In the run up to the general elections, discussions on agriculture formed a sizeable share of national debates, and for good reasons. Most Pakistanis live in rural areas — almost 60 percent of the total population — and a significant majority of that depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In addition, agriculture is a key determinant of food security and nutrition. Thus, making promises of a profitable and productive agriculture sector makes perfect electoral sense. Most political parties have clear ideas on who would be the ministers holding key cabinet portfolios, such as foreign affairs, commerce, defence and interior, if and when they win the elections. However, it is often less clear who would be in-charge of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. Whether this reflects the unattractiveness of agriculture in the list of ministries, or is a validation of the general neglect of agriculture in national debates, is a topic for another day. Recently though, the performance of agriculture has not been stellar. There have also been a number of strong protests from farmers and rural populations about the low priority given to agricultural and rural development, as the outgoing PML-N government was perceived to have a bias for urban areas — particularly Lahore. Regardless, the agriculture sector is important for Pakistan. The sector contributes almost 19 percent to the country’s economy and employs 40 percent of the labour force, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2017-18. Though agriculture growth has improved recently, with growth in 2017/18 projected to be 3.81 percent, the sector has grown at a meagre average growth rate of 2.42 percent since 2011-12. The agriculture sector needs attention and here is a list of five action-oriented considerations that could help the incoming minister to have an immediate impact. First, operationalise the national food security policy. This policy has been in the making for almost 7 years, and it was approved only recently — two days before the culmination of the assemblies, to be exact. Though the Policy has taken some time to be completed, the exercise has been consultative and holistic. It provides the necessary framework for visualising the role of agriculture and food systems in the production and consumption of adequate, safe and nutritious foods, without compromising the country’s natural resources, while at the same time improving the incomes of vulnerable populations. The agriculture sector contributes almost 19 percent to the country’s economy and employs 40 percent of the labour force, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2017-18 Translating policy into action, however, would require the formulation of well-designed, focused, accountable, time-bound and well-resourced programmes, strategies and interventions. As much as possible, efforts should focus on addressing bottlenecks that stall the agriculture sector’s growth. The transition from policy into action, if handled well, can be a useful exercise in building consensus amongst relevant stakeholders on common objectives and in supporting prioritisation of activities. Conversely, such exercises also risk turning into long drawn processes, consuming commensurate time and resources as the policy itself. Second, support provinces in formulating agriculture investment plans. Having investments in order would require planning and funding, and the federal ministry can play a role in supporting provincial agricultural investment plans. What could be the focus of these plans? They could start by improving prospects of a higher agriculture growth, which, in the face of growing challenges linked to climate change, would require substantial investments in rural infrastructure. To mitigate the negative impacts of climate-related shocks (such as floods and variable rainfall), better storage, distribution and management of water, through establishment of dams and reservoirs, and upgrading of the irrigation system, through canal rehabilitation and maintenance, would be critical. In addition, to keep up with the shifting food consumption patterns, owing to urbanisation and population growth, investments in small to medium cities for creation of cold storage chains, food logistics and distribution channels, and quality assurance systems, are required. Thus, any prospective investment plans should prioritise the creation and rehabilitation, where needed, of rural infrastructure and development of agro-industries. Third, advocate for the phasing out of inefficient subsidies. Presently, inefficient subsidies in the agriculture sector, particularly on fertilisers and the procurement, storage and distribution of wheat, curtail its growth potential. By the government’s own admission in the National Food Security Policy document, the subsidy on wheat costs the national exchequer close to 200 billion Pakistan rupees, and should be revisited. According to a recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the gradual phasing out of subsidies could allow reallocation of public funds towards higher investments in rural infrastructure (such as roads and markets), agro-processing, food logistics and distribution, research and development, and extension services. In addition, redistributive policies could provide the necessary impetus for enhancing inclusivity in the agriculture sector, through better targeting of social safety nets to small holder family farmers, leading to improved human and social capital in rural areas. Fourth, facilitate coordination with and among provincial agricultural ministries. The good news is that provinces are aware of the role that they would like federal entities to play, at least as evident from their policy documents, in reforming their respective agriculture sectors. From Punjab, for example, there is a specific request for support in the creation of a provincial seed registration and regulation authority that is forward looking in approach and in line with the Seed Amendment of 2015. In Sindh, the provincial government considered revamping of the Sindh Tenancy Act as a key action, among others, to make a dent in poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition. The federal ministry stands in a favourable position to facilitate exchange between the Sindh government and international development partners to revamp the tenancy laws such that they are in line with the internationally recognised guidelines and treaties, in this case the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. Fifth, join hands with sectors for multisectoral actions. Alleviating poverty, eradicating hunger and malnutrition and transforming food systems are momentous challenges, and the agriculture sector, though critical in addressing them, can only do so much. Take malnutrition as a case in point: it now manifests itself in multiple forms — under nutrition, hidden hunger and overweight and obesity — and finds root in all segments and parts of the society. Addressing the causes of malnutrition, would require coordinated and coherent actions across food, health, care and education sectors. The proposed national Zero Hunger Programme and integrated social protection schemes (combining agriculture, nutrition and social welfare) are a few examples of visualising multisectoral actions in practice. The story for poverty reduction is not very different. So, while it is critical to look inward to reform the agriculture sector, the incoming minister would only strengthen the mandate of ministry by collaborating with other sectors, institutions and initiatives. Ahmed Raza Gorsi is a staff member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Daud Khan has more than 30 years of experience on global food security, agriculture and rural development issues. Until recently, he was a staff member at FAO Published in Daily Times, August 7th 2018.