Academia’s contribution to cutting imports

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2022, a positive spike was observed in economic indicators of the Pakistani economy in 2021-22. The GDP growth was observed as 5.97 percent. A growth of 4.4 percent in the agriculture sector and 7.2 percent in the industrial sector was observed. Thirty-nine percent growth was observed in exports of goods and services. The overall volume of the economy crossed the line of $67 billion. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the trade volume of the Pakistani economy positively increased from the year 2000 to 2022.

No doubt, 2021-22 remained good for the Pakistani economy but on the other hand, the import bill also increased. Import bill of oil increased by 95.9 percent to $17.03 billion in 2022 from $8.69 billion during the same period last year. LNG witnessed an increase of 82.90 percent, while LPG imports jumped by 39.86 percent during 2022. Electricity generation from coal reached 5280 MW. Thar coal contribution is 1320 MW and it will further increase in 2023. Overall Pakistan’s import bill increased 43.45 percent to $80.51 billion during 2021-22, up from $56.12 billion, just a year ago.

Surprisingly, non-energy imports remained the main contributor to raising the import bill. It is important to identify that the value of imports of commodity group 29 “organic chemicals” to Pakistan totaled $2.12 billion-plus. Increased demand for import was observed in live animals, animals products, vegetable products, prepared foodstuffs, beverages, vinegar, tobacco, mineral products, chemicals, plastics, rubber, leather, wood articles, fibrous cellulosic material, textile articles, footwear, articles of stone, articles of mica, precious or semi-precious stones, base metals, machinery, mechanical appliances, vehicles, aircraft, vessels, transport equipment, optical instruments, photographic instruments, arms and ammunitions. Imports of all these items caused a huge increase in import bills which is not good for such economies like Pakistan.

With industry-academia collaboration, it is possible to find new ways to reduce dependence on imports or imported raw materials. It would be good to innovate methods to consume local raw materials to fulfil industrial needs and to modernize agriculture to deal with the prevailing challenges related to food security in the country.

For financial stability, it is a need of time to cut down the import bill by taking particular precautions. In agriculture, there is a need for research to find new methods to increase per-acre yields. Such growth will help to reduce import bills. It is a need of time to develop indigenous organic pesticides. There is a need to promote organic fertilizers and academia must find ways to turn local organic materials into green fertilizers. There is need to develop methods to mechanize agriculture. To reduce chemicals import, academia and industry must devise methods to produce such chemicals locally, for example production of Ethanol fromcCorn– would be effective to reduce the import bill. Date serum and date leather, Mango pulp processing and mango leather, dairy (milk) products all have the potential to bring a large business. Local production of fertilizers and pesticides also would increase the country’s export.

Academia must play its role in the development of the local solar power industry. It will reduce the import of power generation machinery and will provide a green energy source. Academics and the government must devise ways to develop the indigenous industry for the production of synthetic fibre, and synthetic and artificial silk yarn to reduce textile import. It is necessary to promote Biodiesel derived from corn oil which is a fuel substitute for diesel. There is a need to modernize food processing, for example food preservation, packing and exporting. Academia and industry must collaborate for the local production of large-scale industrial-use chemicals, instead of importing them.

In such a situation the effective contribution of universities or academia could change the equation. In Pakistan, universities must develop a research-oriented environment to work on the indigenous problems related to agriculture and industry. Universities must contribute to devising new ways of production by using local raw materials instead of imported ones.

In this regard, Khwaja Fareed University of Engineering and Information Technology is contributing to addressing the problems of agriculture and industry by developing a research-oriented environment. To achieve valuable milestones in research & innovation new labs were established on the campus. In the last two years, 18 PhD and 13 new MS programmes were gradually initiated in engineering, information technology and physical sciences. More than 1500 research scholars are now engaged in research activities that are aligned with the needs of local agriculture and industry.

The outcomes of such measures were observed as approved research grants worth more than Rs.450 million. In the last three years, KFUEIT has won 29 NRPU research grants which were announced by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. The number of research publications increased from 153 to 1342 and the overall impact factor increased from 510 to 4172. KFUEIT researchers contributed to 23 books and 148 book chapters which were published internationally. There is a need to strengthen the bond between such universities and industry.

With industry-academia collaboration, it is possible to find new ways to reduce dependence on imports or imported raw materials. It would be good to innovate methods to consume local raw materials to fulfil industrial needs and to modernize agriculture to deal with the prevailing challenges related to food security in the country. The revamping of agriculture and innovation in the chemical industry on modern lines will help to reduce the import bill of the country. It is necessary for the stability of the economy and a prosperous Pakistan.

Prof. Dr. Muhammad Suleman Tahir
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Suleman Tahir
Currently, the writer is serving as vice chancellor at Khwaja Fareed University of Engineering and Information Technology, Rahim Yar Khan.

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