Pakistan’s Food Security Challenge Needs a Systematic Approach, Experts Urge

The International Symposium on “Climate Smart Sustainable Rice and Wheat Production System” was held at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of the Punjab in cooperation with COMSTECH, UPSIGN, SAWIE, SACAN & Dawood Agro.

Pakistan’s Food Security Challenge Needs a Systematic Approach, Experts Urge

Pakistan’s Food Security Challenge Needs a Systematic Approach, Experts Urge, The keynote talks of eminent scientists emphasized design policies, indigenous farming solutions, and better management of the most important resources of soil and water to address the climate change crisis. Chairman PHEC, Prof Shahid Munir inaugurated the symposium saying that food security is strategically important for Pakistan to feed its growing population, and the research and industry linkages could play a vital role in developing new technologies and promoting farmers to enhance their yield under the changing climatic conditions. Prof. Munir said that the per capita annual water availability in Pakistan has dropped to 1,017 cubic meters from 5300 in 1947 and may lead to absolute water scarcity by 2025. He said this will result in severe water shortages for the next generation of farmers. Future water requirements and challenges impose a serious threat to Pakistan due to its agrarian economy where wheat and rice are primary food crops, he informed. There is an urgent need to develop innovative solutions for efficient and sustainable use of water, improving nutrient use efficiency, reducing the crop losses from pests & diseases both pre & post harvesting, and thus requires utmost priority in our national planning, he suggested. We have seen unprecedented weather events happening this year, post-Covid -19, the extreme heat early in March, and the early monsoon affected our food production, he noted. Prof. Munir mentioned that Pakistan will be importing 4 million tons of wheat this year to meet its food demand, which is quite an alarming situation for our nation.

Program Manager COMSTECH, Ms. Khazima gave an overview of COMSTECH’s support for promoting science and innovation in the Muslim world to tackle the food security challenge. Dean Faculty of Agriculture Prof. Saleem Haider, welcomed the delegates who joined in-person and online audiences from Canada, the UK, the USA, India, Pakistan, and other countries. Co-founder UPSIGN, Dr. Khalid Mahmood said that we are delighted to work with Punjab University and the industry to discuss the important subject of the Rice and Wheat system to address food security under the climate change crisis. He said we need to better build collaboration, cooperation, and communication among all the stakeholders. Dr. Mahmood Farooq from Sultan Qaboos University said that Pakistan is one of the most vulnerable countries severely affected by climate change causing unprecedented droughts, floods, the influx of pests, diseases and locust attacks in 2020, and the severe heatwave in 2022 affecting wheat crop. The heavy rains and hailstorms have adversely impacted the wheat crop with reducing yields by 25% to 30% in 2020.

CEO of SAWIE/SACAN, Eng. Mushtaq Gill (TI), said Pakistan needs to address its Rice and Wheat system on an emergency basis. Wheat prices around the world are soaring due to the Ukraine war 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 scoring 40.5% below average. Director of Rice Research Institute, Syed Sultan Ali, said our Rice production is 100% dependent on flood irrigation which consumes 35% of total water available in the country. Its future is at risk if we do not promote sustainable practices. Rice crop supports foreign exchange earnings by more than $2.5 billion. Director General Punjab Agriculture Research, Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Khan, chaired the first session and shared developments of the Punjab Agriculture Department to develop climate-smart varieties to address the water scarcity and heat challenge. He said that Rice and Wheat crop yields in Pakistan are low compared to the rest of the world due to an array of factors such as water shortage, crop pests & disease infestations, and improper use of fertilizers like nitrogen. Director of Wheat Research institute, Dr. Javed Ahmad said AARI is taking a challenge in developing new germplasm to tolerate drought and heat and also improving the nutrients uptake. Dr. Abdul Wakeel, from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad, said that the nutrient use efficiency of wheat and rice crops is the lowest in the region. We use more nitrogen fertilizer compared to other countries in the world. Only one-third of the nitrogen is available to plants and the rest all gets wasted. This is not only a loss for the farmer but causing damage to our environment due to NO2 emissions.

International speaker, Prof. Bijay Singh from Punjab Agriculture University Ludhiana said, there is a dire need for a second green revolution to enhance our grain yields based on developing strong communication links between farmers, academicians, planners, and politicians. Mr. Abdul Hanan explained the features of SAWIE App that are available for farmers for free. SAWIE outreach program is supporting more than 0.6 million farmers across Pakistan to provide the knowledge base and smart weather & crop advisory. Mr. Yayah Hameed from Bank Alfalah supported the need for investment in farm machinery to promote essential climate-smart practices at the farm level. Mr Adil Farooq, from Dawood Agro, said, through mechanical planting, we can increase the plant population of 120,000 plants per acre to achieve 40 mounds yield compared to 15 mounds. This will help to spare land to grow other crops. FAO in charge of Conservation Agriculture, Prof Kassam said that we need to educate our farmers about conserving our natural resource soil and water by promoting practices like zero tillage method, optimal agronomic practices such as balanced application of fertilizer & irrigation schedule that not only improve input use efficiency but also will make the Rice and Wheat production system more sustainable in the context of environment and economics.

Progressive farmer, Mr. Sultan Bhatti shared his experience on his farm in Sukiki. Mr Bhatti said he has not burned his Rice straw and any other farm residues for the last 10 years. He is using minimum tillage. As a result of this, his soil health has improved, the biological population has increased, and his soil structure improved resulting in better water holding capacity. He said that this simple intervention has helped to increase yield for both Rice and Wheat crops. Chairman Soil Science Department, Dr. Rashid Mahmood said that Punjab University is committed to work with the industry partners to promote knowledge and good practices for enhancing agriculture and food production through climate-smart agriculture, water conservation, and to save biodiversity and ecosystem. Dr Tahir Awan from PARB shared his experience of the Dry Seeded Rice method and the need for herbicides to address weeds. Eng. Faakhar from PCRWR said, they are providing irrigation advisory to farmers and are keen to share their knowledge of using IoT and sensors to help farmers cut down water consumption by 40%.

In concluding remarks, Dr. Abdul Majid from ICARDA said, there is an urgent need to adopt green practices in agriculture, such as conservative and regenerative agriculture along with transitioning to sustainable food production. Former Chairman of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, Dr. Muhammad Azeem Khan said that we need to bring a system thinking to address the climate change crisis, issue of crop productivity, and improving farmer’s income. Director ORIC, Virtual University, Dr. Arshad Hashmi said that VU has four TV channels and campuses across Pakistan and is keen to support the digital literacy of farmers, especially women to take advantage of smart farming solutions. Eng. Zakir Sial emphasized the need for judicious use of groundwater, utilization of renewable energy sources, building existing clean energy capacities, low-carbon mass transit systems, water conservation/preservation mechanisms, and improving irrigation water use efficiency aimed at reducing and curbing the wastage of precious water & GHG emissions. Ms. Farah Naz from GAIN said we need to promote the seed varieties and use of balanced fertilizer with trace elements of Zinc & Boron to address malnutrition in Pakistan. At the end the participants of the symposium recommended the need for developing a center of excellence in conservation agriculture and digital climate-smart farming solutions at Punjab University.