private sector led, globally competitive and sustainable agriculture models, to catalyse the Pakistan’s agriculture sector.