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November 8, 2018

‘Basmati hybrids hold $500mln export potential’


November 8, 2018

LAHORE: Hybrid technology can earn Pakistan an additional $500 million in rice exports and create Rs60 to 70 billion of economic activities, a head of a research and development company said.

Sajjad Sulaiman Malik, chief executive officer of Emkay Seeds (Pvt) Ltd said the private company has developed high-yielding Basmati rice variety having more than 40 percent average yield potential if compared with output of contemporary varieties.

“If only 20 percent of basmati area is sown with new hybrids of fine rice varieties in Punjab, the main growing area, Rs60 to 70 billion worth of additional economic activity can be generated,” Malik said. “Pakistan can fetch another $500 million with this bonus production of basmati rice.” Basmati hybrids can produce up to 80 maunds per acre of rice with proper application of production technology. These varieties use less water and other inputs as it matures two weeks early if compared with other basmati varieties. The company’s head said this is the beginning of Pakistan’s rice revolution, which will start bearing fruits for farmers, rice millers and exporters in near future.

The company demonstrated test-trials of the newly-developed basmati hybrids last week in Farooqabad of Sheikhupura district. The two basmati hybrids of Emkay Seeds outperformed basmati super and Pusa 1121, an Indian variety with more than 40 percent yield advantage in small scale trials.

The development of Basmati hybrid, having excellent cooking quality and elongation is not an easy task as many such attempts could not bear fruits in past. Several public sector research institutions have failed to introduce basmati hybrid despite spending millions of rupees. So much so, Chinese leader in development of coarse varieties of rice hybrids have not either been successful despite making untiring efforts.

Malik attributed the resounding success in development of basmati hybrid to Muhammad Bashir Cheema, who is Head of Plant Breeding and Genetics of the company. “Eighteen years of struggle finally proved successful,” he said. “We hope that in the next two years, these superior quality basmati hybrids will be available for commercial plantation. This is purely a home-grown solution for enhancing output of basmati rice as Pakistan’s own scientists contributed in this direction.”

On the company’s plant breeding program, Malik said the task to develop rice hybrid is quite challenging “but with continued effort our company pioneered the development of both coarse and fine varieties of rice”.

Three basmati and two non-basmati extra-long fine grains with 8.5 millimeter length have been developed. The milling, cooking quality, taste and aroma of some of these lines are on par with super basmati and other contemporary varieties.

Malik said the company has been successful in achieving rare milestone of basmati hybrid development through normal breeding without using any of the genetic engineering techniques involving genetically modified organisms.

The non-basmati hybrid developed by the company was the pioneer back in 2008. However, these varieties could not compete with Chinese imported hybrid seeds of coarse varieties due to various factors. In March 2008, the company became the first to have a locally developed medium grain rice hybrid (Emkay H-401) approved by the then ministry of agriculture.

“We have further refined our medium grain rice hybrids for Sindh and expect to launch our new hybrid varieties next year,” Malik said. A number of companies are currently importing hybrid rice seed, mainly from China. The local variety would save foreign exchange reserves.

Emkay Seeds has also developed a high yielding bacterial leaf blight-resistant rice hybrid that will perform better in hot spots. “We have also developed a fairly robust research program on maize and are actively developing and testing both single cross and double cross hybrid corn,” Malik said.

“These hybrids are being tested alongside the leading hybrid corn seed being sold in Pakistan by multinationals,” he added. “Significant progress has been made and in 2019 these products will be taken into farmer fields for large scale testing. We intend to diversify our activity by including other crops in the research program, notably sweet corn, canola and vegetables.”

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