WHEAT growers in Pakistan will soon find an opportunity to introduce a new kind of wheat known as durum, which is suitable for making pasta products including noodles, spaghetti and macaroni besides vermicelli.
Durum wheat is marginally known in Pakistan. However, research is under way to introduce this variety during the next Rabi season in the country.
Fifty varieties of durum wheat have been brought to Pakistan from Mexico by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). These seeds are currently being evaluated and tested at Ayub Agricultural Research Institute, Wheat Research Institute and the Cereal Crops Research Institute.
Vermicelli, macaroni, noodles and spaghetti are some of the most frequently cooked items in Pakistan, but three-fourths of the consumers are unaware of the variety, according to a study
As a result, 10 best varieties have emerged suitable to climatic conditions of Pakistan, and were being evaluated in the national durum wheat yield trial across nine locations in the country, and CIMMYT says it would continue supporting durum wheat initiatives in Pakistan after seeing results.
Currently, durum wheat flour is imported by value-chain actors to market pasta products. According to CIMMYT, food preferences in Pakistan are changing quickly, with evidence of demand for durum wheat products like pastas.
Yet farmers are not growing durum wheat due to lack of a clear price advantages or assured markets and value chains. On the other hand, the business community is unwilling to invest in new milling facilities of developing markets without the guarantee of substantial durum wheat production by farmers.
In 1975, durum wheat breeding and evaluation in Pakistan has resulted in the release of only two varieties almost three decades ago, known as ‘Rustum special’.
CIMMYT believes that promoting durum wheat in Pakistan needs policy support by the government and concerted efforts among value-chain actors. Wheat is a political crop in Pakistan and highly protected by the state, according to the international centre.
Durum varieties grown in Quetta and Nowshera showed good promise for yellow pigmentation as well, but Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be challenging environments for durum wheat given the small landholdings and a predominance of rain-fed agriculture.
The grain yield of varieties that has been tested ranged from 0.7 to 6.3 tonnes per hectare and the yield difference was statistically highly significant. More than 80 per cent of the durum wheat seeds had yields of five to six tonnes per hectare.
The overall average yield of durum wheat varieties for the last three years is 3.3 tonnes per hectare, marginally above the national average wheat yield and about half the yield of the best bread wheat check variety in the trial area. Nevertheless, at least eight varieties produced grain yields of five to six tonnes per hectare.
A majority of the seed dealers have pointed out that high-yield potential, competitive to existing wheat varieties, would only enable the new variety to become popular among the farming community. In selling durum wheat seed, dealers were confident that they would easily convince the farmers in purchasing the new variety.
Surveys have proved milling to be the most important and challenging component in durum wheat value-chain development. Wheat millers suggested that a balanced approach should be adopted in introducing durum wheat in Pakistan. Since it will replace bread wheat, reduction in bread wheat supply will resultantly raise prices of staple food that will create problem for government to deal with the situation.
Dr Muhammad Imtiaz, CIMMYT Country Representative for Pakistan, said that the introduction of soft durum technology is extremely important for future investment as milling of durum wheat in normal flour mills will be possible using this technology. About the availability of durum wheat seed to farmers, he said the provincial agricultural departments have to play an important role.
A study carried out by CIMMYT on durum wheat value chain in Pakistan suggests development of a comprehensive durum wheat awareness programme containing complete production technology package, nutritional composition, prospective markets and expected price of durum wheat.
The study seeks to map wheat value chain, gauge existing awareness of durum wheat, assess willingness of chief wheat value-chain actors and identify effective programme interventions for successful and sustainable durum wheat value chain development in Pakistan.
Among the government measures to promote durum wheat, the CIMMYT study suggests focus on guaranteed sale of durum grains through developing strong linkages among value-chain actors instead of input subsidy. Food processing industry should use these means to widespread their innovative products. Export possibility of durum pasta will significantly generate foreign exchange and employment that will spur economic growth of the country.
According to Dr Akhtar Ali, who heads the socio-economic programme at CIMMYT in Islamabad, observed that the introduction of durum wheat in Pakistan is challenging as the potential stakeholders have to be identified, and secondly investment in new milling units is required since durum is hard and the currently available milling facilities in the country are bread wheat oriented. Dr Ali, however, said that with the development of soft durum wheat variety, “we need to test in Pakistani conditions after being recommending to farmers.”
The study observed that the durum business situation in the country is significantly great potential to develop its market without any competition. Findings of the study clearly suggest the development of a comprehensive durum wheat awareness programme containing complete production technology package, nutritional composition, prospective markets and expected price of durum wheat.
The CIMMYT study says vermicelli, macaroni, noodles and spaghetti etched out as the most frequently cooked items in Pakistan, but 73 per cent consumers are found unaware of durum wheat.
The pasta foods have not yet become regular meal items as more than one-third of the households surveyed still use one to four times in a month and one-third include these food items five to eight times in their monthly mean menu. These foods are more liked by children followed by young and adults.