Written by Mohsen Gul.

Achieving food security has been on the global agenda for a substantial time because insecurity not only has dire repercussions for the nutritional status of the population but also affects economic growth. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has defined food security as ‘access by all people at all times to the food needed for an active and healthy life’. Efforts are needed to improve global food grain production and develop sustainable solutions to avoid conflict and the occurrence of famine in the world. This has also materialized as an important goal for the sustainable development agenda for the year 2030.

60 percent of the population in Pakistan is still facing food insecurity. Poorly planned structural adjustment programmes, inadequate research & development in high yielding varieties of seed, insufficient marketing, compromised supply and value chains, poor government coordination and unpredictable price behaviour; all contribute to the existing food insecurity.  The  situation is further aggravated by the lack of translation of best industrial practices to agriculture. This has resulted in poor health and economic indicators over the years. Innovative regional economic co-operational models, such as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), can be seen as an avenue of unprecedented progress towards developing a food-secure region. The influx of investment projects in Pakistan worth $46 Billion through CPEC are expected to directly and indirectly address the issues of food insecurity.

The CPEC is a development mega-project which aims to connect Gwadar Port in south-western Pakistan to the north-western autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, via a network of highways, airports, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas.  The economic corridor is considered central to China-Pakistan relations and is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road Initiative also named as One Belt One Road (OBOR). This is the biggest overseas investment by China announced yet and is expected to be a strategic game changer in the region. Other countries like Iran, Turkey and Bahrain have shown interest in joining the initiative. Economic corridors are an opportunity to capatilise on efficient multimodal transport network and promote growth by removing infrastructure bottlenecks, improving access to markets, and expanding economic opportunities in backward regions and linking towns with urban centres and industrial clusters.

Pakistan’s economy is experiencing structural transformation and the role of agriculture in economic development is changing fast. The share in GDP is declining and farm modernisation is limited. There is a need to develop investment strategies including a wide array of approaches, partnerships and tools. One such key approach is spatial (or territorial) development. The use of ‘economic corridors’ emerges as increasingly important to boost agricultural and other economic activities in a specific spatial area. It can provide a conceptual and programmatic model for structuring physical and socio-economic responses to develop an area building upon a linear agglomeration of economic activities and people along the physical backbone of transport infrastructure. Food hotspots with high agricultural productivity can be developed by adopting agro-based spatial development initiatives. The pertinent question right now is ‘whether the Pakistani government understands the strength of its economy lies in agriculture and how initiatives like CPEC can promote green growth?” It is also imperative to realise it is more of a necessity than an option for a country like Pakistan where food insecurity is rampant.

One essential element in the pursuit of green growth corridors is to ensure that major investments in transport and agriculture are realised sustainably and attract ‘best in class’ investors and innovators willing to integrate environmental sustainability into their big plans.  Corridors should pursue a hard-soft continuum of interventions that increase connectivity, competitiveness and the sense of community.

Hard (infrastructure-related) investments on their own have the potential to improve corridor performance only to a certain degree – it is only when combined with soft elements that they can take a corridor to the next level. More concretely, corridor interventions targeting the agricultural sector should combine improvements to physical infrastructure (farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, collection points, market centres, agro-industrial plants and warehouses); policy and regulations; human and institutional capacity; and strategic agribusiness elements (e.g. farmer aggregation, farmer-market linkages and access to finance) as essential enablers for inclusive transformational growth.

Soft interventions can be mainstreamed in public programmes and coordinated by working groups while corridor-dedicated tools are developed such as corridor centres (PRA ESCs), financial facilities (e.g. SAGCOT Catalytic Trust Fund) and institutes (GMS Institute).  Some suggested soft interventions are listed below:

  • Facilitation of agricultural trade through single window facilities for one-stop customs clearance
  • Environmental management: regional cooperation in research and development on climate sensitive agriculture and development of regional strategies for flood and drought management
  • Introduction of skills development programmes in agricultural policy and extension
  • Development of corridor coordination institution and mechanisms involving public and private stakeholders and other corridor supporters
  • Promotion and deregulation of cross-border logistics investments and providing corridor-based associations of logistics firms

Corridor programmes can deploy innovative business models to ensure that small-scale farmers benefit and are empowered by corridor activity. This inclusiveness approach should extend to women, youth and other vulnerable population groups. Corridor developers can examine each corridor investment and intervention through an “engagement model” lens, i.e. how smallholder farmers are being linked to a corridor activity. Similarly, corridor planners should consider plans and priorities from other sectors, through a well-designed process of information sharing and coordination.

This article attempts to highlight the opportunity available to policy makers and investors in Pakistan to ensure a large investment like CPEC can be used to improve agriculture and the food security situation in Pakistan. This will help set a pace for future sustainable development in Pakistan which is greener and inclusive in nature.

Mohsen Gul is a PhD Researcher in Environment and Society at the University of Nottingham, UK. He is passionate about integrated stakeholder engagement and north-south/south-south cooperation for future sustainable development. Image credit: CC by Kiern/Flickr.


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