ISLAMABAD: In an attempt to increase agricultural productivity, the government has asked Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations to evaluate the current capacity of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, the country’s main research and development agency for agriculture, and suggest the direction of a strategic planning.
The request to FAO was formally made by Minister for National Food Security and Research, Syed Fakhr Imam, during a meeting with the acting FAO Representative in Pakistan, Rebekah Bell, on Tuesday.
The government also requested FAO to carry out an assessment of the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC) and suggest a restructured business plan so as to overcome the difficulties the country is facing in cotton production.
Fakhr Imam told the FAO representative that the assessment of the roles of PARC and PCCC were vital to develop an integrated strategic plan for next five years to enhance institutional relevance and effectiveness as FAO is a trusted strategic partner of the ministry of national food security.
It is crucial that the agricultural productivity in Pakistan is increased substantially in order to feed the growing population and address pressing challenges such as the adaptation to climate change and rising and volatile food prices.
Despite various policy reforms instituted over the past decade, Pakistan remains vulnerable to food insecurity, and agricultural R&D investment remains too low to address this challenge.
Recent data reveals that public agricultural research and development spending in Pakistan has been far from stable and insufficient to keep pace with agricultural growth. Available data indicates that for every $100 of agricultural output, Pakistan invest just $0.21 in agricultural research and development.
This is one of the lowest levels in the developing world, and a considerable decline from the levels recorded in the 1990s. In comparison, India’s agricultural research and development investments as a share of agricultural output were almost twice those of Pakistan.
The last assessment of PARC was carried out more than five years ago by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) had observed that since there is a significant time lag between investing in research and reaping its rewards, agricultural research and development requires long-term commitments in sufficient and sustained funding and well-staffed research agencies.
Pakistan is not only facing financial challenges when it comes to agricultural research and development. In terms of human capacity, it also fares significantly worse than other countries in the region. The country’s share of agricultural researchers with PhD degrees remains very low, at only 18 per cent. More worryingly, most of these PhD-qualified scientists are in their fifties, making the training and mentoring of newly recruited scientists will be a major priority in the coming years, the assessment observed.
To address the country’s agricultural productivity challenges, Pakistan needs to increase its investments in strategic agricultural research areas. The government needs to clearly define its long-term R&D priorities and secure sustained funding, not only in support of salary-related expenditures, but also to cover the day-to-day costs of operating research programs. More creative mechanisms also need to be explored to stimulate private funding for agricultural research and development, according to IDPRI assessment.
The assessment observed that Pakistan’s capacity to deliver effective agricultural research outputs is hindered by critical human resource challenges. Long-term recruitment restrictions have left many federal and provincial research agencies with aging pools of researchers. Given the official retirement age of 60 years, large-scale capacity losses are imminent in the coming years.
Moreover, limited opportunities for promotion and training, as well as a lack of performance-based merit systems, constitute key impediments to staff motivation.
The country’s total number of agricultural researchers grew slightly in recent years, mostly due to increased involvement in agricultural R&D by universities; however, relative to its South Asian neighbors, Pakistan has a low share of PhD-qualified agricultural researchers.