KARACHI – Agro-biotechnology is essential for food security and poverty alleviation in the world and in Pakistan also.

The major challenges faced by the nation are widespread food insecurity for the growing population. Biotechnology can bring food security in the country as the technology has great potential to enhance food production in the country by 5 to 6 per cent.

These facts were revealed by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) in its 43rd Executive Summary, launched recently in Pakistan by Pakistan Biotechnology Information Centre (PABIC) at International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, KU.

Government and The Pakistan Central Cotton Committee (PCCC) place considerable reliance on improved germ plasm and biotechnology to increase production by 40-60 per cent in a national strategy to achieve the 19.1 million bales target by 2015. Pakistan is the fourth largest cotton producer in the world after China, India and USA.

ISAAA has established its role and contribution in world efforts to help achieve agricultural sustainability and development. ISAAA is a not-for-profit international organization that shares the benefits of crop biotechnology to various stakeholders, particularly resource-poor farmers in developing countries, through knowledge sharing initiatives and the transfer and delivery of proprietary biotechnology applications. The summary says that in Pakistan the area under cotton has not increased substantially over the last two decades -2.7 million hectares in 1990-91 to 3.2 million hectares in 2011-12. During the same period, cotton yields remained almost stagnant at 550 kg to 750 kg of lint per hectare which is a major cause of concern for the growing textile industry, it adds.

“Field experiments in Pakistan indicate that biotech cotton, with both Bt and herbicide tolerance traits in varietal and hybrid background, has the potential to increase yield, result in significant savings of insecticides, and deliver substantial net economic benefits of up to US$280 per hectare; this could contribute an additional US$800 million annually to the farm economy of Pakistan,” summary says.

The summary warned the countries that in the next fifty years the world will consume twice as much food as the world has consumed since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago – a startling statement!

“However, regrettably, the vast majority of global society is completely unaware of this formidable challenge of feeding the world of tomorrow and the potential contribution of technology, particularly the role of the new innovative bio-technologies, such as biotech crops, that already successfully occupy 160 million hectares or 10 percent of global arable land. Given this lack of awareness about the challenge and the role of the new innovative crop biotechnologies, ISAAA initiated a program more than 10 years ago to freely share science-based knowledge about biotech crops with global society, whilst respecting the right of society to make independent informed decisions about the role of the new technologies. Two initiatives have been particularly successful, the first is ISAAA’s Annual Brief on the global status of biotech crops and their impact. The major findings from the latest 2010 ISAAA Brief is estimated to have reached a remarkable 1.8 billion people (a quarter of the world’s population) in over 75 countries in over 40 languages – the publication stimulated over 2,000 multi-media reports and the Brief is the most widely quoted publication on biotech crops globally. The second initiative is a weekly email which summarizes the major developments in biotech crops that are of particular interest to developing countries.  The free weekly e-newsletter, named Crop Biotech Update (CBU), now reaches 1.2 million subscribers in 200 countries and translations are available in more than 10 of the major languages of the world, including Chinese, Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Spanish, Portugese and French.”

On the other hand, talking to The Nation, Director Pakistan Biotechnology Information Center Prof. M. Iqbal Choudhary warned the authorities concerned that Pakistan may face drastic famine in future as irrigation lands are being reduced due to shortage of water. He pointed out that food crisis has become the essential problem in the country, while Pakistan is the sixth most populous country of the world with 185 million populations and expected to be fourth with 300 million populations by 2030. The world’s current population is over seven billion, he adds.

Dr Iqbal said, “There is dire need to reorganize the agriculture sector of the country, and bring about the revolution in the production of agriculture. Militant extremism and the natural disasters have caused a sharp decline in food security across the country, regardless of adequate national food production to meet the needs of Pakistan’s 180 million people. The proper use of biotechnology approach can bring rapid agriculture development in the country, while the potential of biotech crops for the future is enormous.

As per World Food Programme (WFP), Pakistani government has estimated that more than 20 million people across the country were affected by the flood crisis; of which more than 10 million were found to be in need of immediate assistance. Biotechnology is not the only solution to the problem but it is one of the most suitable solutions.”