THE average yield of 4.2 tonnes per hectare of maize in Pakistan is one of the highest in South Asia with cultivation on more than 1.16m hectares.
However, the country still imports nearly 85m tonnes of costly hybrid seeds which makes the retail price of seed very high compared to prices in the neighbouring countries.
Apart from the price, the genetic diversity of maize varieties is limited and not well-suited to the country’s heterogeneous agro-ecologies and diverse human and industrial uses.
The ‘Green Revolution’ succeeded in doubling the production and productivity of wheat, which is Pakistan’s ‘staple cereal’, leading to self-sufficiency. However, staple crops like wheat, maize or rice do not provide the full nutrition that the human body requires for balanced growth and development.
Non-staple but highly nutritious foods that are rich in proteins, minerals and vitamins are not affordable or accessible to resource-poor communities. As a result, nearly half of the children in Pakistan are estimated to be chronically malnourished.
To resolve this issue, quality protein maize (QPM) varieties have been released for commercial consumption as food or feed, which is an important step towards improving the nutritional well-being of communities that consume maize.
Two QPM hybrids — QPHM200 and QPHM300 — have been approved by the Maize Evaluation Committee.
Developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and introduced with the assistance of the CIMMYT-led, USAID-supported, Agricultural Innovation Programme (AIP) in January, these hybrids have been identified for use after extensive evaluation by the National Agricultural Research Centre.
Currently, the USAID-supported AIP Maize Project is operational in all the four provinces through a network of 10 public and 12 private sector partners working on maize research and development at various levels.
These QPM hybrids will boost nutrition by alleviating essential amino-acid deficiency, particularly in low-income groups which cannot afford nutrient-rich diets.
These hybrids can potentially yield up to 15 tonnes per hectare during well-fertilised and irrigated conditions ‘over three times the national average’ and can be provided to farmers at an affordable price. Pre-commercial trials of these hybrids are ongoing.
The nutritional standards can also be enhanced by providing low-cost feed like QPM to the poultry industry, which is growing 8-10pc annually.
“The taste of the cob — which is indeed of good quality — is unique,” said Muhammad Hafiz, a QPM grower from the Pindi Bhattian area in central Punjab who participated in pre-commercialisation trials of the hybrids.
Farmers were open to adopting the QPM hybrids because they performed better than normal commercial hybrids in many locations.
The continued production of quality seed that retains its protein quality, complemented by effective mechanisms for delivering it to farmers are important steps to scale up the seed production and delivery of these hybrids.
NARC and other value chain actors in Pakistan can assume an active role in helping to make seeds more easily available to the farmers and consumers.
Maize is the country’s third most important cereal after wheat and rice. While most of Pakistan’s maize is used for poultry feed, it is a major food source in KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. These areas have some of the highest rates of child malnutrition.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 8th, 2017