SINDH Seed Council recently approved and released two wheat varieties ‘Benazir-2012’ and ‘Hammal’ for cultivation by farmers in the province. During trial production, these varieties gave much higher yield per acre than the ones already in use.
Officials of the Sindh Agriculture Department say that, in the best case scenario, growers using Benazir-2012 can get 3480kg per acre and those who go for Hammal can obtain 2840kg per acre. But these are their potential yields. “Actual average yields may differ depending upon the area under cultivation and a host of other factors such as the use of fertiliser and proper caring,” an official told Dawn.
He said that during trial cultivation the new varieties, however, offered higher average yields in lesser maturity periods thus raising hope for their second sowing within a cropping season. Besides, Benazir-2012 has also shown strong rust-resistance and Hammal can be cultivated even in areas where water supply is low. These qualities make them a better choice for growers.
Seed Council officials say they have also approved for general cultivation a new variety of sugarcane ‘Chandka’ that has a potential yield of eight tonnes per acre against the current national average of six tonnes per acre.
In trial runs, this variety has shown resistance to water logging and it can be cultivated in all ecological zones of Sindh. Besides, its sucrose content goes up to 10.61 per cent, slightly higher than that of other varieties in use.
After recent devolution of agriculture, the role of provinces has become more crucial in farm research though a number of federally-run institutions are still involved in development of new seed varieties. Punjab had launched more than half a dozen new varieties of wheat and rice in 2011 and its provincial seed council is expected to introduce another few varieties in 2013 or
2014, officials reached by Dawn claimed.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan lag behind in development of new food crop varieties but some parts of Balochistan are on the list of the areas across Pakistan where trial cultivation of two Chinese hybrid wheat varieties has been successful. And now the country is going to import seeds of these varieties to start cultivation in the province.
Introducing better seeds is just a part of overall agricultural research and development and in this area Pakistan’s performance is dismal. Director General of National Agricultural Research Centre Dr Muhammad Sharif says that for every $100 of agricultural output, Pakistan’s spending on research is just 21 cents. India’s spending is double that amount.
He says that input of human resources in agricultural research is also very low: agricultural researchers account for only 18 per cent of the PHDs in the country.
Pakistan Agricultural Research Council introduced aerobic rice production technology and fatter rural purse (due to higher support prices), led some entrepreneurs to make limited use of artificial insemination of animals for improved livestock breeding. With aerobic rice production technology, growers can skip transplantation of paddy seedlings and grow rice just as they grow wheat or maize. A couple of progressive growers are reported to have used this technology in selected districts of Sindh and Balochistan.
“We can not only conserve water and need to employ a much lesser number of field workers (in growing aerobic rice) than the numbers we require in traditional paddy cultivation. Besides, by using this technology we can double the per-acre yield,” said one such farmer from Sanghar. Officials of provincial agriculture department say that the trend to grow rice this way may catch up in near future.
Another worthy development in the field of rice research is evolution of new variety of rice at a university in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In cultivation in a limited area, the new variety has yielded the longest-ever grains. Agricultural universities in Sindh, KPK and Punjab are making efforts to expedite work on agricultural research but authorities say paucity of funds keep them from aggressively pursuing new projects.
Private sector companies are also not coming up in a big way to focus on agricultural research and development. “Cash-rich companies can afford to join hands with global seed development institutions to see how their research can be helpful in boosting food crops productivity in our country,” says chairman of Agri Forum Pakistan Mr. Ibrahim Mughal.
For example, Pakistan can increase output of sugarcane by a big percentage by adopting and localising the ‘Plene’ technology developed in Brazil. Plene is a technology that simplifies sugar cane planting, using buds that are much smaller in size than normally used in cane planning and these are treated against diseases and infections.
The use of this technology saves the cost of inputs by about 15 per cent and enhances per hectare production by five to 15 tonnes. After using this technology for two years at home, Brazil has started exporting it and South Africa has acquired it to raise its own production of sugarcane.