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Call to redirect surplus agricultural labour toward non-farm sectors

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ISLAMABAD, June 06 (INP) – The dynamics of employment are changing due to several factors, such as population growth, the mechanisation of farming practices, an increase in the labour force participation rate, and reverse migration from urban to rural areas due to the industrial slowdown.

This was highlighted by Rafiullah Kakar, a social sector specialist at the Ministry of Planning Development and Special Initiatives.

Talking to WealthPK, he said despite a reduction in the agriculture sector’s share of total employment, the number of agricultural workers had surged significantly. “From 2001-02 to 2020-21, Pakistan’s total labour force ballooned from 41.5 million to 71.8 million, with the agricultural labour force witnessing a staggering rise from 17.4 million to 26.6 million — a remarkable increase of 52.3%.”

He said that this surge in the agricultural workforce was occurring against the backdrop of stable-cropped areas. However, he said the trend indicated limited capacity to absorb additional labour. He added the rise of farm mechanisation exacerbated this challenge, particularly in the sowing and harvesting of major crops like wheat, rice and maize.

Kakar pointed out that the rapid mechanisation of agricultural processes displaced manual labour and intensified the pressure on the rural labour market, compounded by a projected influx of new entrants fuelled by Pakistan’s youthful demographic profile.

“In response to these challenges, there is an urgent need for comprehensive policies and implementation strategies to redirect surplus agricultural labour toward non-farm sectors through vocational training, entrepreneurial education, and financial support initiatives,” he said.

Talking to WealthPK, Gohar Rehman, Assistant Chief of the Industries and Commerce Section at the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives, emphasised the need to equip youth with skills tailored for overseas job markets.

He highlighted that due to the rural economy’s limitations in absorbing labour caused by mechanisation and sluggish economic growth, there was a pressing necessity to explore potential employment opportunities abroad.

He said that the effectiveness of existing skills development initiatives was widely contested, with many arguing that Pakistan’s technical and vocational education and training sector inadequately addressed the evolving needs of rural youth.

“To bridge this gap, innovative approaches such as semi-mobile training units stationed within rural communities could offer tailored training programmes. Furthermore, partnerships with industry players for technology transfer and the deployment of experienced instructors are deemed essential for the success of these initiatives.”

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