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Govt should introduce balanced agriculture policies to curb food inflation

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KARACHI: The government should introduce balanced agriculture policies and modernise the value chain to control food inflation and manage strategic reserves of certain commodities in Pakistan, experts said on Friday.

The experts gave their input during the “Agri Webinar Series”, organised by the Engro Fertilizers and Pakistan Agricultural Coalition.

Addressing the session, titled “Rethinking Pakistan’s approach to managing food inflation and strategic reserves”, Dr Akbar Zaidi, executive director of IBA, said that weak supply chain infrastructure, changes in demographics, currency devaluation and transition towards the market economy are some of the factors contributing to food inflation in Pakistan.

To manage the food inflation and food security challenge, there needs to be a greater focus on comprehensive planning and forecasting to accurately determine the supply-demand dynamics, he said, adding that while strategic reserves are important, the basic challenge of maintaining those reserves by preventing pest infestation and spoilage would remain till investments are made in the supply chain and infrastructure.

Syed Mahmood Shah, senior vice-president of the Sindh Abadgar Board, also reiterated that basic infrastructural issues need to be fixed to enable the development of the value-added exports and to enhance the country’s food security.

There is a dire need to replace ad hoc policies with long-term solutions that promote farmer’s wellbeing, otherwise the growers will not prioritise crop yield and quality, he said, adding that the government must provide credit facilities and ensure power supply to the rural areas to integrate rural centres in the value chain through the development of processing units in those areas.

Imran Nasrullah, chief executive officer of Cargill Pakistan, said that Pakistan remained a food deficit country for the last few decades, as systemic issues of yields and capacities are not being overcome.

He said Pakistan should learn from the global examples, such as Indonesia, to develop balanced agriculture policies that promote value-addition and exports to offset the import bill and ensure food security through staple crops.

The country has tremendous potential in exports of milk, rice and wheat through value-addition, and improvement in quality controls and logistics, he said, adding that based on the global learnings, Pakistan should take immediate steps to promote women empowerment in cooperatives and farming to enable them to add greater value.

Highlighting the initiatives of the government to develop the agriculture sector, Rashid Langrial, additional secretary of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, said that the government is seriously contemplating building strategic reserves of certain commodities to counter any price manipulation in the market.

The government is fully focused on the agriculture sector with its agricultural transformation plan to modernise the infrastructure, develop cold storages and commodity warehousing facilities, boost farm level productivity, and mechanisation and research.

With the launch of pilot projects, new export opportunities in the value-added sector, such as shrimp farming, are also being explored, he added.

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