FAISALABAD: Termination of $30 million food security project by USAID has drawn criticism from experts and stakeholders and they fear that the abrupt decision will affect the ongoing research and scholar exchange programmes in the country.
They claimed the situation will badly hit the higher education sector and it will affect ties between the United States and Pakistan. Earlier on July 26, the US government terminated funding to a $30 million project of University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF). The US government issued a notification in this regard after completing close to 50% work on the US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Agriculture and Food Security project.
The termination letter was issued days after Pentagon announced to withhold $50 million reimbursements under the Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan on the pretext that it is unable to verify whether Islamabad conducted adequate counter-terrorism operations against the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network.
“No doubt USAID has been helping Pakistan by funding various schemes for the last three decades but we need to ask some solid reasons from the agency officials behind closure of the food security project,” former National Assembly speaker Syed Fakhar Imam said while speaking to The Express Tribune.
Fakhar Imam expressed dismay over the decision and said such situations lead nations to self-reliance. He added, “There is a need to further strengthen US-Pakistan ties irrespective of the closure of the project.” He remarked, “Human partnership is more important and durable than anything else.”
The former speaker lamented, “Our forestation cover is the lowest in the world and agriculture sector in the country was not given priority by any government.”
While commenting on the matter, UAF Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Iqrar Ahmad Khan told The Express Tribune, “Higher Education Commission Chief Dr Mukhtar Ahmad has assured the varsity administration that the said project will be undertaken at all costs.” He said, “However, till completion of the required arrangements, the project’s future will hang in the balance.”
The VC maintained that agricultural growth could eradicate poverty and shutting down such a wonderful project will affect the work of top class researchers in Pakistan and the US.
He said, “Abrupt termination of the project will halt ongoing applied research schemes as 18 of them are being implemented in collaboration with University of California Davis and Washington State University professors.”
Iqrar Ahmed pointed out that discontinuation of the mega project will affect scholar exchange visit programme as over 20 had already applied for visa and 65 more were scheduled to visit US in the final two years of the project.
He said, “With the funding of USAID, two new degree programmes; MSc in Climate Change and MSc in Seed Science & Technology have been launched, whereas MSc in Nutrition & Dietetics will be launched in the next academic session.”
Besides, he elaborated that 16 new MS/PhD level courses were developed to include latest development and research ideas to reform the veterinary medicine curriculum. When contacted, HEC Adviser Dr Mehmood Butt told The Express Tribune, “The food security project has not been terminated due to any performance weakness.”
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He assured the HEC will make arrangements for its sustainability. “The HEC, under 2025 vision, will establish 20 research based universities across the country and 30 centers of advanced studies in all the subjects will also be established in the coming years,” the adviser remarked.
He said, “The government is determined to increase the budget for higher education to a level where we can proudly claim that we are spending huge amount on it.”
“In order to boost the quality of PhD scholars, the HEC under Pak-US Knowledge Corridor is sending 10,000 students to renowned universities in the United States for PhD studies,” the HEC official confirmed. He hoped the first batch of 1,500 students will be dispatched in the mid of 2018.