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Prof Irshad Hussain Shah

The writer is former Deputy Director of WAPDA and visting Assistant Professor at Hazara University. E-mail: [email protected]

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Hilal English

Securing Tomorrow’s Food: Sustainable Agriculture and Aquaculture in Pakistan

March 2024

Pakistan confronts agricultural challenges driven by climate change and population growth. While the aquaculture sector presently contributes one percent to the GDP, there's acknowledgment of untapped potential. The imperative lies in leveraging all available resources to ensure sustainable yields in both agriculture and aquaculture to address future food shortages and associated challenges.



Pakistan is naturally endowed with significant natural resources, including arable land and water. Approximately 47 percent of the national land is agricultural, offering substantial potential for sustainable food production such as wheat, rice, maize, sugarcane, and cotton. Cotton, a major crop in Pakistan, contributes to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2022, the agricultural sector contributed 22.35 percent to the GDP. However, challenges like population growth, high fuel and electricity costs, and heavy reliance on land for food production are depleting inland food resources, not only in Pakistan but also globally.
The Green Revolution aimed to eliminate hunger, famine, and malnutrition globally, starting in Mexico in 1940. In that year, agronomist Norman Borlaug and other scientists developed disease-resistant, high-yield wheat, which grew rapidly, requiring less land but producing more grains. These science-based advancements revolutionized global crop production.
By 1960, Pakistan and India faced severe food shortages, causing hunger, famine, and undernourishment. Both nations adopted the Mexico wheat program, effectively increasing wheat yield. The Green Revolution addressed the critical Asian food crisis in 1960. Maxi-Pak wheat, approved in 1965, was Pakistan's first high-yielding wheat variety, revolutionizing wheat production in the country.
To enhance crop yields, mitigate food insecurity, and foster progress in developing nations, organizations such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Bank (WB), and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are actively providing assistance to Pakistan and other countries, aiming for self-sufficiency in food and related areas.


Strengthening the aquaculture subsector in Pakistan through proper facilitation and support can leverage our expansive water resources for sustainable yields of fish, shrimps, prawns, mollusks, and seaweeds. Currently contributing one percent to the GDP, the aquaculture sector in Pakistan holds substantial potential for growth.


