On Friday, Syed Fakhar Imam, Minister for National Food Security, paid a visit to Green Super Rice (GSR) field at the National Institute for Genomics and Advanced Biotechnology (NIGAB). He urged scientists to use advanced genomic strategies and biotechnology tools to ensure increased yield productivity of major crops in Pakistan like wheat, sugarcane, horticultural and oil crops. The minister also expressed the importance of improving local plant and animal breeds by adopting genomic techniques and research.
Fakhar Imam was briefed on the project Green Super Rice is working on as well as NIGAB’s ventures, by a member of the Plant Sciences Division and genomics and biotechnology researcher, Dr. Ghulam Muhammad Ali. NIGAB, with the help of international scientific community, Chinese research partners, and through the use of latest genome-based breeding techniques, has developed rice varieties with an export-worthy quality. These rice varieties have a yield potential ranging from 80 to 120 pounds per acre.
Read more: Challenges faced by our Agriculture Sector
Fakhar Imam praised the efforts of the team working for genomics institute laboratories for making the project possible. Their research and facilities are not any less than those of international genomic institutes, the minister stated. Lastly, he encouraged the researchers and students gathered there to pursue advanced training and education from international institutes.
Backbone of Pakistan’s economy
The agriculture sector is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. It contributes around 18.9% to Pakistan’s GDP and employs 42.3% of its labor force (Ministry of Finance). Agricultural production caters to approximately 68% of the rural population and plays a pivotal role in stabilizing Pakistan’s food security.
According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 3.81% growth in the agriculture sector was recorded during 2017-18, resulting from better government policies, availability of certified seeds, higher yields, pesticides, etc.
GDP from agriculture in Pakistan increased to 2,362,209 PKR millions in 2019 from 2,342,373 PKR millions in 2018 (State Bank of Pakistan, 2018). However, the agriculture sector is not performing as well as one would hope as Pakistan’s farm production is lower compared to other regions and it is one of the most food-insecure countries in the world which is reflected in the Global Food Security Index of 2019, where Pakistan ranked 74th.
As mentioned previously, a significant section of the rural population is dependent on agriculture as their sole source of earning and livelihood. Most farmers are living in abject poverty and cannot afford modern machinery or good quality seeds and pesticides, which results in low per hectare production and fewer exports, ultimately affecting the country’s overall economy.
Some of the major factors that contribute to Pakistan’s low yields in comparison to other countries in the region include a lack of mechanization and modern agriculture technology, usage of non-certified seeds either because of high costs or unavailability of good quality seeds, improper application of nutrients, low agricultural R&D expenditure, lack of application of fertilizers, lack of farmer training and a lack of financial credit.
Agriculture: a savior
Agriculture being the primary employing sector of Pakistan has always been ignored when it comes to reforms, policymaking and state funds. If given enough attention and funds, this sector can do wonders for a country like Pakistan. Israel, a country forty times smaller than Pakistan and with 60% desert area (Negev) is feeding the world with its remarkable agricultural breakthroughs.
Pakistan’s pesticide industry is mainly imports based with roughly 30% cost component related to imports of raw materials and other essentials. This situation can be reversed by using solutions developed by an ag-tech firm named BioBee Biological Systems. BioBee deals in lab-produced predatory bugs and wasps which upon release into the crops kill harmful pests. Pesticide use has been provenly reduced up to 80% using these bugs.
Another such product line of BioBee is the Sterile Insect Technique (STI). It prevents fruit flies from laying fertile eggs by releasing lab-produced sterile male flies into the crops, thus reducing their population gradually.
The number of tractors per hectare can no longer be used as a yardstick to measure mechanization in the present age. Tractors were a product of the second agricultural revolution during the 18th-19th century, and currently, the world is going through the third agricultural revolution. Introduction of technology in agriculture and improved focus can result in wide ranging benefits for a country whose economic landscape is in a whirlpool of uncertainty.
‘The Government of Pakistan announced on March 18, 2019, a $2 billion, five-year agricultural plan that focuses on crop production diversification, but there are no details yet. Pakistan’s soon-to-be harvested 2019/20 wheat crop is forecast at 25.6 million metric tons, two per cent higher than last year’s forecast of 25.1 million metric tons’ (USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, 2019).