Striving for change
By Faryal Najeeb
Harvest Tradings' Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jawad was a banker in the Middle East before he decided to change career paths and pledged himself to the agriculture sector and its betterment. He is an exporter of fruits and vegetables and a strong advocate for fair export policies to boost the agriculture sector of Pakistan. Jawad is also a member of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce & Industry's Standing Committee on Export.
Q: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur? What made you particularly enter the agri-sector?
A: It had been my desire to enter into the agriculture sector since my student life. I saw huge potential in Pakistan's agriculture sector. However, it lacks educated people and real stakeholders; which led to its downfall in the past years. I met different entrepreneurs and realised its time to get into it with a different methodology. So I came up with a slogan "Strive for Change" through my team. We believe in people, performance, commitment, quality and integrity.
Q: What are the major concerns being faced by the agriculturists/ farmers of Pakistan? How can these issues be resolved?
A: Pakistani farmers face several problems including high prices of fertilisers, high price of diesel required for their tube wells and lack of awareness, mostly in small farmers. After the 18th Amendment, agriculture has come under provincial governments. Therefore, provincial governments should bring down input costs and further educate farmers on how to increase production by focusing on research and development.
Provincial governments should also establish laboratories at tehsil level for testing of seeds and spray. Farmers' associations should be established on district level so that a collective voice can be directed towards the government, whenever required. Moreover, we also require infrastructure from the government to stop post harvest losses and more export zones for increasing quality export volumes.
Q: Harvest Tradings often points out at the shortcomings of the PHDEB. Could you please tell me in detail what are your concerns and how they can be addressed?
A: Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Board's (PHDEB) main thrust is to introduce Pakistan to the high-end international markets through strategic initiatives and efforts, along with integrated interventions and facilitation in all the sub-sectors of the value chain. But unfortunately the speed is slow and sometimes there is shortage of funds. Several times I requested the current CEO to work as a pillar for the survival of this industry, but bureaucratic style of work always causes hindrance. Until the intervention of the private sector, the issue cannot be resolved at all. So it's my recommendation that an advisory committee be established in PHDEB with handsome funding by the commerce ministry and maximum participation of the private sector and people with a visionary approach, and then it should be implemented in letter and spirit to achieve the results.
Q: Why should we look towards new markets, when we are not being able to successfully sustain existing ones?
A: Our existing markets are mostly on commission basis where returns are minimal and efforts are more. There is also a lot of uncertainty in the agri-exports sector, for example, this year banks are not entertaining exports with Iran- which is one of the main buyers of our fruits and vegetables. Our trade counselors should work as marketing managers for the country and create new markets in their respective countries so that we have more destinations in our loop for sustainability.
Q: If it is seen that the government is not playing its due role, why can’t the private sector take matters in their own hands?
A: If the private sector takes matters in their own hands, then all provincial agriculture ministries should be abolished. On a serious note, the government must call detailed weekly conferences and invite the private sector along with international agriculture experts and listen to their issues and its solutions. You will see maximum improvement. We have a lack of organised marketing in the field of agriculture. At the same time we also have problems with obtaining credit facilities.
Q: In your opinion, how can these issues be resolved?
A: Yes, it's an important issue. When we begin to care and own this industry, then the organised marketing issue will be resolve automatically. As far as the issue of credit facilities is concerned, currently Zarai Taraqiati Bank Ltd is the key stakeholder, but all banks must realise that they should offer soft loans to farmers to strengthen them. Unfortunately, here all banks focus on increasing mark up.
Until and unless if we don't follow the lines of Nobel Peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, we can’t come out from this problem.
Q: What is your opinion on Pakistan and India agri-trade potential?
A: India could become a large market for Pakistani fruits like mango, dates etcetera in a free trade environment, and exports of these commodities could fetch billions of dollars. It can also help to overcome the trust deficit. Trade will of course not solve all the problems between the two countries, but it could be an important catalyst in lowering of tensions, which certainly has to be in the interest of both India and Pakistan. I think there also is need for establishing an economic union along the lines of Europe between the two countries.
Q: On a lighter note now, what do you like to do in your past time?
A: I like to watch politics-related programmes on television. I also like to play squash and travel, when I get the opportunity.
Q: What is your favourite fruit and vegetable?
A: In fruits, I like citrus, mango and pomegranate and in vegetables, I eat all kinds and don’t have any particular favourite.
Q: Favourite dish that you like to eat?
A: Bhindi gosht (lady finger with meat)
Q: If you had to choose: would you be a banker again, a farmer working in the fields, or a minister in the agriculture ministry? Why?
A: A farmer working in the fields because all the crops that reaches the consumers are due to the hard labour of the farmers. For me, the farmers are the real stakeholders of the economy
Q: Advice you would like to give new entrepreneurs in the agri-sector?
The writer is a staff member.
A: Before entering into the field, they should focus on conducting a research and development of the sector, they should avoid middlemen in their dealings and they should focus on non-traditional foreign markets so that Pakistan gets recognised for its agricultural products and not its problems.