Agriculture holds the key; not remittances -DAWN

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THIS is apropos the report ‘ECC okays import of sugar, wheat’ (Aug 26). Punjab was once the legendary breadbasket of pre-partition India. But now it is not even able to feed the area that presently constitutes Pakistan.

The country now imports food items like wheat and sugar. How very sad and unfortunate. I wonder where we went wrong. Was the planning ill-conceived? Were our priorities lopsided and continue to be so? Or was it the runaway population growth?

Although predominantly an agricultural country, it seems that this important field has been neglected throughout, and our priorities have been elsewhere.

Instead of giving incentives to agriculture, the emphasis has always been to boost the industrial and services sectors. The agriculturists, especially the youth, are migrating to cities and towns. They do not want to till the land when they can easily earn a livelihood while enjoying a comfortable city life with all necessities available.

The more enterprising youth are now looking to greener pastures further across the geographical frontiers. They are finding jobs overseas that are more lucrative than what their ancestral lands would fetch them. In fact, with the fortune they make aboard, they construct palatial houses on the very agricultural land from which their forefathers used to earn their livelihood. Thus, the land under cultivation is shrinking.

The agro farms, built around Islamabad for the provision of fresh farm produce to the residents of the capital, are being utilised for making huge houses. And these are often rented out for marriage ceremonies, functions, celebrations, and even picnics. At times, they act as a retreat for the elite and the affluent. Meanwhile, the capital city has to get its vegetables from out of town and to have imported fruit.

Another factor which is dissuading the proper utilisation of land for agriculture purposes is the greed of the land mafia. Rich, fertile land is being sold, or being forcibly acquired, from the landholders to establish residential colonies, especially in Karachi, central Punjab and in south Punjab.

Some very drastic steps are needed to revive the agriculture sector before it gets too late. If corrective measures are not undertaken on a war footing, we will become entirely dependent on others for our food needs.

For most countries, food, water and environment are top priorities, whereas, for us, remittances are our lifeline, and the auto policy takes precedence over much else.

Without food, what good are the foreign remittances, industrialisation and lavish living in palatial houses? The same remittance will be eaten up by the foreign exchange for import of food items. So would it not be better that we cultivate our own land instead of heavily depending on foreign aid and remittances for our food requirement?