Pakistan’s food security challenge requires a systematic approach: experts

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Speakers at an international symposium on “Sustainable Climate-Smart Rice and Wheat Production System” held on Monday stressed the need for a systematic approach to tackling the challenge of food security in the country.

The symposium was held at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Punjab in cooperation with COMSTECH, UPSIGN, SAWIE, SACAN and Dawood Agro.

The eminent scientists focused on design policies, indigenous agricultural solutions and better management of the most important resources of soil and water to address the climate change crisis.

The Chairman of the Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC), Prof. Shahid Munir opened the symposium by saying that food security is strategically important for Pakistan to feed its growing population, and that the links between research and industry could play a vital role in developing new technologies and promoting farmers to improve their performance under changing climatic conditions.

Professor Munir said the annual per capita water availability in Pakistan has fallen to 1,017 cubic meters from 5,300 in 1947 and could lead to absolute water scarcity by 2025.
He said this will lead to severe water shortages for the next generation of farmers. Future water needs and challenges pose a serious threat to Pakistan due to its agrarian economy where wheat and rice are the main food crops, he informed.

There is an urgent need to develop innovative solutions for efficient and sustainable water use, improve nutrient use efficiency, reduce crop losses due to pests and diseases before and after harvest, and therefore requires the highest priority in our national planning, he suggested.

Professor Munir mentioned that Pakistan will import four million tons of wheat this year to meet its food demand, which is quite an alarming situation for our country.
COMSTECH Program Manager, Ms. Khazima, gave an overview of COMSTECH’s support in promoting science and innovation in the Muslim world to address the challenge of food security.

The co-founder of UPSIGN, Dr. Khalid Mahmood, stressed the need to better strengthen collaboration, cooperation and communication among all stakeholders.

Dr Mahmood Farooq of Sultan Qaboos University said Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries severely affected by climate change, causing unprecedented droughts, floods, influx of pests, diseases and diseases. locust attacks in 2020, and the severe heat wave of 2022 affecting wheat. crop.

Heavy rains and hailstorms have negatively impacted the wheat harvest with yields reduced by 25% to 30% in 2020.

CEO of SAWIE/SACAN, P.Eng. Mushtaq Gill (TI), said Pakistan needs to tackle its rice and wheat production system urgently. World wheat prices are skyrocketing due to the war in Ukraine and the climate change crisis. Pakistan is ranked 77/113 in the Global Food Security Index, 71/113 for food affordability and 74/113 for food quality and safety, having few food safety net programs and getting a score of 40.5% below the average.

The director of the Rice Research Institute, Syed Sultan Ali, said that our rice production depends 100% on flood irrigation which consumes 35% of the total water available in the country. Its future is in danger if we do not promote sustainable practices. The rice harvest supports foreign exchange earnings of over $2.5 billion.

Director General of Agricultural Research of Punjab, Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Khan, chaired the first session and shared the developments of the Punjab Department of Agriculture to develop climate-smart varieties to meet the challenge of water scarcity. water and heat.

He said rice and wheat crop yields in Pakistan are low compared to the rest of the world due to a range of factors such as lack of water, crop pests and disease infestations, and improper use of fertilizers such as nitrogen.

Director of the Wheat Research Institute, Dr. Javed Ahmad, said AARI is taking on the challenge of developing new germplasm to tolerate drought and heat and also improve nutrient uptake.

Dr Abdul Wakeel from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, said the nutrient use efficiency of wheat and rice crops is the lowest in the region. We use more nitrogen fertilizer than in other countries in the world. Only a third of the nitrogen is available to plants and the rest is wasted. This is not only a loss for the farmer, but it causes damage to our environment due to NO2 emissions.

International lecturer, Professor Bijay Singh from Punjab Ludhiana University of Agriculture, said there is an urgent need for a second green revolution to improve our grain yields by developing strong communication links between farmers. , academics, planners and politicians.

Abdul Hanan explained the features of the SAWIE app which are freely available to farmers. The SAWIE outreach program helps over 0.6 million farmers across Pakistan to provide the knowledge base and smart advice on weather and crops.

Adil Farooq of Dawood Agro said that through mechanical planting we can increase the plant population by 120,000 plants per acre to achieve a yield of 40 mounds versus 15 mounds. This will help save land for growing other crops.

The FAO in charge of Conservation Agriculture, Professor Kassam, said that we need to educate our farmers about conserving our natural soil and water resources by promoting practices such as the zero tillage method, optimal agronomic practices such as as balanced fertilizer application and an irrigation schedule that not only improves inputs. using efficiency, but also making the rice and wheat production system more sustainable in the context of environment and economy.

Eng. PCRWR’s Faakhar said they provide irrigation advice to farmers and want to share their knowledge on using IoT and sensors to help farmers reduce their water consumption by 40%.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Abdul Majid of ICARDA said there is an urgent need to adopt green practices in agriculture, such as conservative and regenerative agriculture, as well as the transition to sustainable food production.

Director of ORIC, Virtual University, Dr Arshad Hashmi said that VU has four TV stations and campuses across Pakistan and wants to support the digital literacy of farmers, especially women, to take advantage of the smart farming solutions.

Eng. Zakir Sial highlighted the need for wise use of groundwater, use of renewable energy sources, building on existing clean energy capacities, low-carbon mass transit systems, water conservation/conservation mechanisms and improved irrigation water use efficiency aimed at reducing and limiting the waste of precious water and GHG emissions.

Farah Naz from GAIN said that we need to promote seed varieties and the use of balanced fertilizers with trace elements of zinc and boron to fight malnutrition in Pakistan.

Symposium participants recommended the need to develop a center of excellence in conservation agriculture and digital climate-smart agriculture solutions at the University of Punjab.

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