The seed conundrum.

Pakistan is an agrarian country blessed with a vast natural base encompassing a variety of climatic and ecological zones suitable for producing most of the fruits, vegetables and crops in the world. Unfortunately, its agriculture sector has seen erratic progress during the last seven or so decades.

Though production of almost all crops - grains, fruit, vegetables - increased manifold over time, the performance lags behind what other countries, particularly China and India in the region, achieved during the period. A matter of concern is that yield of different crops is stagnant, if not on the decline, in Pakistan during the last one and half decades, when farming in the neighbouring countries grew by leaps and bounds.

Some quarters believe that the country needs to change its agriculture sector governance model, introduce better seeds for all crops, and create a customised cooperative system for farmers' survival and make farming viable in the shortest possible time.

'Ours is perhaps the only major agrarian country in the world that doesn't have its own seeds. And if seeds are available, then their quality and productivity are too poor to reap a reasonable harvest and keep the production cost at the minimum,' regrets Jawed Salim Qureshi, an electrical engineer-turned-agriculturist. 'China harvests around 100 maunds per acre of both cotton and wheat crops, whereas our average production is between 30 and 35 maunds per acre.'

Four decades ago, Indian companies were allowed to import seeds for eight years, after which they had to develop them locally or leave the country, which is why today India exports seeds whereas Pakistan is still dependent on imports

He does not buy the argument that our environment is no longer suitable for sowing certain crops, especially cotton, and asserts that we should rather accept our failure in developing seed varieties resilient to climate change. 'In fact, under the influence of 'import mafia' developing seed varieties has never been our priority though our (agricultural) scientists are no less than their counterparts in the neighbouring countries.'

India decided over four decades ago that every seed company may import seeds, but for eight years and then it will have to develop the seed locally or leave the country. Today, India is exporting its seeds to the whole world. But such a policy has never been introduced in Pakistan, and the result is that the country is dependent on the import of seeds for all major...

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