Pak-China coop in Biohealth Agriculture to promote wheat production
XIANYANG, Jun. 5 (China Economic Net) – “It is expected that by 2040, due to the global warming, local temperature in Pakistan will increase by 3-4 degrees on the existing basis. It will lead to evaporation of water, which will bring soil drought, while rainfall will be further concentrated. This means that droughts and floods will occur at the same time. Climate change is enough to reduce Pakistan's wheat production by 15-20 percent. Therefore, if our wheat breeding doesn’t advance against climate change, a huge food crisis will pose a serious threat to human existence”, said Prof. Zhang Lixin from Northwest A&F University, China in an recent interview with China Economic Net (CEN).
Prof. Zhang Lixin (L2) in a wheat test field in Pakistan [Photo provided to CEN]
Currently, water shortage and temperature extremities are affecting crop production and quality in Pakistan. As for wheat, statistics from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics show that wheat accounts for about 9 percent of the national agricultural added value. About 80 percent of farmers in Pakistan are engaged in wheat production, and the total area of wheat cultivation occupies as much as 40 percent of the total agricultural land in Pakistan. The importance of wheat production in Pakistan cannot be overstated. However, this year, Pakistan is expected to harvest about 28 million tonnes of wheat, while overall demand is about 30 million tonnes, which means a 2 million tonnes gap to be filled by imports, in other words, Pakistan is yet self-sufficient in this vital crop.
It is learned that Pakistan’s wheat planting area is about 16.2 million acres this year, down a bit compared with 16.6 million acres last year. “China-Pakistan wheat cooperation is of great significance. With the world's population expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, populous countries like China and Pakistan must develop areas such as saline-alkali land to further meet food needs. It is imperative to develop drought-tolerant and saline-alkali-tolerant wheat varieties and improve the existing saline-alkali soil environment.” Prof. Zhang shared with CEN that he hopes to increase the per unit yield of wheat in Pakistan from the current 200-300 kilograms to more than 400 kilograms through technologies, such as, biohealth agriculture.
Hybrid characters of Chinese wheat S-24 and Pakistan wheat Fd-08 [Photo provided to CEN]
The concept of “Biohealth Agriculture” (BHA) was put forward by Prof. Zhang Lixin in 2017 at the first International Symposium on the Belt and Road Bio-health. “Germplasm improvement must be our primary goal. Prof. Habib-ur-Rehman Athar from Bahauddin Zakariya University has worked with our researchers to hybridize the Chinese wheat variety S-24 with high yield and salt tolerance, which has been verified by research institutes such as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the Pakistani variety Fd-08, and the new varieties have been successfully cultivated. According to our theoretical prediction, once put into industrialization, the cost can be reduced by 13 percent, and the income of farmers can be increased by 25-27 percent.
Wheat test fields in Pakistan [Photo provided to CEN]
Besides germplasm, bilateral researchers in Pak-China Biohealth Agriculture Demonstration Park have applied three core technologies to the wheat experimental field in Pakistan, and remarkable results have been achieved.
“First of all, we are working with Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ashraf, Honorary Chairman of Pak-China biohealth cooperation project and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lahore, to improve local soil with bio-nanotechnology, which can greatly increase local wheat production. Currently, new wheat varieties have the potential to increase the yield by 2.7 percent per annum have accounted for 3 percent of the total in Punjab. The role of nano-materials such as nano-biochar and nano-nutrients (zinc, potassium, iron oxide, etc.) cannot be underestimated,” Prof. Zhang introduced.
The vermicompost bio-organic fertilizer [Photo provided to CEN]
“Secondly, University of Agriculture Faisalabad has introduced our vermiculture technology to produce high quality vermicompost as bio-organic fertilizer. The nano-fertilizer and vermicompost fertilizer can be used in combination to further achieve the goal of increasing wheat production. Thirdly, our biological immunity technology can effectively improve the immunity of the plant. The nano-nutrient solution, as a ‘plant vaccine’, will greatly reduce the impact of diseases and insect pests to a minimum threshold. Taking wheat as an example, biological immunity can protect the grain, the economic organ of the plant, from pests and diseases to the greatest extent.”
At present, Pakistani wheat growers are suffering from a lack of high-quality germplasm resources, and the high price of chemical fertilizers makes their predicament worse. Local farmer Abdul Majeed mentioned that the yield of the “Galaxy” wheat seeds they are using is decreasing year by year, and there is nothing they can do about it. And another farmer, Ameer Ali, complained that the price of DAP has risen from Rs 2,200-2,300 per bag to Rs 4,500 per bag, while the price of urea has also risen from Rs 1,600-1,800 per bag to Rs 2,200 per bag. Clearly, an overhaul of the wheat field is indispensable. And experts from both China and Pakistan are working hard for this.
Prof. Zhang Lixin (L2) discusses wheat growth with Pakistani side [Photo provided to CEN]
In Prof. Zhang’s view, the blueprint for China-Pakistan wheat cooperation has just begun. In the next step, in addition to Pakistan, Biohealth Agriculture Demonstration Park will also be gradually built in various parts of China, serving as an important bridge for agricultural cooperation. Not only wheat, various Pakistani high-quality crops will be gradually introduced, and young scientists from Pakistan will also come to China regularly for exchange and training.
“We want to promote the development of agricultural trade through the display of excellent varieties. If bilateral wheat with local advantages can communicate at the trade level while responding to the food crisis, especially in the context of climate change, it will be a win-win situation,” concluded Prof. Zhang, which was echoed by Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ashraf, “Our farmers will be acquainted with novel ways to improve crop production while simultaneously reducing synthetic chemical fertilizer inputs, which are injurious to the health of all organisms, not to mention that rising fertilizer prices are a huge burden on farmers.”