Linking academics with business
Linking academics with business
In an attempt to improve horticulture business, All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters, Importers and Merchant Association recently signed memorandums of understanding with three agriculture universities — Faisalabad, Karachi and Tandojam.
This constitutes first formal and energetic attempt to connect two most crucial components — academia and businesses — of horticulture trade.
Under one such MoU, the University of Agriculture (Faisalabad) and PFVA have agreed to hold conferences where stakeholders would be asked to come up with a 10- year R&D plan to promote exports.
Both parties also pledged to work jointly for expanding and exploring non-conventional markets and combined efforts to bring new fruits and vegetables under cultivation.
They would also jointly submit research and outreach proposals to the HEC with partial sponsorship, the PFVA would sponsor internships for students and steps would be taken to promote academia-industry linkages and entrepreneurship. If the media reports are to be believed, the MoUs with other universities or their agriculture departments, by and large, carry the same proposals.
To count the immediate benefits of such connection, one can say that these universities are in the business of creating human resource that the industry absorbs later. They also have larger flow (both in and out) of people as compared to industry that gives the industry wider choice to hire professionals from.
On the other hand, the businesses have immense knowledge and hands-on experience of markets, which theoreticians in universities lack.
If both of them share their respective knowledge and experience and transfer it to students, it should benefit everyone — businesses, industry and the economy. Making university activities market-based, it would create a win-win situation for all.
However, the most crucial part of these MoUs, as always, remains what follows next; how quickly all stakeholders come up with 10-year research and development plan, new fruits and vegetables become part of Pakistan agriculture and new markets are explored.
And, the most essential, perhaps decisive, part would be generating financial resources. As new international research model goes, the industry and businesses sponsor research because they are direct beneficiaries. That is why the PFVA needs to spare a part of its profit for such a research and development plan.
If financial resources are generated, universities can easily run farmers training programmes because they already have required infrastructure for training and outreach.
Others, especially the federal and provincial government also need to contribute their bits because such growth can bring huge social benefits and poverty alleviation.
According the PFVA calculations, it can take horticulture exports from current $625 million to $7 billion in next decades or so — almost 100 per cent sustained annual growth — if research and development backs it up.
Businesses also need sustained information on changing consumer sensitivities, opportunities, challenges and legal framework of high-end markets on continuous and institutional basis for sustainable growth.
The MoUs also include two very crucial areas: exploring non-conventional markets and growing new kinds and varieties of horticulture.
Pakistan needs to do both because generally, all Pakistani products have been operating in low-end and less sensitive markets because they tend to suffer all kinds of problems: low production, poor quality, limited varieties and disease issues.
The signs are not good in these markets as the recent Russian ban on all agriculture imports from Pakistan suggest. It created a $300 million hole in the business. This is not the first such ban by the Russians.
If researchers can help expand genetic pool and markets for Pakistan horticulture, things should start improving the way PFVA hints at with $7 billion calculations.
The industry also needs to deal with bigger and specialised issues of high-end markets.
These domestic MoUs can certainly give a launching pad, but not flight in foreign markets. Institutions like Trade Development Authority and Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company seem to have developed some inherent limitations. Re-energising them also a serious issue.
Courtesy Dawn News