July 25 - 31, 2011

Despite enjoying income tax exemption and a number of other incentives, agricultural sector has been facing a decline in its growth for the last few years showing an overall 10 percent drop in different major and minor crops output mainly due to lacking research, discouraging development of local new varieties of crops and allocation of insufficient funds for development.

Experts told PAGE that cotton crop has registered a 10 percent decline during the last three years as in Punjab its output has come down to 7.8 million bales from 8.8 million bales, gram crop has fallen to 460,000 metric tons from 658,000 tons, a decline of 30 percent, pulses slipped from 830,000 tons to 625,000 tons, down 24 percent, rice dropped to 3. 4 million tons from 3. 7 million tons, indicating a decrease of 6. 67 percent, and maize also registered minor decline.

However, they claimed that wheat is the only crop which has shown some growth and that too is only 0.4 percent as its production increased from 18.42 million tons to 18.5 million tons.

Decline in per acre yield of different major and minor crops and stagnant production of livestock sector must be a serious concern. Three years back, Pakistan's production of milk per animal per day was 3.9 to 4 litre and it is same today. Average production per animal per annum world over is 4,000 litres but in Pakistan/Punjab it is 1,200 litres per animal per day.

The soaring prices of fertilizers and other inputs is a major concern for farmers. A foreign company was selling its hybrid maize seed bag at Rs4000 per bag while the same was available in India at Rs1000 per bag, Indonesia at Rs850 and Thailand at Rs850-860 per bag, they said.

According to them, agriculture sector in Pakistan has a huge potential. It continues to be the single largest and dominant driving force for growth as well as the main source of livelihood for 66 percent of Pakistan's population. But, it has always faced two major problems: first, productions per acre are lower than many countries. Secondly, around 40 per cent of production is wasted in the form of post-harvest losses due to insufficient utilization of biotechnology.

They stressed the need for utilizing this beneficial technology for more and more production in various economic sectors. They also urged the government to patronize scientists working for the technology promotion and its improvement.

The Punjab Minister for Agriculture Malik Ahmad Ali said that 21st century belongs to biotechnology and Pakistan has tremendous potential to emerge as biotechnology leader but to achieve the goal private sector, academia (scientists, researchers) and government would have to work hand in hand.

According to him, the Punjab government is giving a special focus on the promotion of research and quality crops because it understands well the green revolution is only possible through genetic engineering. He urged the scientists to play their role for the promotion of biotechnology in the country. Pakistan would have to focus on genetically modified and hybrid crops to tap true potential of agricultural productivity in the country.

The provincial minister stressed the need for establishment of institutes both at provincial and federal levels for creating awareness among the farming community about Genetically Modified (GM) technology and said that sustainability and improvement in crops yield are the major challenges to meet upcoming threats of increasing population and depleting water resources.

He said biotechnology has shown considerable potential to raise agricultural productivity by addressing problems not solved through conventional research. Among other application of biotechnology, development of genetically modified organisms is the promising tool to facilitate plant breeding in development of crops to insect and tolerant to herbicide.

The minister said that GM crops have contributed to sustainable development in several significant ways including: Contributing to food security and more affordable food, conserving biodiversity, alleviation of poverty and hunger, mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouses gases, contributing to the cost-effective production of biofuels and above all contributing to sustainable economic benefits.

The genetically modified crops have an important role to play in lessening the environmental impact and improving the sustainability of food production. Insect-resistant rice, for example, has the potential to benefit about 1 billion people, he said.