Biotechnology key to addressing farm sector challenges: experts
October 24, 2012: Agriculture experts have said that adoption of modern agricultural technology will help improve farm productivity in Pakistan, adding that the country urgently needs innovations such as biotechnology to address new challenges in the sector. Crop improvement through conventional farming, they added, was a rational strategy, but it was unable to meet the challenges of increasing food demand because of surging population growth.
According to them, Genetically-Modified (GM) food technology should be utilised for strengthening crop improvement system, besides ensuring food security. Biotech crops not only had higher productivity, but was also a land saving technology, viable for biodiversity, they said.
Although genetically-modified crops increase overall production of crops while reducing reliance upon pesticides and herbicides, but Pakistan was facing several challenges, particularly safety testing, regulations and GM food labelling. A representative of Monsanto, a world leader in the field of GM foods, told BR stated that GM crops generally have higher yields due to both breeding and biotechnology.
In Pakistan where outdated farming practices and water scarcity create food shortages, the biotechnology has potential to meet the challenges of increasing food demand due to ever-growing population. Presently 90 percent of cotton crop in Pakistan is Biotech. Though, Monsanto has capability to develop solution for Cotton Leaf Curl Virus (CLCV) which affects about 30-35 percent of cotton crop almost every year, yet the negotiations between the Monsanto and the government have not reached any agreement so far.
The National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), which is proactively conducting research on Biotechnology (BT) crops, believes that agricultural biotechnology has reached a stage that their use at commercial level becomes a reality.
Principle scientist at NIBGE Dr Aftab Bashir said that the NIBGE focused on five major crops including cotton wheat, rice, sugarcane and potato. However, several steps are required to take technology to end-users, including approval for laboratory and field testing of genetically-modified crops by the National Biosafety Committee (NBC).
The government has taken several initiatives for the introduction of modern Bio technologies in agriculture including the constitution of National BioSafety Centre (NBC), which serves as the secretariat of the National Biosafety Committee was the key initiative in this regard.
The National Biosafety Centre (NBC) was established to provide the requisite set up for the implementation of biosafety rules and guidelines. The Centre was previously working under the Ministry of Environment, but subsequent to its devolution under 18th Amendment, it is now working under the Ministry of Climate Change. Deputy Director National Biosafety Center (NBC) Afzal Ahmed Naseem told Business Recorder that as many as 155 of 185 Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) cases had been decided by the NBC so far. “The NBC has convened 10 meetings to review several GMOs since its inception while at least 25 GMOs crop cases, including cotton, corn and sugarcane were discussed in the last meeting of the NBC. Several applications submitted by various public and private sectors organisations seeking approval of various GMO crops are yet to be reviewed by the NBC”, the Deputy Director said.