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  • Pakistani farming starved of research funding

[KARACHI] Despite being a predominantly agricultural economy, Pakistan suffers from inadequate funding for agricultural research and development (R&D), a recent seminar held in Islamabad heard.

A survey – presented at the seminar last month ((27 November), 'Trends in Public Agricultural R&D, Investment and Staffing in Pakistan' – showed agricultural R&D dropping from 0.43 per cent of the GDP in 1999 to 0.21 per cent in 2009. 

Conducted by Muhammad Sharif, member of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, and Gert-Jan Stads, agricultural science and technology coordinator with the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, covered 123 agencies and institutes involved in the farming sector.

According to the survey, Pakistan has only 144 agricultural researchers for every million farmers and only 18 per cent of them have doctoral degrees. The majority of experts are on the verge of retirement and will leave behind a manpower challenge for agriculture.

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"Agricultural R&D suffers most from the financial crisis in the country," said Sharif, lead author of the report. "For many years the government has not been making new appointments, leading to a serious shortage of staff for agricultural research."

Although women form an important part of Pakistan's agricultural workforce, they comprise only 10 per cent of agricultural experts, the seminar was told. Another anomaly is that a major chunk of the present R&D budget is spent on salaries.

A key challenge will be to ensure that resources and capacities are better distributed between the centre and the provinces and also within the provinces, Sharif said.

Iftikhar Ahmad, former dean at Faisalabad Agricultural University, told SciDev.Net that Pakistan needs to consider investing in agricultural research seriously. "It is among the few disciplines which give ten times the return on investments."

"Pakistan has produced many young PhDs (doctorates) recently and with the help of the Higher Education Commission the country should channelise this manpower in a proper manner," Ahmad said.

"Agriculture is among the top five priority areas mentioned in the recently launched National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy," Mudassir Asrar, chairperson of the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology, told SciDev.Net

"Pakistan should work to improve the agriculture sector to ensure that the food demands of the country’s growing population are met," Asrar added.