KARACHI: With the adoption of insect-resistant (IR) Bt cotton rising to an optimum level in Pakistan last year, stakeholders now look forward to the replication of the adoption percentage for IR biotech maize varieties by farmers for economic gains.
Pakistan stands seventh among the 26 countries growing biotech (Bt) crops in the world. The country had achieved optimal adoption of IR cotton varieties last year, with the adoption reaching 2.9m hectares, equivalent to 97 per cent of the total 3m hectares cotton crop area.
These figures are part of a report recently launched at the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) of Karachi University.
Titled Global Status of Commercialisation Biotech/GM Crops: 2016, the report prepared by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) contains latest information on the subject, global database on the adoption and distribution of biotech crops last year, country situations, trends in approval of biotech crops and future prospects of the technology.
The report says around 725,000 small-holder cotton farmers in Pakistan continued to grow IR cotton varieties in 2016, which was the seventh year of commercial planting since 2010. “The adoption of IR cotton increased from 75pc in 2010 to 97pc last year. This is indicative of farmer satisfaction with Bt technology that may be replicated with the upcoming adoption of biotech maize in the country,” the report adds.
It estimates that the economic gains from biotech crops for Pakistan for the period from 2010 to 2015 was $4.3bn, while it was $398m for 2015 alone.
Identifying factors hampering Bt cotton growth, the report says that supply of substandard and spurious IR cotton varieties and the continued reliance on old IR cotton technology held back desirable cotton output.
The threat of bollworms, especially pink bollworms, the report says, was growing due to farmer’s reluctance for timely insecticide applications. The cotton gains remained low due to repeated infestation of sap-sucking pests such as white fly and leaf hoppers spreading the cotton leaf curl virus in the absence of control measures.
“Despite these, IR cotton has proliferated in cotton growing provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and occupied almost the entire cotton crop hectarage in Pakistan,” the report says.
The National Biosafety Committee of the Federal Ministry of Climate Change had last year approved 32 single biotech cotton varieties out of 119 pending applications.
For the first time, the report says, the committee officially approved the commercial cultivation of single and stacked insect resistant and herbicide tolerant maize varieties developed by Monsanto Pakistan, subject to varietal registration by the Federal Seed Certification and Registration Committee.
“Pakistan planted over 1.2m hectares of maize, roughly producing around 5m tonnes of maize. Adoption of hybrid maize reached 90pc and 10-15pc of total maize area in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, respectively,” the report says.
According to the report, the year 2016 was significant as Nobel laureates released a statement for the first time in support of biotechnology and condemning critics for their critical stance against the technology and Golden Rice, a GM crop that had attracted major controversy in the past.