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November 21, 2019

‘For Pakistan, biotechnology is the best bet for food security’

Business

November 21, 2019

Pakistan, essentially an agricultural economy, faces issues of food security and farm productivity, caused by a number of reasons and studies suggest if necessary measures are not taken in time, the country will find it difficult to feed its population in the decades to follow.

This was stated by Jens Hartmann, Regional Head for Asia Pacific (APAC) for the Crop Science division of Bayer, in an exclusive interview with The News, during his recent visit to Pakistan.

Bayer is a company with a more than 150-year history and core competencies in the areas of healthcare and agriculture. On June 7, 2018, Bayer acquired Monsanto worldwide. This $63 billion acquisition has strengthened the Research and Development (R&D) capability of the company which claims innovative strength, a strong product portfolio and high ethical standards as its hallmarks. Following the acquisition of Monsanto, Bayer’s yearly R&D budget has gone up to around $2.75 billion approximately.

Hartmann said without plant science and technology, farmers would need an extra 376 million hectares to grow the same amount of food – let alone double production.

“Since we cannot simply create more farmland at the expense of natural habitat, to grow enough food using less natural resources, we will need to adopt a holistic and integrated approach to agriculture.”

Therefore, he said, it was through the pillars of innovation, sustainability and digital transformation they hoped to balance the growing needs of humanity and the natural resources of planet Earth.

Pakistan’s food security challenges stem mainly from the rising temperatures, deforestation, land degradation, rapid population growth, old cultivation methods, low yield, sub-standard seeds, water scarcity etc.

He said the country needed to take the required steps on an urgent basis because it faced serious food security challenges in near future. For example, Pakistan has been ranked among the ten countries affected most by climate change and it was on track to become the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040 with lack of surface water availability for irrigation, industry and human consumption.

Hartmann shared it with The News that Bayer Pakistan – Crop Science division- was cognisant of this fact and was playing its role in creating awareness among the farmers about the challenges facing them and how to deal with them. This objective, he said, had been achieved by steps like introducing biotech corn to the Pakistani farmers, ensuring compliance with the requisite regulatory requirements, arranging field demonstration activities for the farmers, introducing high-yield hybrid seeds and setting up of technology stewardship infrastructure. “The farmers with small landholdings get same benefits as enjoyed by those with big or huge land holdings because benefits of biotechnology are scale-neutral.”

Hartmann stressed small landholders must go for digital transformation for improved efficiency. This transformation, he said, would help them predict weather, track market prices, decide on the use of hybrid seed and so on. “To achieve this object, the company has developed forums like Farmer Expos and Learning Centres, which are used to share knowledge with farmers on subjects like soil health, water management, crop protection, latest technologies and their adoption etc,” Hartmann said.

Although contributing to 13 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Bayer wascomprehensively working on SDG2 and SDG3, addressing hunger, food security, improved nutrition, sustainable agriculture and wellbeing of all, the Bayer official said.

Pakistan, Hartmann said, was a location where they had seen a highly encouraging response from the farmers. On his visit to Manga Mandi, on the outskirts of Lahore, and his meeting with around 100 farmers, he said, “It was a pleasant surprise for me that they were well-aware of the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture and wanted some way to steer out of this crisis”.

Sharing the success story of maize, the Bayer official said, “Over 95 percent of the maize cropping area in Punjab is hybridised today, with yields more than tripling in the past 20 years and national production reaching an all-time high – from 1.5 million tons in 1997 to 5.7 million tons in 2017”.

“This increased production of maize has also helped keep the prices of poultry products down and increase their volume because most of the maize produced in the country is used in poultry feed.”

The hybrid seeds were introduced after thorough testing and trials, Hartmann added. “For example, out of 200 hybrids only one is finalised and considered fit for launch after going through a long and comprehensive approval process,” he said.

The technology was being introduced in Pakistan to facilitate farmers, an example of which was the use of drone applications to spray pesticide on crops, Hartmann added.

He stressed that Pakistan had immense potential to emerge as an agriculturally rich country and an added advantage was its highly supportive legislation system. “It offers fast track registration of chemicals though sometimes there are implementation issues which the government of Pakistan is trying to tackle effectively,” Hartmann said.

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