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August 24, 2019

High-yield hybrid seeds critical to enhance wheat crop output


August 24, 2019

LAHORE: Stagnant wheat production demands cultivation of high-yielding hybrid seed at commercial scale to meet the food requirements of the burgeoning population.

Pakistan’s wheat production has seen an increase of about 24 percent since the year 2000. During these 20 years, wheat production increased from 21.07 million tons harvested in 2000 to 26.6 million tons in 2017. However, the annual production reduced to 24 million tons in 2019.

In these two decades, wheat output shows average annual growth rate of merely 1.20 percent, which is even lower than the population rate. In the last five years, wheat production hovered around 25 million tons and some experts fear that this is the optimal level of production harvested from available land and other inputs including average quality seeds.

More worryingly, the Planning Commission, in its assessment back in 2008, projected much high production in the ongoing decade. As per production target of wheat crop, keeping in view the pace of growth in the crop sector, PC anticipated 28 million tons wheat production in 2018. However, we are producing much lower than this benchmark. Lack of research and development in seed varieties has led to low per acre yield of many crops.

To become self sufficient in wheat, the country has all the required basic ingredients such as hardworking farmer, fertile land, irrigation water and suitable climate. However, short supply of certified seed has been an issue.

Adoption of modern technology is considered a must for promotion of R&D activities in agriculture. The viable way to jumpstart wheat production has been through introduction of high quality seeds apart from ensuring other inputs.

There have been some encouraging activities in development of hybrid wheat seed. Guard Agriculture Research and Services Company and Muhammad Nawaz Shareef University of Agriculture Multan (MNSUAM) have made some breakthrough in this regard.

Guard Agriculture Research CEO Shahzad Ali Malik said work on hybrid wheat was being done with Beijing Academy of Agriculture Sciences. In five years, $2.5 million have been spent on research. “Overall the company spends about 4 percent of our turnover on R&D,” he said. He was optimistic that wheat hybrid seeds would be available in 2022. Scientists of the Beijing Academy of Agriculture Sciences were working with a team of local breeders on this project, Malik added.

Talking about the outcome, the CEO said the results were so far so good. “As many as 40 to 45 percent more yield is being produced in experiments against conventional varieties. Wheat hybrid taste would be the same. Tests are being carried out and we are witnessing encouraging results.”

MNSUAM Vice Chancellor Dr Asif Ali said the agriculture scientists of the university have developed what he called climate resilient hybrid wheat seeds, which offered 35 to 40 percent more output.

He was hopeful that these hybrid wheat seeds would be tested at farmers’ fields at various locations in the coming season. During the earlier experiments, according to a report, the hybrid wheat of MNSUAM was sown in two different places, Multan and Faisalabad by the varsity scientists. The average production of hybrid wheat remained 66 maund/acre in Multan and 60 maund/acre in Faisalabad.

However, the other general varieties of wheat could offer maximum 40 maund/acre in Multan and 35 maund/acre in Faisalabad. Shahzad Ali Malik stressed on developing seeds locally for ensuring food security.

Like many other countries, wheat is a staple food crop of Pakistan, and accounts for nearly 36 percent of the total cropped area, 30 percent of the value added by major crops, and 76 percent of the total production of food grains.

Pakistan did not achieve the wheat production target this year due to unfavourable weather conditions that damaged ripe and ready-to-harvest crop, causing a loss of 1.5 million tons of wheat against the target of 25.5 million during the Rabi season of 2018-19.