ISLAMABAD: The Netherlands is exploring the possibility of starting a programme to grow salt-tolerant potatoes in Pakistan.

Ambassador of the Netherlands Jeannette Seppen met Minister for National Food Sec­u­rity and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan on Thursday and discussed a project which would provide Pakistani potato farmers access to quality Dutch seeds, particularly the high-yield ‘paramount’ variety.

Mr Bosan informed the envoy that Pakistan was interested in acquiring Dutch technology and collaborating to produce certified potato seeds. Experiments in Pakistan show that it is feasible to cultivate potatoes in saline conditions. In Depalpur, Punjab, the first-ever yield of salt-resistant potatoes was experimented in 2015 under a joint project of Dutch agricultural innovation and Pakistani entrepreneurs.

The combination of salt-tolerant varieties, adapted agricultural practices and conjunctive water use has resulted in an acceptable expected yield of 20 tonnes of potatoes per hectare.

According to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, only one to two per cent of quality seed is available in the country. Despite this drawback, the country produced about four million tonnes of potato this season. The food ministry has found certain shortcomings in the potato crop in a recent evaluation.

The potato tuber seed has tremendous disease-carrying potential which poses serious crop health problems. Its marketing is not as efficiently organised as for grain crops despite the fact that it is the fourth-most important crop by volume of production. The future research thrusts will be development of true potato seeds (TPS) hybrid families and true potatoes seed production in addition to developing package of agro-techniques for TPS-based potatoes production.

Pakistan imports 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of high-quality certified seeds from Holland. Potato seed is further multiplied by the national seed companies for distribution to farmers. The volume of certified seed potato is low and added reasons for non-availability of sufficient certified seed potato in the country. Punjab produces about 99pc of potato, while Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have nominal share in overall production mainly due to saline conditions.

Published in Dawn January 14th, 2017