Soybean production's regaining attention from Pakistan visionary
By Wang Xiaotong | China Economic Net Nov 7, 2021
by Wang Xiaotong
Lately, a Chinese agricultural technology called 'maize-soybean strip intercropping' got funds from Pakistani research boards and institutions for its future large-scale promotion in Pakistan, exhibiting the country's determination and vision to revitalize soybean production and to safeguard food security in a practical way.
Pakistani farmers learn how to cultivate soybean and maize together in the demonstration plots of maize-soybean strip intercropping technology in Bahawalpur. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ali Raza]
Soybean, a profitable crop that seems to have been forgotten in Pakistan for years, via China-Pakistan agricultural cooperation, is now getting the opportunity to glitter in the country again.
Pakistan major importer of soybean nearly without self-production
Soybean, known as ‘meat that grows on plant’, contains 40-42% good quality protein and 18-22% oil. Today, most of the world’s soybeans are crushed or processed into soybean meal and oil.
About 70% of the soybean’s value comes from the meal. Soybean meal is the premier protein choice for livestock, poultry and aquaculture production globally, and soybean oil is one of the most widely consumed cooking oil and the second most consumed vegetable oil worldwide.
Generally assumed originating from China, soybean now is cultivated well and widely across the globe. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in MY 2019/20, world soybean production reached 337.30 MMT. Brazil is the largest soybean-producing country at 126.00 MMT, followed by 96.68 MMT and 49.70 MMT respectively from the U.S. and Argentina.
Though world soybean production keeps ascending, local soybean production in Pakistan is still negligible, which is at a risk of food insecurity. The USDA data shows that in MY 2019/20 Pakistan’s soybean production is only about 2000 metric tons (MT).
With the development and modernization of poultry and dairy sectors in Pakistan, the country’s demand for soybeans has seen strong growth. However, due to lack of the capacity for self-production, Pakistan overwhelmingly relies on imports to meet the increasing demand. The USDA data shows that between MY 2015/16 and MY 2020/21, Pakistan's soybean imports have grown by 118.18% in the five years from 1.1 million metric tons (MMT) to about 2.4 million metric tons (MMT).
The USDA trade sources indicate that Pakistan’s oilseed imports during 2019/20 were 3.1 MMT, among them 2.3 MMT of soybeans, accounting for about 74% of the total oilseed imports. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) data exhibits that in FY 2020, the amount of Pakistan’s imports of soya beans, whether or not broken, reached $762,180,000, and the amount of the imports of soybean oilcake and other solid residues, and soybean oil and its fractions, respectively touched $20,499,000 and $57,732,000.
Obstacles faced by Pakistan to producing soybeans
Soybean crops were introduced to Pakistan in the 1960s and the commercial cultivation began in 1970-71. Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) and Provincial Research Institutes in 1977-78 carried out research and eight soybean varieties were developed. During the 1990s, the area under soybean cultivation once touched the highest point at 6,613 hectares, then declined sharply to few hectares without any increase in the following years till today.
Based on various research studies, soybean production and commercialization in Pakistan is hindered by the unavailability of high-yielding, climate-ready and pest-resistant varieties, absence of latest production technologies, skills and knowledge, lack of machinery and insufficiency of marketing of produce and its by-products.
Seize opportunity to lift local soybean production
Despite challenges, there is huge potential to tap the local soybean production in Pakistan. Soybean crops can be incorporated in existing spring as well as summer pattern. There are various crop rotation combination and intercropping systems. Especially under intercropping technology, farmers can grow soybeans without curbing the cultivation area of existing crops like maize, sugarcane, corn, etc. This technology makes better use of available space to increase the amount of crops that can be harvested on the same area of land as soybean production is like an added ‘bonus’.
As the ‘all-weather strategic partner’ to Pakistan, China is lending a hand in stimulating Pakistan’s soybean production via introducing the advanced maize-soybean intercropping technology to Pakistan from Sichuan Agricultural University. Included in China’s ‘No. 1 Central Document’ of top-priority by CPC Central Committee and the State Council of the People's Republic of China, this mature technology has been applied to 4.76 million hectares of land in 19 Chinese provinces and created new economic benefits of RMB 24.5 billion.
“Based on our research, at present, if Pakistan wants to develop soybean production, adopting maize-soybean strip intercropping technology would be the best of all viable alternatives,” maize-soybean strip intercropping study leader Professor Yang Wenyu of Sichuan Agricultural University told China Economic Net.
“Maize is already a main crop grown on an area of about 1.3 million hectares in Pakistan, and its output can basically meet the domestic demand. Therefore, developing maize-soybean strip intercropping technology to revitalize soybean production becomes ‘ready-made’ for Pakistan as farmers just need to add soybean crops in the current maize fields,” Prof. Yang further explained.
Maize-soybean strip intercropping demonstrative plots in Bahawalpur. [Photo/Muhammad Ali Raza]
With three years’ development in Pakistan, this autumn the total demonstration area of maize-soybean strip intercropping technology in Pakistan has skyrocketed to about 217 acres, reaching a 117% year-on-year increase, spreading over Punjab and Sindh in Bahawalpur, Khairpur Tamewali, Rajanpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Shiekhupura, Sargodha, Kasoor, Talagang, Khairpur Mirus, Tandojam, Hayderabad, Faisalabad and Burewala, etc.
Significantly, on Aug. 11, 2021, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the Intercropping Research Center jointly established by Sichuan Agricultural University and the Islamia University of Bahawalpur, which is the first-ever national research center dedicated to intercropping research within Pakistan. Maize-soybean strip intercropping technology itself and the close Sino-Pak agricultural cooperation were praised by PM Imran Khan at the convention. Muhammad Ali Raza, Sichuan Agricultural University post-doc, who is responsible for demonstrating the technology in Pakistan with Prof. Yang Wenyu’s support and guidance, was aawarded as ‘Young Scientist of Intercropping Technology’ by the PM.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza presents maize-soybean strip intercropping’s progress in Pakistan to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Aug. 11, 2021. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ali Raza]
“Pakistan is blessed with a large amount of sunlight and other natural resources. With the expertise and advanced research from China, we believe we can learn from our Chinese counterparts and then apply and modify the same techniques according to the needs and the local environment of our country,” said Prof. Athar Mahboob, Vice Chancellor of the Islamia University of Bahawalpur.
The latest development of Maize-soybean strip intercropping technology in Pakistan is presented to Ghufran Memon, Secretary, Ministry of National Food Security & Research, and Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Food Security in September, 2021. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ali Raza]
“I just presented our technology’s data to Ghufran Memon, Secretary, Ministry of National Food Security & Research, and Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Food Security. They praised the efforts made by our team, Professor Yang Wenyu and Prof. Athar Mahboob. More funds from our government is on the way to establish new demonstration sites, guarantee the supply of soybean seeds, herbicides and fertilizers, and train university students and farmers to acquire the technology, which is definitely inspiring news for us,” Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza said to CEN.
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