March 21, 2016
Jocelyn G. Brown is the Deputy Administrator in USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).
In this position, she oversees USDA's international food and technical assistance programs. Before serving as Deputy Administrator, she covered trade policy issues for Asia, Africa and the Middle East, concentrating on China, India, and Africa Growth and Opportunity Act agricultural policy issues. She was also a Peace Corps volunteer at the Northwest Frontier Province Agriculture University in Peshawar from 1988-1990.
BR Research was fortunate enough to arrange a Q&A session with Ms. Brown regarding the USDA's presence in Pakistan, how our country compares to others in agriculture and what is the way forward.
BRR: Tell us a little bit about the U.S. Department of Agriculture - how many countries does USDA maintain presence in? How much of USDA's reports/forecasts are based on primary research and what are some of the other data sources used in compiling the reports?
JB: The United States Department of Agriculture focuses on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, and nutrition within the United States and abroad. We have a global network of 93 offices covering 171 countries. USDA's reports and forecasts are based on a mix of primary research and other sources, including media, subscriptions to data, contacts, satellite imagery, government reports, and any other relevant information that is deemed credible and reliable.
BRR: In addition to market research and production forecasts, what is USDA doing to assist countries in improving their agriculture sector, particularly Pakistan? What are some of the programs USDA currently has in Pakistan?
JB: It is important to note that our projects are collaborative efforts working to resolve some of the toughest agricultural problems faced by the United States, Pakistan, and the world. These efforts involve US universities, USDA researchers and experts, international organisations, and Pakistani government, university, and private sector partners. The results are beneficial to agriculture in both our countries and around the world.
USDA supports a lot of research, and we have exchange programs so that scientists can share findings, spread information, and collaborate on projects. For example, we currently have US scientists working with scientists in Pakistan to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to rust and cotton varieties that are resistant to cotton leaf curl virus. We are also working on watershed rehabilitation and irrigation improvement, improving soil fertility, and supporting animal and plant health. One project, for example, is using bio-control technologies to reduce pest populations in crops.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to inaugurate the National Bio-control Laboratory at the National Agricultural Research Centre earlier this month, alongside Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International Country Director Dr Babar Bajwa and Pakistan Agricultural Research Council Acting Chairman Dr Nadeem Amjad. Our joint efforts through this laboratory are expected to improve yields, minimise losses, and reduce the risk of exports getting rejected.
Another project is working with government officials to help Pakistani livestock owners prepare for emergencies such as droughts, earthquakes, or floods.
BRR: What does land distribution look like in Pakistan? Which is more efficient, a large farm or a small farm? What room, if any, is there for improvement in the current land reforms?
JB: Small farms can be very efficient, but capital investment, high-value crop production, and well-defined consumer demand are typically required for a farmer to earn sufficient income to support a family from limited acreage. Producing lower-value bulk commodities on small farms, even with higher yields, rarely generates sufficient income to lift a farmer out of poverty. Where farms are small, farmers are often best served by the opportunity to diversify and augment their farm incomes by working in the service or manufacturing sectors. Farm size has been steadily declining in Pakistan, so creating diverse rural economies is the key to providing small farmers and their families with new economic opportunities. It is critical to think beyond just agriculture when we think about improving rural residents' economic well-being.
BRR: Can you give us a breakdown of the cost of production of the major agricultural commodities in Pakistan (cotton, rice, sugarcane, wheat) in terms of fertiliser usage, electricity, seed, etc.? How do we compare with regional competitors like India or Bangladesh in our cost of production, and how do we compare with more developed countries like the United States?
JB: This kind of data is often hard to come by and varies significantly from country to country, which makes comparisons difficult. While average yields in Pakistan are below what they could be, we know that progressive farmers in Pakistan often match or beat yields in other countries. That suggests quality inputs and production practices are being deployed in Pakistan. For many smaller farmers, the challenge is earning sufficient income to purchase the optimal inputs and learning about new production practices. With millions of low-income farmers, this is a major challenge. Here again, the ability to earn additional income off-farm becomes an important factor in helping farmers to purchase the technology they need to raise their yields and create new economic opportunities in rural communities.
BRR: What steps can be taken to improve yields in Pakistan?
JB: There are a number of actions that could raise yields in Pakistan. Farmers can use the "four Rs" when it comes to fertiliser: applying the right nutrient, in the right amount, at the right time, in the right place. Additionally, improving soil fertility, purchasing better seed, and employing improved technology for planting and harvesting could increase yields.
Access to better seeds and improved technology will depend on adequate protection of intellectual property. The dissemination of information is always a challenge, but if farmers have the latest location-specific recommendations on varieties and practices and have the ability to follow them, yields could grow dramatically.
BRR: What impact is climate change having on agriculture in Pakistan? How adversely is it affecting yields, irrigation, fertility, etc.?
JB: Water is likely to become a challenge. Water is already scarce in some areas, and the need for water will grow as the population increases. Managing this resource is an issue we all face. In the United States, for example, California supplies a lot of fruit and vegetables but is facing an exceptional drought. California also has a large population and a number of natural areas that rely on water. I think this will be a major topic of discussion in many countries moving forward.
BRR: Do you agree with the support price regime that is currently in place for wheat and sugarcane? Is there any room for improvement in the policies?
JB: Government intervention in agricultural markets in Pakistan is relatively limited. The dairy, livestock, horticultural, rice, and cotton sectors are generally free from government market intervention, and imports of key products like vegetable oil and pulses are largely unencumbered by tariffs or other trade restrictions. Wheat and sugarcane are the exceptions rather than the rule. Government market intervention can lead to unintended consequences and effects on farmer planting decisions, consumer prices, and trade.
BRR: When can we expect a rebound in international commodity prices?
JB: We expect commodity prices will remain soft in the coming year as record grain and oilseed crops have caused global stocks to rise. Even if some region experiences minor production losses this year, global supplies can fill the void.
BRR: What are some of the problems in the supply chain of milk in Pakistan? What is USDA doing with regard to this issue?
JB: In conjunction with the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore, we are developing a demonstration dairy herd that will be used to train herd managers, veterinarians, and animal scientists in dairy production practices. While this is not part of the supply chain specifically, increasing the supply of fluid milk in key farming areas is expected to support the further development of the processing sector and investment in the supply chain. Proper handling of a highly perishable product like milk is critical to ensuring consumer access to a safe, nutritious, and cost-effective supply of protein.
BRR: USDA was working with Pakistan on mango production. How has that progressed?
JB: A few years ago, the United States and Pakistan agreed on a mango trade protocol that opened the US market to imports of mangoes from Pakistan. So far, the trade volumes have been small, but the experience of developing and implementing the protocol strengthened Pakistan's regulatory capacity. The enhanced regulatory oversight has enabled Pakistan to expand mango exports to new markets and increase exports to traditional markets.
I love Pakistani mangoes, and the marketing efforts of your industry and government, coupled with an enhanced regulatory system, should result in better incomes for mango producers.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2016