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October 7, 2018

Govt warned against exploiting GM tech in maize cultivation


October 7, 2018

LAHORE: Agriculture experts warned the new government against experimenting hazardous genetically modified technology into cultivating maize, which is a main cash crop, as it is likely to suppress its yields.

Hafiz Wasi, a well-known dairy expert said there is no need to further experiment into enhancing maize production, keeping in view the present demand and supply scenario.

“Maize is abundantly available throughout the year with introduction of silage to meet fodder requirement of dairy and livestock sector,” Wasi, who is also associated with a public sector department, said.

Surge in maize yield has been exponential in the last decade, showing an aggregate 61 percent growth. The national production of maize jumped to 6.3 million tons in 2017 from 3.26 million tons harvested in 2009, indicating an annual average growth of 6.14 percent.

Maize is the third most important cereal crop in the country after wheat and rice. It is the fifth biggest crop in terms of its economic value.

An average yield of maize currently hovers around four tons / hectare, which is one of the highest in the whole region.

“Progress in maize production over the years has given Pakistan distinction in achieving one of the highest per acre yield across South Asia,” an expert said.

The federal government planned to introduce imported genetically modified (GM) maize seed in near future. The seed is expected to have protection against some pests and show tolerance against lethal weedicides.

The new technology, the experts said will, however, prove detrimental to local maize varieties as it will contaminate them due to cross pollination. Adverse effects of deadly weedicides are already in the limelight globally with recent developments about litigation over serious health issues.

Local seed producers, however, asked the government to pressurise multinational companies to locally produce hybrid maize seeds.

A spokesman of Seed Association of Pakistan said the Seed Amendment Act, 2015 and the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 2016 are already in place to protect seed producers, which has been the main precondition of foreign companies to come to the country.

“They should now be bound to ensure local seed production of hybrid seeds, which will reduce import bill and benefit farmers,” the spokesman added.

The country currently spends millions of dollars in importing hybrid maize seeds from various countries.

Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of Agri-Forum Pakistan argued that government should not allow cultivation of GM maize in Pakistan if it wants to protect interests of local farmers.

Mughal said exports of value-added products from maize will adversely be affected due to introduction of GM as they will require the tech labeling.

“This development will negatively affect the export price of the produce and will fetch lower value to the farmers,” he added. “The farmers will end up bearing a higher cost of production at the expense of negligible yield increase while Pakistani maize products will be banned into non-GM countries.”

Mughal further said there will be no chance to revert to non-GMO maize once the technology introduction due to GM contamination.

“With concentrated efforts, the share of locally produced high quality maize seed has increased to 30-35 percent of the total national seed requirement,” he added.

“Scientific researches have proven negative effects of GM seeds and weedicides on consumers of corn, fodder and feeds. We should not ignore this important aspect as well.”

Analysts said growth in maize output was owing to availability of good quality hybrid seeds.

Multinational companies enjoy major share in seed imports and marketing. However, their share has been on the decline in the recent years as local seed technology companies are showing promising results in producing high quality, disease-resistant and relatively cheap seeds.

Khaleeque Arshad, ex-chairman of Pakistan Poultry Association said locally-produced high quality maize is sufficiently meeting requirements of the sector.

Poultry feed mainly comprises of maize as a major quality ingredient.

“We are satisfied with the pace of growth in corn yield,” Arshad said. “Corn prices are mostly stable.”

Agriculture experts said public-private partnership could help attain self-sufficiency in establishing supply chain of quality and economical maize seeds.

“In fact, Pakistan is ideally poised to become self-sufficient in corn seed output given splendid progress shown by local companies,” an expert said.

“Local maize seed companies have outperformed foreign competitors in research and development, producing highest-yielding corn varieties, especially which are being grown in spring.”

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