PAKISTAN meets 85pc demand for hybrid maize seeds through imports costing the national exchequer about $60m every year. Its price ranges from $6 to $8 per kg making maize the highest priced imported seeds among all the cereals in the country.
Maize is the third most important cereal crop of Pakistan covering more than 1.2m hectares annually and the national average yield is about four tonnes per hectare. Maize productivity has increased by 75pc from its levels in the early 1990s. This can be attributed to the adoption and expansion of hybrid maize varieties particularly in the spring season.
The central and southern Punjab areas are the main ‘maize belt’. However, the crop has the potential to be satisfactorily cultivated in all provinces.
Earlier this month, the USAID-funded Agriculture Innovation Programme (AIP) launched two of its bio-fortified maize hybrids identified and produced by National Agricultural Research Centre (Narc). These hybrids are two times more protein rich than the normal maize cultivars.
The USAID programme is a four-year $30m initiative designed to increase productivity and incomes of the farmers through the promotion and dissemination of modern production practices for wheat, maize, rice, livestock, fruits, and vegetables. The varieties of maize distributed are stated to resist drought and heat stresses and have enhanced nutritional quality. They also have increased tolerance to insect attacks and low soil nitrogen.
Earlier this month, the USAID-funded Agriculture Innovation Programme launched two of its bio-fortified maize hybrids identified and produced by National Agricultural Research Centre.
“We are seeing valuable and precious contributions from the maize programme of AIP which will help to lessen the import dependency on hybrid maize seeds,” according to Dr Mohammad Azeem Khan, Director-General, Narc.
The two bio-fortified hybrids, better known as Quality Protein Maize (QPM) can offer about 90pc of the nutritional value of skim milk and many clinical studies also proved that malnourished children recovered by consuming QPM as the only source of protein.
The hybrids will serve as a cheap source of protein feed particularly for the poultry industry. The registration of these two hybrids, originally sourced from CIMMYT’s Latin America breeding hub (CIMMYT Columbia), is now under process with Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department (FSCRD).
Based on a seed delivery road map, CIMMYT is allocating more varieties for inclusion in Pakistan’s maize register, according to Imtiaz Mohammad, CIMMYT’s country representative and AIP project leader in Pakistan.
The AIP maize programme is currently testing more varieties enriched with zinc and pro-vitamin A micro nutrients, and in addition, evaluating maize varieties that can tolerate low soil nitrogen and stem borer attack.
The AIP maize programme is linked directly with public and private sector partners by establishing germ-plasm testing network across the country. The programme, which started its field evaluation work in February 2014, is able to evaluate about 100 sets of trials consist of more than 1000 maize hybrids and OPVs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad and Jammu Kashmir.
After a thorough evaluation of maize germ-plasms in the past two years, local partners identified 36 hybrids and 13 open pollinated varieties (OPVs) suitable to grow in the diverse ecologies of Pakistan. These selected maize germ-plasms have an early maturity, enhanced nutritional quality and ‘stay green’ and farmers can use them as food and feed .