Lahore - Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Bosan has said that the government will never allow import of any vegetables, including tomato and onion, from India despite record high prices of these kitchen items in local markets due to limited local supply.

He said that this step has been taken to encourage the local farmers to grow more besides saving huge foreign exchange. He said onion and tomatoes’ new crops are almost ready in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and supply from this area will lower prices of these items within few days. He stated this while talking to journalists after attending a workshop on ‘advances in agricultural biotechnology and regulatory affairs’ held at Forman Christian College University, Lahore.

The workshop was also addressed by FC College University Rector Dr James Tebbe, FCCU Post Graduate Studies Dean Dr Kauser Abdullah Malik, Food and Agriculture Organisation Representative Mina Dowlatchahi, National Food Security and Research Ministry Senior Advisor Malik Zahoor and Punjab Agriculture Secretary Muhammad Mahmood.

While addressing the workshop, the minister said that the government has been liberally funding R&D activities related to biotechnology in the country. The minister said that food security is as important as national security. “It is most unfortunate that in guise of 18th amendment the regulatory framework had become dysfunctional for previous few years. I have been personally involved in streamlining the regulatory affairs, absence of which was greatly obstructing the utilisation and commercialisation of this important technology. I am pleased to inform you that the National Bio-safety Committee under the Ministry of Climate Change has started functioning and has allowed several transgenic events to be tested in the field and commercialised,” he said.

He said, “Holding of such a workshop is an important step, which will also give us an opportunity to review the global development of agricultural biotechnology and how it is impacting the economic growth of various countries.” He said that the prime minister has approved the establishment of Federal Food Safety Authority and this will further facilitate development of all technologies related to food security. The minister said that food security cannot be achieved by only increasing agricultural productivity but it is affordability and accessibility that has to be ensured. “I am pleased to know that FCC scientists have developed transgenic wheat with increased bioavailability of iron and zinc which are deficient in our diet,” he said.

He said that the manifesto of PML-N government promises to “turn agriculture into a fully viable economic industry by changing the policy framework and terms of trade”. The Zero Hunger programme and other projects such as Kissan Package are efforts to ensure availability of farm inputs at affordable prices to uplift the plight of small farmers and to ensure that their nutrition and educational requirements are met. “Revamping the role of private sector through incentives and the creation of enabling environment is one of the major benchmarks of our government,” he added. “We are also working out a regulatory reform process which pronounces government’s role as a facilitator rather than following archaic tradition of creating roadblocks,” he added.

He said that biotechnology can play crucial role in this area, hoping scientists and research scholars are prepared to face these challenges. He further highlighted that the prime minister has approved the establishment of Federal Food Safety Authority called NAPHIS and added that this will further facilitate the development of all technologies related to food security. It will be brought up to the National Assembly for enactment very soon.

While presenting workshop theme, Dr Kauser observed that FC College has made several achievements in research in biotechnology. “We have been focussing on wheat which is our main pillar of food security. Our flagship project funded by PARB for developing transgenic wheat with increased bioavailability of Iron and Zinc has been accomplished and approved by Bio-safety Committee for conducting field trials.” Dr Kauser said that another project funded by PSF to develop transgenic wheat with increased phosphorus use efficiency has also been issued license by the National Bio-safety Committee for field trials. Another project funded by ALP/PARC is related to increasing Fertiliser Use Efficiency in wheat, using various transcription factors, is at an advanced stage, he added. He said that developing salt and drought tolerance in wheat is also being studied in collaboration with UC Davis under UAF/CAS project.

Dr Kauser said that scientists at FC College are also working on maize for poultry feed industry to increase phosphorus availability in the feed. This will eliminate the endogenous application of phytase enzymes, he added. “We are also traditionally known for our work in Biofertilisers and rhizosphere microbiology. We have large number of rhizobacteria which can be used for formulation of different biofertilisers,” he said. He said, “We have studied metagenomic based microbial diversity of Khewra Salt mines with the objective of identifying some genes which may be used for imparting salt tolerance in crops.”