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Tuesday May 21, 2024

Pakistan missing wheat production target due to climate change: agri scientists

By M. Waqar Bhatti
December 01, 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is missing its wheat production target for the last three years due to the climate change effects, agricultural scientists Wednesday said, claiming that this year’s extraordinarily high temperatures in March and April damaged the wheat crop at the time of grain filling while in the previous two years, weather was cold and conducive for the wheat rust, which caused low-yield of the crop.

To feed the growing population of Pakistan where wheat is a staple food, the country would have to switch to rust, heat and drought-tolerant varieties of wheat, they said, stressing bio-fortification of wheat to address the Zinc deficiency in over 50 million people of Pakistan where food insecurity is increasing every year.

“Research institutions in Pakistan have developed rust-resistant varieties of wheat which are also helpful in overcoming micronutrient deficiencies as they are Zinc bio-fortified. There is a need to create awareness among our growers and farmers to switch to these newly developed, tough wheat varieties to withstand the effects of climate change and provide better nutrition to our people”, Dr Imtiaz Hussain, a scientist associated with Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) told an awareness workshop.

The workshop was organized by HarvestPlus and AGAHE, a civil society organization, which was attended by a large number of agriculture scientists, health professionals, experts of UN agencies, civil society, and digital and print media dignitaries.

The agricultural scientist maintained that wheat constitutes over 70% of the diet of common Pakistanis and bio-fortification wheat is the most suitable, cost-effective, and sustainable strategy for addressing Zinc deficiency.

“With the support of harvest plus, federal and provincial wheat programs have developed three wheat varieties including Zincol 2016, Akbar 2019, and Nawab 2021. Millions of farmers are cultivating these varieties due to their characteristics of better yield, resistance against diseases, and high zinc nutrition. There are more wheat varieties in the pipeline, which may help in addressing the widespread zinc deficiency in Pakistan”, Dr Hussain added.

Director Programs, Ministry of National Health Services, Dr Baseer Achakzai deplored that nutrition was not a priority in a country where over 40 per cent of children were stunted, which means these children can’t become scientists due to poor brain development and weak immune system.

“We live in a country where 52 per cent of women don’t breastfeed their babies. Over 50 million people are facing Zinc deficiency and the vast majority, especially women are facing micronutrient deficiencies. In these circumstances, bio-fortification, especially Zinc bio-fortification is a cost-effective and intelligent way to overcome malnutrition in the country”, Dr Achakzai said and expressed his support for mainstreaming bio-fortification in public policies.

Munawar Hussain, Advisor at HarvestPlus Pakistan said that a warming climate is a direct nutritional threat to the billions of smallholder farmers who rely on staple food crops for much of their diet. “As per the World Bank report, the rising temperature may cause a 3-17% depletion of protein and nutrient content of crops, especially iron and zinc and the crops may lose 8-10% yield with the rising temperature,” he said.