Circular Agriculture: Antidote to resource scarcity in Pakistan.

Estimates indicate that by the mid-century, Pakistan’s population would have exceeded 400 million. This presents an infinite set of possibilities; the best-case scenario would be that these new generations of Pakistanis would be absorbed across the nations various sectors of industry. However, this scenario would require addressing serious resource scarcity concerns that have already affected large segments of our populace. As in life, so too in governance, preparing for the worst case is far more sensible than banking on delusion and hoping for the best.

The reality is that our nation is polarized particularly when it comes to politics and governance, this much anyone can infer, and everyone can agree on. Inevitably, this means that the true cost of our obstinacy will be suffered by future generations. And implementing the reforms required for the best-case scenario to play out will be a tremendous challenge because it will require the entire nation to, to put it vaguely; radically accept our circumstances, embrace change to improve them and above all learn to cooperate.

The best place to start implementing change would be our agricultural sector, for obvious reasons. Primarily, the fact that this sector employs more than a third of our entire labour force and is bound to stay relevant by 2050, most of our exports depend on resources derived from this sector and it contributes almost a quarter of Pakistan’s GDP. Unfortunately, despite its obvious relevance this sector is not fully optimised.

Inefficiencies in this sector are reflected from the fact that we are a food surplus country, yet 36.9% of our population faces food insecurity. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, Pakistan’s agricultural import bill stood at over $7 billion, wheat was one of the main import products. Wheat prices would soon rise at an exponential rate due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022(Ukraine being a major exporter of wheat) and then due to the floods Pakistan had to cover its local supply by importing further, causing a 15% rise in the import bill. We can conclude that this sector is vulnerable to global market fluctuations and to sustain the current population growth trends in Pakistan this issue must be addressed.

The agricultural sectors lack of climate resilience is also most alarming, we needn’t look any further back than the 2022 floods to estimate this sectors overall vulnerability. In fact, climate change related catastrophes are only bound to increase as we head into the mid-century and being an insignificant emitter (globally) Pakistan cannot be blamed for this. However, having some of the highest disaster risk levels in the world Pakistan will have to bear the consequences of actions not of its own making. Alas, we can only play with the cards we’re dealt, and, in this case, the only sensible solution is to build resilient and adaptive industrial sectors that can weather the storms to come.

Circular agricultural practices may just be the salvation required by our economy and if not that, then they will be a necessity as our population rises, resource scarcity intensifies, and climate catastrophe becomes more frequent. First and foremost, these practices allow us in the long-term to establish food security and hence some degree of self-sufficiency.
Circular agriculture promotes self-sufficiency via for e.g. diverse production by employing techniques such as mixed farming which contrasts from the traditional mono-crop production by allowing different crops that complement each other to be grown simultaneously. This means a diverse supply in domestic markets which inevitably leads to a reduction in imports and secures poorer segments of Pakistani society from food inflation.

By prioritizing minimal usage of scarce resources such as water and arable land, and maximizing their reuse through methods such as regenerative agriculture, circular practices enable us to resolve food security concerns that are critical to Pakistan. At the same time these practices allow us to develop not only a climate resilient agricultural sector but a profitable one.

Water and arable land together form the basis of the agricultural sector. Soil degradation is a serious problem that current agricultural practices fail to address as they focus on high yield and profit maximization. Another issue is the fact that Pakistan is facing acute water shortage. Circular agriculture addresses both these concerns through different approaches.

Agroforestry is a circular agricultural practice prevents soil degradation and allows arable land to be used for longer than it is with current practices. It essentially involves planting trees in and around agricultural landscapes which prevents soil erosion due to wind and water. Presently, these factors partly contribute to soil erosion related arable land degradation in Pakistan hence deploying agroforestry would be a viable solution. Furthermore, this practice is also an efficient flood mitigation method as it enhances the retention of water in soil, thus reducing the impact of floods on arable land.

When it comes to water, the reuse of wastewater is considered a circular practice and in Pakistan majority of this is fed into our agricultural sector. This is indeed a step in the right direction albeit wastewater still needs to be partially treated to address the serious health risks it poses.

Circular agriculture, a concept stemming from Circular Economy indeed presents enormous benefits to Pakistan’s economy and that too in a sustainable way. Pakistan contends with significant issues already, but it would be imprudent to dismiss what the future will bring. For now, we can be certain that population growth will not slow down, Pakistan’s economic state will not be reversed overnight and even if it does, we need to think in terms of how we can sustain a healthy economy. For this it is integral to build resilience in our industries and not be left at the mercy of extenuating factors such as international developments and climate change catastrophes.

Though the transition to circular practices will be arduous it is bound to solve resource scarcity issues and for the sake of our future generations, it is a worthwhile consideration.

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