ISLAMABAD - Application of biotechnology in agriculture has great potential for promoting the efficiency of crop improvement, food production and food security for poverty reduction. Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) has taken initiatives to facilitate private sector to conduct bio-safety trials for corn at its National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC).

PARC also extend all possible cooperation to other private companies in the country. A national common manual must be designed by Pakistan Biotechnology Information Centre (PABIC) for understanding of bio-safety rules and guidelines especially for initiatives who are new player in this field of biotechnology.

Chairman PARC Dr Iftikhar Ahmad, while addressing as chief guest at concluding session of a two-day workshop on “National Dialogue on Agri Biotechnology Applications in Pakistan and Capacity Building for Institutional Bio-Safety Committees and Media Personnel”, highlighted the importance of said workshop and biotechnology.

He appreciated Prof Dr Kausar Abdullah Malik, a prominent national scientist, contribution in the field of biotechnology and bio-safety in the country. He said there is need to highlight the benefits of biotechnology and develop understanding among farmers about biotech crops.

The event was jointly organized by Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Pakistan Biotechnology Information Centre (PABIC), Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS), Forman Christian College (A Chartered University) Lahore, Crop Life Pakistan, United Sates Departments of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Services US Embassy, Islamabad and other national and international partners.

The participants of the workshop including leading national and international biotech scientists from local public and private research institutes, biotech regulators, students, farmers, food and agricultural researchers and journalists.

Participants highlighted that food is the basic need of common man and as such food security is vital for the health of a nation. Pakistan is considered a low income developing country. Agriculture is its most important sector due to its primary commitment of providing healthy food to the fast growing population. With the current rate of population growth, the population is expected to get doubled by 2050-making Pakistan 4th largest nation by 2050 from current status of 6th most populous state of the world.

It was observed that production of quality food was not growing enough to meet the population growth rate thus increasing the gap of food availability. A participant, on the occasion, said that around 60% of Pakistan’s total population was facing food insecurity as per Pakistan’s National Nutrition Survey (NNS) 2011.

Achieving sustainability in food grain production and food security in its totality continue to be a challenge in the developing world including Pakistan. Tremendous efforts are needed to narrow the gap between population growth and domestic food production.

After two days’ deliberations, the recommendations suggested that for the prompt application of agriculture biotechnology in the country, it is imperative that biotech regulatory system at national level functions smoothly and science based and time bound evaluation is adopted by the government, wherein, leading biotech scientists are made part of the regulatory structure.

Biotech regulatory structure has been shut down for over 8 months now and over 100 cases including commercialization of public and private sectors research institutes and companies are pending for approval.

In order to overcome these administrative anomalies, we are told that Ministry of Climate Change has drafted a Biosafety Act which has still to be approved. Relevant authorities are requested to promulgate the new regulatory structure at the earliest to complement the biotech research and production activities in Pakistan to meet the food and feed challenges of the future, they said.

It was demanded that National Biosafety Centre, which was a biotech regulating function, was presently working as a project and that should be made regular and independent functioning agency to effectively regulate and monitor biotech activities in the country.