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PAKISTAN `Biotech solution to meet
rising population needs` 29-March-2012 Dawn View
KARACHI, March 28: Pakistan
needs to cut defence spending and invest more in biotechnology
research so that its poor could get food at an affordable
price, said speakers at a press conference here on Wednesday.
The speakers highlighted the challenges Pakistan was facing
and said the situation was already critical as the number
of people living in absolute poverty in the country was
huge and it would worsen with the population increase, freshwater
shortages, desertification and a decline in fertile land.
“Right now, we have a population of over 185 million people.
Of them, more than 54 million are living below the line
of absolute poverty. Currently, the poor are spending 70
to 80 per cent of their income on food.
“The per capita income consumption of wheat has dropped
not because the people have started eating cakes, but because
they simply can`t afford it. This is an alarming situation
as the nation`s health is being compromised,” said Prof
Dr Mohammad Iqbal Choudhary, director of the International
Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, KU, and the
Biotechnology Information Centre.
The country, he said, faced an absolute food security crisis
which to a great extent could be dealt with the help of
biotechnology with improved agricultural and irrigation
“With a lesser use of water and pesticides, you can not
only grow better quality of crops, but also improve per
hectare yield with the help of biotechnology,” he said.
The expert added that Pakistan, Egypt and Burkina Faso
were the only Muslim countries where genetically modified
crops were being commercially grown.
Agriculture and livestock, he said, were the country`s
backbone and it must harness its potential to the fullest.
Pakistan had the distinction of being among the largest
producers of dates, mangoes, oranges (kinos), cotton and
Regarding Pakistan`s progress in biotech crops, he said
its use was currently restricted to only cotton crop and
it was being grown on over 2.5 million hectares.
Speaking to the audience, Dr Yousuf Zafar, director-general
of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, said though genetically
modified cotton was being illegally grown in the country
since 2005, its cultivation was officially allowed in 2010.
“The use of biotechnology has officially been accepted
as a tool for growth and it is now a part of the country`s
policy documents. Currently, 32 centres are involved in
biotechnology related work,” he said, adding that about
92 per cent of the agricultural area in the country was
under Bt cotton.
Despite floods, the country had a record-breaking production
of cotton this year with a lesser input of pesticides and
this could be achieved because a legal cover was provided
to growing well-researched indigenous seeds. The country,
he said, was in a position to achieve `cotton vision 2015`.
“The focus has been on cotton because it`s a vital component
of our economy. But work is in progress to produce other
genetically modified crops, too. About 155 cases are pending
with the government for approval of different GM crops,”
Answering a question about factors hampering growth of
biotechnology, he said the country needed to support the
institutions involved in research and sustain the progress
being made in the field.
On biotech solutions to the energy crisis, he said Pakistan
was the number one exporter of molasses and there was a
dire need that investment was made to produce ethanol from
the sugarcane waste.
According to the report prepared by the International Service
for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA),
biotech crops are the fastest adopted crop technology in
the world. The year 2011 was the 16th year of commercialisation
of biotech crops, 1996 to 2011, when growth continued after
remarkable 15 consecutive years of increases; a double-digit
increase of 12 million hectares at a growth rate of eight
per cent, reaching a record of 160 million hectares.
Of the 29 countries planting biotech crops in 2011, 19
were developing and 10 were industrial countries, it says.
Pakistan, according to the report, stood at number eight
among the biotech growing countries. The United States was
on top followed by Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China
Genetically modified crops have been introduced in the
world include cotton, maize, soyabean, canola, sugar beet,
alfalfa, papaya, poplar, tomato and sweet pepper.
“To date biotech cotton in developing countries such as
China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bolivia, Burkina Faso and
South Africa have already made a significant contribution
to the income of 15 million small resource-poor farmers
in 2011; this can be enhanced significantly in the remaining
four years of the second decade of commercialisation, 2012
to 2015, principally with biotech cotton, maize and rice,”
It mentions progress of Bt cotton in India prominently
and states that it has transformed the country by increasing
yield substantially, decreasing insecticide applications
by 50pc and through welfare benefits, contributed to the
alleviation of poverty of seven million small resource-poor
farmers and their families in 2011.
SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center UPLB Campus 4031, Los Baños, Laguna, PHILIPPINES
Telephone +6349 536 2290 ext. 406 / 169 / 135
Fax +6349 536 4105
SEARCA BIC is one of the biotechnology information nodes of the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Global Knowledge
Center (ISAAA KC) and hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center
for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA). It was officially
established in 2000 to address the needs of the region for a highly
credible, sound and factual biotechnology information center in the
Southeast Asian region accessible to various stakeholders.