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ARTICLE: Rice has special significance in Asia, where about 90% of the rice is produced and consumed as staple food. Though in Pakistan it is the second most favorite food after wheat, even then increasing mouths to feed in the country and decreasing land and water resources available for rice cultivation needs serious and concrete efforts through research & development to come up with such rice technologies that will result in higher yields.

Pakistan's total population is slightly over 220 million and at current growth rate of over 2.1 percent it is expected to become the 4th most populous country of the world in 2050.

Involvement of seed companies from private sector is crucial to meet the increased demand for hybrid seed.

Realizing the importance of private seed research, Guard Agricultural Research & Services (GUARD) established in 1989 launched research to develop new hybrid seed in collaboration with Hunan Rice Research Institute (HRRI) Hunan, China in 1999. Later on for commercialization of hybrid rice we made joint venture with Yuan LongPing High-Tech Agriculture Co., Ltd, China which is off shoot of HRRI, having share holding of eminent scientist and breeder, Professor Yuan LongPing who is inventor of hybrid rice technology and is also known as "father of hybrid rice", with special focus on looming water scarcity and climate change threats which are posing serious threat to national food security.

So far, Guard alone has introduced 10 new hybrid varieties for general cultivation all over Pakistan. These all are coarse varieties generally sown in Sindh and South Punjab having tolerance against heat and water scarcity. The company is also on the way to introduce a basmati hybrid having an average yield up to 80 mounds per acre with an average grain length of 8 mm. We are very near to achieving this target after hard work of five to six years; our scientists in collaboration with our Chinese partners have developed basmati hybrids out of which one variety is giving 75 mounds per acres and average grain length of 7.4 mm, slightly short of the target of 80 mounds per acre. Our scientists have been tasked to develop heat, drought tolerant and salinity resistant varieties.

Guard commercialized Super Basmati in 1991, which was eventually approved by Government in 1997 for commercial cultivation after 40 percent of Punjab area came under its cultivation. The Company after introduction of coarse hybrid has also started local production of hybrid rice seed. We are the leading company by developing such a large number of hybrids and starting local commercial hybrid rice seed production.

The need to bring new hybrids of rice is because the yield of rice varieties is low and stagnant. Low rice yields do not match with increasing cost of inputs; due to increase in cost of production Pakistan is becoming un-competitive in international market. Land resources are declining, water shortage is becoming a problem, solution is adoption of hybrid rice.

Since the introduction of hybrid rice in Sindh, income of rice farmers has doubled due to double yield of hybrid rice as compared to IRRI varieties, doubled income of farmers, resulted in poverty alleviation, socio-economic changes in rural areas of Sindh and South Punjab. Due to early maturing hybrid rice crop, timely sowing of Rabi crops is ensured. Timely sown Rabi crops give positive and significant increase in per unit production / per acre yield which consequently increase farmer income. Due to shorter maturity period, hybrid rice crop can be planted in late season. Further to shorter maturity period, hybrid rice crop consumes less irrigation as compared to traditional rice varieties. Hybrid rice crop can be successfully grown in stress areas like saline, drought and water logged as compared to inbred.

Success in getting more per acre yield has paved the way for producing more non-basmati rice and increasing its exports thus fetching more revenue for the cash strapped country. There is also a need of more production and supply to explore new markets and achieve the target of US 5 billion dollars export in the next five years, hybrid seeds can make this possible.

High yielding hybrid rice area is going to cross 50 percent in three years from present 25 to 30 percent paddy coverage, yielding additional two million tons output.

All efforts of introducing hybrid rice seed in Pakistan is being commanded by national seed companies mainly in collaboration of Chinese leadership in research & development with 'Guard Agri' having the lion's share. Several multinational seed companies did try to introduce hybrid rice seed but could not outperform national seed companies. Their varieties were less rewarding for farmers due to lack of jump in production while seed cost was also high when compared to what local seed companies were offering.

Being founding chairman of Seed Association of Pakistan (SAP) and Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) and former President of Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI), I believe with untiring efforts of local scientists, the role of private sector in seed research and development is increasing day by day, as I have closely worked with Government and Private researchers.

With doubling of hybrid rice seed coverage from present 25-30 percent to over 50 percent in next three years, national rice production is potentially expected to be increased by hefty two million tons. At present yield is 6.9 million ton from 2.79 million hectares. By doubling the area from 25 percent to 50 percent, the expected increase in yield will be around 2 million tons and total yield will be around 9 million tons.

In total rice hybridization, around 90 percent area of long-grain paddy is in Sindh province while 10 percent in South Punjab. As aromatic basmati rice is first choice for farmers in Punjab, coarse varieties area is still low. However, with production of hybrid rice seed in central Punjab, paddy area in Punjab is likely to increase significantly in coming years, he observed.

The major factor behind success of national seed companies in large-scale acceptance of rice hybrid seed has been development of heat-resistance and drought tolerant varieties. Multinational seed companies had varieties that could not perform well in harsh summer weather of Sindh and Southern Punjab. Long grain hybrid rice that substituted IRRI-6 in the coastal belt and central Sindh is a major success as its export market is rapidly evolving in the favor of farmers and exporters.

Consequently, our long grain rice is gaining grounds globally with much ease by competing major producers and exporting countries of the world like Vietnam and Thailand.

Our company has emerged as a leader in demand driven research in agriculture, challenging the monopoly of public sector institutions and multinationals.

With great passion to increase productivity of farming sector, we are actively striving to achieve food security in an untiring effort spanning over past 30 years. We successfully pioneered the introduction of hybrid rice seed in Pakistan with collaboration of Chinese scientists for which Government of Pakistan honoured me Sitara-e-Imtiaz for contribution in revolution of rice production which doubled the income of farmers, resulting in changing socio-economic conditions and poverty alleviation in rural Sindh. The surplus rice production resulted in increased rice (non-basmati) exports bringing in valuable foreign exchange.

Shahzad Malik (SI) Chief Executive, Guard Agriculture Research & Services (Pvt.) Ltd

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020