SARGODHA -  The University of Sargodha (UoS) has become first public sector university to sign a letter of intent with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to improve nutrition, agriculture productivity and raise the living standards of the rural population.

The document was signed by Minà Dowlatchahi, the FAO representative in Pakistan, and Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, the vice chancellor of University of Sargodha, on Friday while FAO Partnership Officer Rosana Frattini, Seed Sector Consultant Dr Shakeel Khan, Assistant Representative/Head of Programmes Nasar Hayat and deans and faculty members of various faculties of the university were also present.

The decision of signing the letter of intent was taken by representatives of both the parties after considering their mutual interests in conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources, strengthening agricultural research programmes in the development of modern seed technology, climate smart agriculture practices, bio-fortified food crop varieties, and improved technologies for minimizing postharvest losses of food crops.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad remarked that the moments would be remembered in the history of higher education in the country as on the day, FAO signed its first-ever letter of intent with a public sector university of Pakistan.

He thanked the FAO team to providing UoS with an opportunity to become partner of a global institution. He briefed the FAO team about research potential and capacity of UoS which is the only public sector university of the Sargodha division.

Dr Ishtiaq informed the ceremony that UoS striving to promote the utilisation of research and technology in the agriculture sector to enhance productivity.

"We, with the cooperation of our global partners like China, are focusing on the research into potential agricultural products of the region like citrus and sugarcane," he added.

Minà Dowlatchahi said that she felt immense pleasure by signing the first-ever letter of intent between FAO and any public sector university of Pakistan. Through the initiative, FAO wishes to support small scale farmers of Pakistan, create income opportunities for women, provide dieting guidelines and soil profiling in Punjab, she added.

The benefits of the agriculture research, conducted during the last decade, failed to reach the farmers of the country, FAO representative said adding that in that connection, it came under the responsibility of FAO and UoS to bridge the gap between the farmers and the researchers.

She said, "The biggest challenge we face today is that 19.9% population of Pakistan is facing food insecurity while 45% children in the country are suffering from malnutrition."

"We look forward to cooperate with UoS to strengthen modern technologies in the field of agriculture and food like irrigation to water management and kitchen gardening. Our together vision is to build rural-urban linkages for sustainable development", she concluded.

According to the letter of intent signed by the two for cooperation, the FAO and UOS will initiate certain capacity development activities including training programmes for small-to-medium scale farmers, agribusiness and entrepreneurs and development of a technology delivery mechanism and standard operating procedure between UOS and the private sector.

Additionally, the FAO will support UOS in identifying and selecting short-to-medium term consultants to assist UOS in contextualizing research findings to benefit small scale farmers as well as Small and Medium Enterprises.

The Food and Agriculture Organization, besides facilitating the development of a technology delivery mechanism and standard operating procedure between UOS and the private sector, will also facilitate the UOS faculty to pilot new technologies and practices by sharing knowledge and giving access to its global success stories.

Moreover, the FAO e-learning courses, such as pre-breeding for effective use of plant genetic resources, would be freely integrated into UoS graduate-level curricula whereas the FAO-Pakistan Office will facilitate UoS in applying online to the FAO HQ Internships Programme with a view to potential placement of selected students at relevant project locations.

The collaboration between the UN-Food and Agriculture Organisation and the University of Sargodha aims to ensure supply of quality seed to the farmers in line with the Amended (2015) Seed Act 1976 and the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, 2016.

The collaboration will strengthen the UoS Faculty of Agriculture Out-reach Extension Educational Programme to build the capacities of the maximum number of stakeholders.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation is one of the United Nations institutions and its mandate is to eradicate hunger, improve nutrition, improve agriculture productivity, raise the standards of living of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy, while striving for gender equality and women's empowerment.