IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva recently stated that the world is entering a recession that will be worse than that following the global financial crisis in 2009. US President Trump is already talking about a “task force” to revive the US economy. Potentially among the countries likely to be hit hardest in the aftermath of COVID-19, in the past year or so a tremendous effort has been put in to stabilize Pakistan’s bad economic situation. The pandemic hit the world later, the earlier IMF bail-out has already taken a heavy toll with soaring consumer prices. The partial and/or full lock-down necessary to keep the infection curve as low as possible hurts the economy whose downward curve we have to think about for the future.
The mainstay of our economy is (and will remain) agriculture. We have to protect it at all costs. We have to ask ourselves how come a country that can not only feed and clothe itself but has considerable surplus for export has shortages and skyrocketing prices? To provide for sustainability in agriculture it cannot be “locked” down. Farmers have to be able to sow and plant, water the fields and bring in the harvest. Any disruption of food supply lines would cause hardships to the most vulnerable part of the population and reinforce already present malnutrition.
Cereals remain our main staple food providing 62% of total energy. As of 2018, Pakistan wheat output reached 26.3 million tonnes. In 2005, as much as in two continents each. According to the FAO Pakistan produced 21,591,400 metric tons of wheat, more than all of Africa (20,304,585 metric tons) and nearly as much as all of South America (24,557,784 metric tons).Our wheat production and processing must remain our first focus.
Barring when its harvest is adversely affected by droughts Pakistan is a net food exporter. Pakistan exports rice, cotton, fish, fruit (especially Oranges and Mangoes). Our exports could grow in the global economic meltdown this pandemic subsides will create openings if we must keep our produce intact or even raise it in the needed quantity and quality. For that we must ensure that all the agricultural works like sowing and protecting the seeds are not disrupted and supplies reach where they are needed.
While Pakistan is the 4th largest producer of cotton in the world. Our textile industry is the largest manufacturing industry in Pakistan and we are the 8th largest exporter of textile commodities in Asia. Textiles comprise of over half of Pakistan’s export revenues. Contributing 8.5% to the GDP of Pakistan the textile sector employs about 45% of the total work force (and 38% of the manufacturing workers) in the country. The third largest spinning capacity in Asia after China and India, contributes 5% to the global spinning capacity. Our textile exports have declined significantly in recent years. With many countries producing garments depending on China for the supply chain of manufactured goods, raw materials and intermediate goods, a vacuum will be created in global trade of textiles once demand rises. This will create market openings and business opportunities for countries like Pakistan and India. India is already calling meetings on the highest level to draft a strategy to gear up their whole supply chain to take full advantage of this situation. Pakistani exporters who have both the potential and capability to enhance their exports are already receiving requests from Western buyers looking for alternative sources to create some space for additional orders.
Despite an abundant milk production the level of milk consumption is also significant in Pakistan, whereas the consumption of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat remains very low. The consumption of fruit and fresh vegetables, which are highly dependent on local seasonal availability, is also limited by the lack of farm to market organized marketing facilities. Supply lines must be improved and strengthened to make sure food shortages are avoided and malnutrition especially of children is prevented or reduced.
The supply chains that are under lockdown right now need to be opened immediately. The government has done extremely well removing curbs and giving initiatives to revive the construction industry. The timely provision of supplies needs to be controlled. The federal and provincial governments to the need to keep supply lines open in order to secure timely supply with seeds and pesticides for all crops. The CropLife Pakistan Association the functioning of supply lines for seeds and pesticides should be controlled so as to allow manufacturing and movement of seeds, pesticides and the relevant personal in order to allow timely sowing and protection of the food and fibre crops. Without that the cotton crop as well as other crops will take a hit which would further damage our economy and the income of the farmers. Given the volatility of the situation with old supply lines collapsing new ones have to be established as fast as possible which includes that financial transaction are efficient and reliable, this includes an effective automatic refund payment system in the settlement of refunds.
The recent revelation of how the sugar and wheat cartels manipulate exports of the surpluses of wheat, sugar, etc where they get rebates manifold while shortages are deliberately created, is mind-boggling. Several months ago I repeatedly requested someone I respected and even admired for both his business and political acumen to use his influence in govt not to allow export of wheat and sugar. Convincing me not to force-multiply the rumors in the market by adding my voice to those in the media, he promised to ensure it. I was played for a fool. He happens to be one of the major beneficiaries of the looting of Pakistan, one is concerned about his closeness to the nation’s decision-making structure. Of more concern that the intelligence agencies did not know about it. Why and for what was not made the reports and if so, what the motivation to ignore these reports? Now the many attempts to bring down Imran’s government from within begins to make sense. Remember PML(Q) and MQM stirring up trouble out of nothing and what about Muslim Fazlur Rahman’s Dharna? Everyone knows it was “sponsored” to bring Imran Khan to heel. The time tested formula for anyone to escape accountability is to deliberately create a problem and then solve it, for a price of course. That also is used to in this case, the government was blackmailed in an attempt to stop the publication of the enquiry report. A lot of lip-service is given to patriotism but who has the courage to prosecute these unscrupulous scoundrels and those who facilitated it by looking the other way? In China they would probably have been shot and their entire wealth confiscated.
After the pandemic the world and its economy will not be the same. It has brought hardships but because we can feed and clothe ourselves or inherent potential the crisis gives us quite some opportunities. However we cannot allow our feudal scoundrels who have force-multiplied their agriculture income by cartelizing the downstream agriculture business to the detriment of the people of Pakistan. Because the BJP hierarchy openly hates us, they are clearly our enemies. The bigger threat is from those who camouflage themselves to be our friends and sit in our decision-making councils. They are our real enemies! During war (and other such emergencies) profiteers and hoarders are shot. Are we going to send them off to London to enjoy their loot?
The writer is a defense and security analyst