Sunday February 25, 2024

‘New seed varieties imperative to address food security issues’

November 18, 2023
In this undated file photo, a Pakistani farmer harvests wheat in a field on the outskirts of Lahore. — AFP/File
In this undated file photo, a Pakistani farmer harvests wheat in a field on the outskirts of Lahore. — AFP/File

Islamabad:The pivotal shift towards modern agricultural techniques and adoption of innovative seed varieties is of paramount importance for the agricultural sector, historically regarded as the linchpin of our national economy and food security.

With the country’s population already reaching over 240 million, the coming years would witness serious food security issues and it is high time for authorities and policymakers to embark on new research to explore better-yielding crops.

Despite the concerted efforts of agricultural scientists and policymakers to engineer hybrid seeds vital for meeting our domestic staple food requirements and their subsequent dissemination among farming communities, the current reality presents a stark contrast.

Growing population coupled with changing weather patterns, resource scarcity, rapid pests and disease attacks on various crops of vital importance are major challenges to indigenously cope with the food requirement of our populace.

As the world population is also forecast to reach nine billion by 2050, the agricultural produce world over would be under much stress with prices of these commodities increasing locally and globally.

Therefore, it is direly needed to explore new climate change-resistant varieties with better produce before any food catastrophe ensuring sufficient investment in research and development projects.

“To develop climate-resilient, high-yielding, short-statured, early-maturing varieties of wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton, the government has launched Prime Minister’s Agriculture Emergency programme with a cost of Rs15.789 billion,” said Imtiaz Ahmed Gopang, Food Security Commissioner at Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

The initiative is aimed at introducing innovative technologies of crop production to conserve water, post-harvest losses and enhance per-acre crop output of rice, wheat, maize and sugarcane to economically empower local farmers and enhance their farm income, Gopang said.

He informed that in the current fiscal year, several projects have been initiated for the uplift of the agriculture and livestock sectors under the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP 2023-24).

These projects, he stated, include cage cluster development projects, commercialization of potato tissue culture technology, establishment of a consumer-sourcing seed authenticity system and strengthening of labs of Federal Seed Certification and Research Division.

The government has also allocated funds for creating plant breeders rights registry, strengthening the DUS examination system, the establishment of seed certification services in Southern Balochistan besides initiating the National Oilseed Enhancement Programme, Gopang said.

At the same time, productivity enhancement projects of rice, sugarcane, and wheat, besides promoting research for productivity enhancement in pulses and promotion of olive cultivation on commercial scale have also been started.

The initiatives in the agricultural sector resulted in enhanced wheat productivity, said Dr Muhammad Yaqoob, Project Director, of the Wheat Productivity Enhancement Project of the National Agriculture Research Centre.

This time wheat production grew by four million tons with an overall financial benefit of around Rs400 billion.

The project to increase the productivity of wheat and reduce the production gap was launched with a cost of Rs30,455.353 million with the federal government’s share comprising Rs5,632.774 million, provincial governments sharing Rs12,526.591 million and farmers and service providers’ component as Rs12,295.985 million.

Under the project, he said about 9,800 germplasm acquisition, distribution and evaluations were made with, 180 NUWYT/adaptability trials at various locations, 620 quality wheat seed production tests and 8,000 germplasm development and evaluations.

Moreover, 2,000 elite lines were developed and tested, 5,000 genotype screenings were conducted against wheat diseases, 800 germplasm screenings for drought, and salt heat tolerance and 18 wheat characterization protocols.

Similarly, under this project, the best varieties of seeds, fertilizers and weedicides were subsidized to 50% including the farmers'' machinery with the federal government’s share at Rs3750.660 million, provincial governments Rs7568.102 million and farmers and service providers have stood at Rs4470.640 million.

First time in the country’s history, during the year 2021-22, not only the rice production increase to 9.32 million tons, but its exports also touched US$ 2.5 billion, informed Project Director Rice Dr Ashiq Rabbani.

He said local rice production increased from 2.4 to 2.6 tons per hectare with its production showing an increase of 12% at project sites.

Although 2500 litre water is required for one kg rice crop, through Alternate Wetting and Drying technology we can save 45% water benefitting farmers Rs5000 to 8000 per acre in terms of electricity and fuel cost by sides reduction in methane gas emissions.

Modernizing agriculture demands the urgent adoption of resilient seed varieties amid population growth and climate shifts, collaborative investment, government initiatives and technical integration were pivotal for sustainable food security and increased crop productivity.

Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its 2023 edition of the State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) has revealed that hidden costs of current agri-food systems had reached $10 trillion annually, nearly 10% of the world’s GDP.

This edition covered 154 countries focusing on hidden costs on health, environment and society and revealed the total quantified hidden costs for Pakistan in the agri-food system at approximately $161.8 billion categorizing them into environment ($28.9 billion), social ($20.9 billion) and health ($112 billion).

Therefore, it is the most urgent duty of the authorities to focus on this sector promptly to enhance agricultural productivity for our economic sustainability and meet the upcoming food security challenges.