A one-day seminar was organised by the University of Karachi (KU) on Friday to provide a platform to scientists and progressive farmers to interact and share ideas and knowledge for developing strategies in combating the emerging food crises.
The global food crisis has affected hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing a surge of sociopolitical unrest in many countries as families struggle to find ways to survive soaring food and fuel prices.
Many regions in Africa and Asia are experiencing a food crisis that is contributing to hunger, malnutrition and starvation there. According to experts, the real cause of food crises include natural disasters, pest and plant diseases, urbanisation, increasing prices of fuel and fertilisers, and the shortage of water rather than population increase.
The seminar was organised by Dr Viqar Sultana, Professor, Department of Biochemistry; Dr Syed Ehteshamul-Haque, Professor Department of Botany; and Dr Jehan Ara, Professor and Chairperson Department of Food Science and Technology, KU, to bridge the gap between scientists and farmers.
Chairman Karachi Market Committee and former minister Abdul Hakeem Baloch was the chief guest on the occasion. Dr Athar Tariq (PhD, DSc), in charge Pest Detection and Emergence Projects, California, also participated in the programme.
Highlighting the severity of the global food crisis, Dr Ara said in the inaugural address that prices of foods that formed the staple diet of half of the world’s population had almost doubled in the last few years, stressing that concentrated public and private investment was crucial for boosting agricultural production.
New virulent strains of fungal disease ie wheat stem rust (Ug99) was spreading fast and hence, over 80 percent of wheat varieties were susceptible to this fungus, she said. At the same time, mango decline and citrus greening were emerging threats to the fresh fruit exports of Pakistan. Citrus greening caused by a phloem-inhabiting bacterium was an alarming disease for which appropriate measures needed to be taken, she stressed.
Mubarik Ahmed, explaining the food security problem, said that if the matter was not taken seriously, Pakistan would be at a risk of a famine in the near future. Dr Badar Uddin Soomro credited the efforts of scientists in increasing the yield of several major crops such as wheat, rice and cotton, adding that these efforts should be continued to meet the future growing requirements of food.
Haque said that farmers had lost 30 percent of the crops through pests and other diseases plus another 25 percent due to post harvest diseases and deterioration. Incorrect or misleading identification of the disease also added to losses in the form of cost of pesticides, he added.
But fortunately, due to advances in biotechnology and molecular biology, new products and techniques were becoming available that were helpful for the correct and timely identification of the diseases, he added.
He also emphasised the role of bio-fertilisers in not only protecting the plants from root diseases but also improving plant growth. Dr Imtiaz Ahmed said that after several years of research in bio-technological methodology they were able to produce and commercialise some high-yielding varieties of sugarcane which were also drought tolerant.
Dr Tariq Rajput explained how the pests affected the agricultural crops and what methods should be adopted by the farmers. Pervaiz Hussain, a progressive farmer, explained the agricultural problems of farmers and requested the scientists to join hands with them. Due to rising awareness about the adverse effects of pesticides, organic farming was becoming very popular, he informed. Fatheh Ali, on the other hand, explained how to grow organic fruits and vegetables in home gardens.