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Technical advances such as new seed varieties, new approaches to irrigation, pest control or animal health offer enormous potential gains. But whether agriculture is organised in a way to capture these gains, is a question that relates to the policy framework and the underpinning institutional settings. Smallholders are the focus of ACIAR’s R4D program in partnership with the Pakistan Government, which recognises rural development and poverty alleviation as priority targets.


ACIAR’s policy research investigates whether agriculture is organised in a way that enables targets for rural development and poverty alleviation to be reached. It takes place independently and collaboratively, with teams of Australian and Pakistani researchers. Policy studies consider the “big picture” and so require a wide range of specialist skills. First of all, the ability to understand the people involved… how and why they behave and interact as they do – as families and communities. The needs and aspirations of people determine whether or not policy interventions could be effective.

 Then, the available “policy levers” can be considered. These include: education; health; labour; infrastructure; trade and market access; finance and economics. Data and modelling is used to gauge the positives and negatives of alternative policy options and the roles of government and other parties in implementing these policies.     

 Some ACIAR studies have taken a broad view of smallholder agriculture, evaluating how its future viability could be affected by a range of policy settings. Others have investigated specific factors or specific sectors in greater detail. Together this body of work provides a wealth of insights into the way agriculture is organised in Pakistan. This knowledge is invaluable for planning well-targeted interventions, whether by governments, donors, NGOs, the private sector or researchers.

For example, all ACIAR projects 2005-2015 have been mapped against some of the key policy topics affecting smallholders. This helps to identify which topics might help or hinder project stakeholders in implementing better practices on farm or along the value chain.

At both the national level and in Punjab and Sindh (the provinces where ACIAR focuses) government has shown a strong appetite for the independent analysis provided by joint Australian-Pakistani research teams.

Current research

Our current research includes:

This project focuses on three main crops, chilli, tomato and mango, to investigate existing marketing arrangements, assess domestic and foreign market potential and identify pathways to address main problems. It will then formulate an appropriate marketing policy reforms programme, drawing on both Pakistani and international reform experiences.

  • Efficient participatory irrigation institutions to support productive and sustainable agriculture in South Asia (ADP/2014/045)

This project closely studied four diverse irrigation communities to understand why policy levers are sometimes ineffective. It focused on the policy of involving farmers through Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM). Household surveys, including women’s perspectives, revealed how local social norms and values affected their role in irrigation decisions. This approach will enable policymakers to achieve efficient and productive use of water through PIM.

Legacy research

ADP/2010/091 - Enabling agricultural policies for benefitting smallholders in dairy, citrus and mango industries in Pakistan

Drawing on the lessons from economic development in China and elsewhere, this research reveals that smallholder farmers have a vital role in Pakistan’s future. Detailed economic and market analysis has underpinned extensive consultation with provincial and national policymakers. The result is a robust policy framework, complete with detailed advice on how to implement an integrated approach to transform smallholder agriculture. This framework has been used to map the ACIAR R4D program as in the graphic above.  ....Read More à 03 05 05 Dairy Citrus Mango DCMpol page

ADP2016043  Economic analysis of policies affecting pulses in Pakistan

The overarching aim of this two-year “Small Research Activity” project was to provide evidence-based economic analysis and advice to policy-makers on policy reform to reduce constraints to pulses production and trade and increase productivity in Pakistan. ....Read More à 03 05 02 Pulse Policy page

ADP-2016-028 Creating wealth in smallholders farms through efficient credit systems in Pakistan

Access to finance by smallholders is crucial to provide funds for better farm practices. Large-scale quantitative and qualitative survey data demonstrates that a holistic approach is necessary to alleviate poverty through smarter farming. ....Read More à 03 05 03 Credit Pol page

ADP-2015-004: Farmers’ capabilities, productivity and profitability - A case study of smallholders in selected agro zones in Pakistan

When policymakers are focused on improving the social and economic well-being of smallholder farmers, they have many options available. For example, improved training and education; access to electronic media services; access to finance; farming technology; supply chain efficiencies could all be influenced by government investments or reforms.

Sound data and analysis, based on the “real world” experiences of small farmers, can help in selecting the most effective policy levers. This comprehensive survey of 850 smallholders has laid a foundation of understanding for policymakers to draw on. ....Read More à 03 05 04 Case Study page

PLIA-2006-136 Economic and policy constraints affecting the development of small-scale dairy farmers in Pakistan

This short study summarised the economic and policy constraints on the dairy sector in Pakistan in 2008. This provided important context for the ASLP Dairy project. The parallels drawn with the Australian dairy sector pathway through regulation and deregulation (and how this affected milk quality and price, returns to growers, adoption of technology and industry structure) remain highly relevant. The study concludes that improvements in food safety and milk handling procedures will be a key factor in the future development of the small holder sector. ....Read More à 03 05 06 DairyPol page