Pakistan will be food basket again with cooperation with China
Editor's Note: The author is Muhammad Mehdi, Chairman of the Institute of International Relations and Media Research (IIRMR). The article only reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily of Gwadar Pro.
The land of Pakistan and especially the Indus Valley, Punjab has a place of its own in the whole world due to its fertility. This region is also known as a food basket. But unfortunately, even here, the level of crop production is not what it should have been. The main reasons for this are farmers' lack of knowledge about modern methods of cultivation, indiscriminate use of fertilizers and lack of access to high-yielding seeds. Due to this, Pakistan is now forced to import some agricultural commodities that should have been exported on a large scale.
For example, edible oil is a very basic requirement, but Pakistan imports it on a regular basis and this import bill has become a burden on the country. In 2022, the import bill paid for edible oil was ＄3.6 billion. Pakistan meets 89% of the country's needs for edible oil by importing it. If the growing population is taken into consideration, this import bill will continue to increase with time.
Fortunately, experts have joined hands to deal with this alarming situation in Pakistan. In this regard, they are ready to benefit from China's experiences because China has not only extensive experiences in this regard, but also made great progress in terms of agriculture and agricultural seeds. High yielding and tough weather resistant seeds have been developed.
A series of field training programs have been started in the city of Gujranwala, Punjab, and in the next few weeks, 50 training sessions will be provided to 5 to 10 thousand families. These households will be informed about the cultivation of hybrid canola, the latest methods of cultivation and the use of modern seeds provided by Wuhan Qingfa Heshing Seed Company, China. The seeds supplied by this company are currently planted on 80,000 hectares of land in Punjab and Sindh and their yields are higher than those of mustard and canola seeds that are currently used. It is believed that just from this experimental farming, edible oil worth ＄80 million will be obtained locally.
After the success of this canola hybrid seed cultivation, the next step is to establish a canola industrial chain through make-to-order programs to establish a hybrid canola cultivation chain that can minimize the import bill.
Similarly, efforts are underway to take advantage of China's intercropping technology. The Chinese maize-soybean strip intercropping technology was introduced to Pakistan in 2018 by Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza, a post-doc who graduated from Sichuan Agricultural University (SAU), China and now acts as the Director of the National Research Center of Intercropping (NRCI). Currently, a program to teach corn and soybean production with this intercropping technology is being implemented. The area under cultivation of this intercropping technology is gradually increasing. It was cultivated on 400 acres of land in 2022 but this year it has been cultivated on 1100 acres of land. In Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, land is being identified for its production on a trial basis and so far 71 places have been marked where it will be cultivated on a trial basis.
The impact of intercropping technology is not limited to just a few crops. Dr. Ali and his team are also testing and researching it on more crops like wheat, gram, sugarcane, taurya and clover. The main point of his research is how it is possible to increase the production of these important cash crops under intercropping technology in Pakistan.
Also, an MoU has been signed for self-sufficiency in edible oil between Gansu Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Sindh Agricultural University. Through this MoU, it has been agreed to jointly research on new varieties of linseed which has been successfully tested in China. These new types of seeds have high productivity - 35-44% oil is obtained from them - while they also have the ability to be more resistant to diseases and pests. Currently, the production of linseed per hectare in Pakistan is 692 kg, which is low. This shortfall can be met by using new varieties of hybrid seeds and modern farming methods. That is why Sindh Agricultural University has chosen its greenhouse in Tando Jam to experiment with this new hybrid seed of linseed.
If we closely examine all the activities and initiatives that are taking place under the Pakistan-China cooperation, this fact will be clear to us that thanks to this cooperation, Pakistan will achieve self-sufficiency in edible oil and agricultural products and Pakistan will be in a position to export agricultural products and then this region will get the position of food basket again.