BT MAIZE WITH ITS PLUS POINTS

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Mar 31 - Apr 06, 2008

According to some agriculture economists, GM (genetically modified) insects resistant Bt maize shows that in maize growing regions, which were previously affected by European Corn Borer (ECB) and Maize Stem Borer (MCB), a favourable impact was noticed besides higher yields in comparison to cultivation conventional non-G maize. Average increase in yield has been 10 percent and sometimes higher than that. In 2006 growers of Bt maize have, on an average, made additional income amounting to Rs.2183 and Rs.4736 per acre. This increase in profits is equal to 12 to 20 percent.

Bt maize in certain areas have shown significant improvements in grain quality with considerable reductions in the levels of my-co-toxins found in the grain. This provides a healthy benefit to the livestock sector consuming this variety of maize.

While farmers in the past have been using insecticides to control ECB and MCB, adoption of Bt technology has resulted in environmental gains and saving of cost in production, which was additionally incurred on insecticides and fuel. Presently Bt maize, which is herbicide and insects resistant is considered hazard free and safe for use as food and is traded in the international food and food markets subject to certain bio-safety regulatory frame work. As there is no Bt protein in refined edible oil, as Bt protein is separated out in the oil extraction and refining process, it can be marketed as safe edible oil in any country.

The first commercial GM crops were grown in 1996 and after that GM crop area has increased unprecedented, reflecting farmers confidence and satisfaction due to significant and multiple benefits of GM crops. These include more sustainable and resource crop management practices, requiring less fuel, conservation of vital soil moisture (thus requiring less watering), resisting drought to some extent and controlling erosion of soil and minimum dependence of pesticides. At the same time no scientific evidence of any adverse effect on environment and human health has so far been noticed.

Although Pakistan is an overwhelmingly an agrarian country, it is odd that it is depending upon the import of edible oil spending substantial amount of foreign exchange as we do not produce sufficient edible oil including soybean, canola and palm oils for our domestic need. According to an estimate, we need 1.65 million tons of edible oils while our production is 600 thousand tons of various types of edible oils annually. There is a shortfall of 900 thousand tons, which we meet through imports. It would be advisable to use bio-tech cropping such as Bt maize, Bt soybeans and Bt canola to acquire self sufficiency in the production of edible oils. Presently market prices of food items are unaffordable and inaccessible for common citizens and prices of edible oils are shooting very high. We can save an average outflow of $900 million on import of edible oils and food and energy security. In this situation, there is a strong need to increase local production of oil seeds by the use of GM (genetically modified) crops.

Grain revolution of the 20th century did not enable farmers in Pakistan to increase it's per acre yield as compared to developed and some developing countries. Our yields are still low. Our major crops production per acre is 30 to 50 percent less, wheat 40 percent, sugarcane 35 percent and maize 30 percent. There is yawning gap between the increasing population and low rate of food production.

FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR LOW PRODUCTION:

Factors responsible for low production of our major crops are:

i) Shortage of water for irrigation ii) High cost of inputs including electricity, diesel, DAP, other fertilizers, herbicides/insecticides iii) Low level of mechanical farming iv) High pests infestation v) Inefficient weed management practices and vi) Lack of adoption of GM/Bt crops.

Most of these problems can be addressed and solved with the government's support as majority of our farmers are small land-holders and resource-scarce.

POSITION OF MAIZE IN PAKISTAN VIS--VIS THE WORLD POSITION:

Maize is the third important cereal after wheat and rice. It also ranks third in the major crops grown in the world, with an overall area measuring 365 million acres with an annual production of 750 million tons, of which maize is grown on 30 percent of the global area, as in :

China on 74 million acres
India on 24 million acres
Indonesia on 12.5 million acres
Philippines on 9.5 million acres
Thailand on 6.5 million acres
Vietnam on 2.8 million acres
Pakistan on 2.4 million acres

Pakistan produces 3.25 million tons of maize. Out of the total area, maize is grown on 40 percent and 58 percent respectively in Punjab and N.W.F.P while 2 percent in Sindh and Balochistan. Quantity-wise 30 percent of total production of maize is obtained from Punjab while 60 percent from NWFP. Maize is an important crop of Azad Kashmir with around 0.25 million acres where maize is grown.

USES OF MAIZE:

Maize has a number of uses. Basically it is grown as a grain and is also a popular feed for the livestock. It is a rich source of starch and protein. Edible oil is extracted from maize seeds. Bio-fuel like ethanol, bio-diesel is obtained from maize by several countries in the world. It is also used as food and in pharmaceuticals industry.

PESTS OF MAIZE CROP AND HOW TO CONTROL THEM:

Maize Stem Borer is the major pest in Pakistan, which brings down the yield by 20-40 percent. Similarly weeds are responsible to reduce the yield by 30-45 percent.

It would be interesting to point out that with the cultivation of hybrid maize varieties the production capacity per acre is very high, even more than 5 tons of grain per acre in comparison with 1.5 tons per acre when grown with conventional maize varieties.

The problems of pests, weeds and low production can be solved by adopting Bt maize or genetically modified (GM) maize varieties. GM maize crop does not need to be sprayed. Thus the risk to the environment is minimized so is the cost borne on the purchase of oil.