Rice serves as the staple food for approximately half of the world's population (FAO 2004), with 90 percent of global rice production occurring in Asia and primarily consumed within the region. Pakistan ranks as the world's tenth largest rice producer. Notably, advancements in plant breeding, improved agronomy, and the judicious use of fertilizers and pesticides have significantly increased wheat yields in Pakistan, rising from 0.20 tons per hectare (ha) to 7 tons ha during the 20th century, spanning about 1000 years. Two bio-fortified wheat varieties, Tarnab Rahbar and Tarnab Gandum I, along with the Mexico-Pakistan seed, have demonstrated promising results in the country.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), situated in Los Baños, the Philippines, was established in 1960 through collaboration between the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, with support from the Republic of the Philippines government. During my higher education in the Philippines, Dr. B. K. Singh, the Director of IRRI, provided detailed insights into IRRI's diverse activities, emphasizing agronomy-related information. IRRI's contributions include the development of advanced rice varieties that exhibit increased grain yield, disease resistance, and resilience to climate change. Notably, over half of Asia's rice cultivation, including Pakistan, involves the planting of rice varieties bred by IRRI or their descendants. The scientific research conducted at IRRI has played a pivotal role in significantly enhancing the yield of various rice varieties.
In Thailand, a notable agricultural practice involves the simultaneous cultivation of rice and fish in the same fields or paddies, resulting in increased yields for both crops with minimal inputs.
The Rice Research Institute in Kala Shah Kaku, Pakistan, has successfully developed 31 rice varieties. As per the Ayub Agriculture Research Institute in Faisalabad, Pakistan's contribution to the global rice trade stands at 9.1 percent. The renowned Himalayan Chief Basmati, produced in Pakistan, is distinguished for its top-quality characteristics, including extra-long grains, delicate texture, and a distinctive rice aroma.
The Ayub Khan era is recognized as the golden period of the agriculture sector, marked by a revolution with multi-dimensional and multifarious inputs and facilitation. Notably, large dams like Tarbela and Mangla were constructed, along with the implementation of smaller dams. The irrigation system witnessed upgrades, incentives were extended to farmers, and Land Reforms Regulations were introduced in 1959. Under Ayub Khan's leadership, Pakistan achieved its highest-ever growth rate, earning the era the designation of an agricultural revolution. Key initiatives included the construction of multipurpose small dams, the establishment of the Agriculture Development Corporation (ADC), and the adoption of modern agricultural technologies.
To streamline and effectively harness the outputs of various subsectors within the agriculture sector, the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) was established in 1981, and currently, it delivers scientific solutions to Pakistan's agriculture sector. In 1984, the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) was established to promote high-quality agricultural research, crucial for shaping national agriculture policies, and to offer research and consultancy services.
Our country possesses significant natural resources, including freshwater, marine, and brackish water. The inland water areas, comprising rivers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, tributaries, irrigation canals, ditches, and waterlogged areas, cover approximately 79,200 km², complemented by a coastal belt of about 1,120 km and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending 350 nautical miles as per FAO statistics. Despite their vastness, these waters are primarily exploited for capturing fisheries, resulting in suboptimal yields. However, with minimal inputs, these water resources can be effectively utilized for aquaculture, a successful socioeconomic scientific venture demonstrated on the international stage. In 2021, China led global aquaculture production with an output of 54 million metric tons (Google Scholar Article). Similarly, Japan achieved an estimated total aquaculture production of 1,103,235 tons valued at USD 4,376 million in 2015 as per FAO.
Exotic and indigenous fish abound in Pakistan's cities and towns, a result of thriving aquaculture activities. The Punjab province, in particular, hosts numerous fish hatcheries and farms. To further boost fish production, the construction of additional hatcheries and farms, coupled with the adoption of cutting-edge aquaculture technologies related to fish nutrition, health sanitation, and post-harvest processes, presents a promising avenue. Cultivating freshwater shrimps, with their lower operational costs, is also viable. Strengthening the aquaculture subsector in Pakistan through proper facilitation and support can leverage our expansive water resources for sustainable yields of fish, shrimps, prawns, mollusks, and seaweeds. Currently contributing one percent to the GDP, the aquaculture sector in Pakistan holds substantial potential for growth.
As the global population continues to surge, particularly in Asia, with an estimated 35 percent increase by 2025 (United Nations 1999), the demand for food is expected to rise significantly. To address this impending food shortage and associated challenges, it is imperative to harness all available resources for a sustainable yield in agriculture and aquaculture food commodities.
Undoubtedly, between 1967 and 1992, the production of grains experienced a threefold increase, attributed to various positive inputs. However, over the last two to three decades, Pakistan's agriculture sector has faced significant challenges, including climate change, population explosions, financial constraints, and elevated costs of fuel, seeds, and fertilizers. Additionally, the purchase of agricultural commodities by middlemen at nominal prices has contributed to food insecurity in the country.
Millions of acres of our land remain barren and unused. The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) is a government initiative in Pakistan designed to harness civilian and military expertise, fostering collaboration to unlock the country's financial potential by attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). SIFC’s approach involves implementing a scientific strategy for sustainable intensive and corporate farming.
The SIFC aims to leverage Pakistan's untapped potential in defense production, agriculture, mining, IT, and energy through local and foreign investments. The Land Information Management System (LIMS) focuses on applying agriculture-oriented technology to transform about 3.1 million acres of untapped land into green areas. With the support of thousands of foreign-qualified and experienced scientists in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, and livestock, Pakistan can achieve national goals by enhancing efforts for the sustainable yield of agriculture and aquaculture food commodities, particularly in collaboration with the Pakistan Army.


The writer is former Deputy Director of WAPDA and visting Assistant Professor at Hazara University.
E-mail: [email protected] 

 

Prof Irshad Hussain Shah

The writer is former Deputy Director of WAPDA and visting Assistant Professor at Hazara University. E-mail: [email protected]

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