Pakistan is poised to become self-sufficient in potato seed by mid-2022. The country is going to start producing high-quality, virus-free, third-generation potato seed. It will apply the aeroponic technology that it received from South Korea. The move will reduce the import bill for potato seed, which is $400 million per annum.
Aeroponic is a method for growing potatoes in air inside the bed in a greenhouse. The nutrients’ solution is misted onto the plants through nozzles to supply nutrients and water. The technology is highly suitable for tuber enlargement and easier to supply oxygen to the root zone.
This soilless method is for producing pre-basic seed with a higher yield more quickly, more sustainably and with greater profits than conventional methods. The producer can recover initial investments quickly owing to the high level of profitability.
Currently, Pakistan imports about 15,000 tonnes of potato seed from various countries.
The availability of aeroponic techniques for potato plants grown with the help of fine droplets without soil or substrate support presents a new hope, said Dr Muhammad Azeem Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC).
The end of import reliance will save the exchequer $400m a year
This revolutionary technique will lead to higher growth rates and healthy, uniform and vigorous potato tubers. This will make potato production more efficient and reduce the number of cycles in potato seed multiplication, thus reducing the threats to health and quality, he said.
With the special interest of South Korean Ambassador Suh Sangpyo, the transfer of technology became possible following the establishment of the Korea Programme for International Cooperation in Agricultural Technology (KOPIA) at the National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC), Islamabad in 2020, with the objective of promoting bilateral cooperation in the agriculture sector. Different potato-growing countries have already started adopting this technology.
Under the agreement, a KOPIA-Pakistan Centre has been established in NARC followed by the establishment of an aeroponic greenhouse. The Rural Development Administration (RDA) of South Korea has provided funds for this project.
Pakistan-South Korea joint activities will help introduce innovation in agricultural technology and techniques in seed development, which will improve smart farming and enhance small farms’ productivity besides increasing income levels of small farmers.
The potato crop in Pakistan is cultivated on a commercial scale and contributes considerably to GDP. It is grown in both highlands and plains as the summer and winter crop, which reflects its importance in the livelihoods of a diverse group of farmers.
The average yield of the potato crop in Pakistan is lower than that in other potato-growing countries. The potato seed of the seventh and eighth generations is being imported, which only accounts for 2pc of the total requirement. Its subsequent multiplication in formal and informal ways leads to the accumulation of viruses owing to the absence of the latest diagnostic techniques and monitoring systems, according to potato scientists.
According to PARC Member Dr Shahid Hameed, the cost of high-quality seed is about 35-50pc of the total cost of production in Pakistan. Certified seed production is limited and faces technical, economical and managerial problems. Most farmers rely on their own seed for which they mostly do not have the proper skills and technical knowledge, he said.
Dr Hameed further added that a critical constraint on meeting the growing demand and population growth is the non-availability of high-quality seed with acceptable levels of resistance to pest and diseases.
Diagnostic surveys carried out by different researchers confirmed the presence and variable incidence of internationally renowned and economically important viruses in different agro-
ecological zones of potato cultivation in Pakistan. The lack of availability of quality-seed potatoes by conventional methods is among the major reasons that pose a direct challenge to the production system, Dr Hameed said.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 22nd, 2021