‘Investment in bio-tech crucial to overcome food scarcity’
* PAEC evolving technologies for salinity-hit areas
ISLAMABAD: Investment in biotechnology was essential to overcome food and water scarcity which had emerged as a pressing problem for the developing world, said special advisor to the prime minister on strategic programmes, Dr Ishfaq Ahmad, on Monday while inaugurating an international conference on ‘Biotechnology for Salinity and Drought Tolerance in Plants’ organised by the National Commission on Biotechnology in collaboration with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the United States National Science Foundation.
With the current rate of population growth, biotechnology had the potential to find a solution for these concerns. Conventional approaches to cure salinity like drainage and reductions in the water table were expensive and time consuming. Biotechnology and nuclear techniques could offer indigenous solutions for evolving crops growing on these lands and have met with substantial success in the past.
Biotechnology has the unlimited ability to incorporate desired traits into crops species and it plays an important role in improving water quality and facing unfavourable climate conditions. PAEC chairman Parvez Butt said apart from its national development contributions in basic research, nuclear power, industrial support services and development of minerals, the PAEC was playing a role in the field of biotechnology and agriculture-related services.
The chairman said PAEC had evolved more than 47 high yield crop varieties by harnessing nuclear techniques which had earned more than Rs 6 billion in additional annual income for farmers.
He said the PAEC was using nuclear expertise to run 13 cancer hospitals in the country which benefit more than 350,000 patients annually. Five more cancer hospitals are being constructed at Gujranwala, Nawabshah, Gilgit, Bannu and Muzaffarabad, he added. Through the combined use of biotechnology and nuclear knowledge, the PAEC has evolved technologies to utilise salinity-hit lands by growing salt-tolerant crops and trees in all provinces, said the PAEC chairman.
He said the PAEC was providing this technology to nine IAEA member states, including Jordan, Sudan, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Science and Technology Secretary Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed spoke on behalf of the minister. Dr Robert Gaxiola, a representative of the United States National Science Foundation (USNSF), said: “We are here for a long term collaboration with Pakistan and other countries of the region, as it is the responsibility of the international scientific community to share knowledge of higher agricultural and food productivity to benefit the common man.”