‘Biotech crops can help tackle Pakistan’s water and food crises’

Updated December 20, 2018

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Pakistan urgently needs to adapt to modern agricultural technologies to help tackle its water and food crises. — File photo
Pakistan urgently needs to adapt to modern agricultural technologies to help tackle its water and food crises. — File photo

KARACHI: Pakistan urgently needs to adapt to modern agricultural technologies to help tackle its water and food crises exacerbated by increasing salinity, deforestation and high population growth.

This point was raised at a press conference held on Wednesday at the Latif Ebrahim Jamal (LEJ) National Science Information Centre, Karachi University, with an objective to create awareness about the potential commercialisation of biotechnology offers for Pakistan’s sustainable development.

This year’s International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) report highlighting global status of commercialised biotech/genetically modified crops was also launched at the event.

According to the report, biotech crop area in 2017 attained new record-high adoption at 189.8 million hectares worldwide. Top five countries (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and India) planted 91 per cent of the global biotech crop area of 189.8 million hectares.

“Biotech countries in the Asia and Pacific region were led by India with the biggest area of biotech crops at 11.4 million hectares of cotton followed by Pakistan [three million hectares cotton], China, Australia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam and Bangladesh.”

Speaking about global food insecurity, Prof Iqbal Choudhary, director of the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, presented some recent statistics that showed that 60pc of the world’s people hit by food insecurity lived in 19 countries facing conflict and climate change crisis situations whereas high risks of famine were recorded in Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, where 20 million people were severely experiencing hunger.

Coming to Pakistan’s food and water crises, he cited a recent UN report according to which Pakistan continued to have high neonatal mortality and that 44pc of its children were stunted. Water availability currently in the country stood at around 865 cubic metres.

“Hunger will only be defeated if countries translate their pledges into action, especially at the national and local levels. It is extremely important to ensure that people have the conditions to continue producing their own food,” he observed, adding that biotech crops over the last 22 years had contributed to food security and sustainability increasing crop productivity and helping alleviate poverty in many countries.

He appreciated Pakistan’s progress on biotech cotton and said that it had increased its biotech cotton area by 3.4pc or 100,000 hectares from 2.9 million hectares to three million hectares.

He added that this was expected to increase cotton production by 14.04 million bales.

Sharing some estimates of the latest ISAAA report, he pointed out that an estimated 725,000 smallholder Pakistani farmers had been benefiting from the economic gains in using biotech cotton.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2018