LAHORE: Hybrid technology has augmented maize production by more than three times since its launch for the crop sowing way back in 1990s, a top official from the private sector said.
“The maize crop in Pakistan presents a phenomenal success story, spanning over the past 20 years,” said a spokesman of CropLife Pakistan, a part of Brussels-based trade association CropLife International that promotes agricultural technologies.
“Maize has mostly hovered at the fringes of most policy discussions in agriculture and has been deprived of any significant government intervention. Despite the neglect, the private sector has continued to play a commendable role in driving yields and productivity of the crop across the country.”
The introduction of high-yield maize hybrids by multinational companies laid the foundation for the growth. Alone in the Punjab, average maize yields have tripled, going from 14 maunds per acre to 60 maunds per acre, whereas area under cultivation has almost doubled, the provincial agriculture department’s data showed. Growth in corn production during the last two decades was as high as 320 percent.
Downstream impact of the growth in maize production has even been more significant. Poultry industry has emerged as the largest consumer of grain, consuming 65 percent of the total production followed by 10 percent by silage, while wet milling and industrial processing consume the rest.
Industry officials said the demand and supply gap is about to be further widened as poultry industry continues to record eight to 10 percent annual growth, requiring more investment in improved germplasm, biotechnology and agronomic knowledge.
“We are currently holding 85 percent of the total market share across the two seasons in which maize is cultivated,” Muhammad Afzal, executive director of CropLife Pakistan said, referring to the association’s members. “Our members won that trust of the farming community, by their guaranteed quality seed and imparting trainings on agronomy delivered to the Pakistani farmers.”
Afzal said it is encouraging to see more companies taking interest in developing hybrid seeds. CropLife expects from the regulators to be vigilant to ensure that the history of infringing the intellectual property rights which shook confidence of the industry is not repeated.
Afzal said the association’s members heavily invested in local research and development infrastructure for local production and exports of seeds. “However, challenges associated with protection of proprietary knowledge and leakage of germplasm forced members to suspend local production operations till improved enforcement regimes are in place,” he added.
“The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act 2016 is a step that will go a long way in building the industry’s confidence and provide legal protection to the real owners and developers of valuable seed varieties.”
Successive policy documents have made explicit mention of adopting the technology and benefiting from it. Most recently, the Pakistan Vision 2025 and the National Food Security Policy also repeated the commitment.
Currently, Pakistan has more than 500 biotechnology scientists across 30 government institutes, researching and developing biotech crops, including cotton, corn, peas, potatoes, wheat and tobacco, with several million rupees of public funds going into the research every year. State-run National Biosafety Committee approved research, cultivation or commercialisation of crop after review and debate to ensure safety of human and environment.