Agriculture constitutes the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy and the majority of the population depends on it. It contributes about 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), accounts for half of the country’s employed labor force, and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. It feeds the whole rural and urban populations of Pakistan.
The country has a rich biodiversity and multinational companies have realized this. Thousands of varieties of seeds, medicinal plants and herbs have been developed over hundreds of years by farming communities, who were well-equipped with indigenous knowledge of the local environment, climate and conditions for agricultural production.
But the day is not far off when the entire seed business will be controlled by seed companies, leaving local farmers totally dependent on imported or multinationals’ seeds.
In 2013, Pakistan’s total seed requirements were more than 1.6 million metric tons, whereas the country could produce only 362,000 metric tons of certified seeds. The country has four cash crops — cotton, wheat, rice and sugarcane — which have a major contribution in the country’s GDP worth more than $313 billion.
There are 760 companies in the seed production business in Pakistan, including five multinational companies. The informal sector is still the major seed supplier in the country, with more than 90 percent of the seeds used coming from farmers and other sources such as commissioned agents, retailers and shopkeepers.
Cotton is a strategic crop for Pakistan and a major source of exports. Since 2008, hybrid or GM cotton is being cultivated in more than 90 percent of the cotton belt across Pakistan without proper trials.
Recently, the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee, while ringing an alarm bell, revealed that GM seeds had contaminated all local cotton seed varieties.
Meanwhile, local research institutes have almost abandoned research work, and almost all vegetable seeds are now being imported from India and other countries. Until a few years ago, these seeds were produced locally. Nowadays hybrid corn seeds are imported by multinationals, while fruit seeds including watermelon, melon, strawberries, tomato, capsicum, cucumber, and even coriander are also being imported.
The reason for the fast replacement of indigenous seeds with multinational seeds is a lack of research and development on new varieties, as the local research institutions have completely abandoned this segment. Now, even for cotton, researchers are completely reliant on multinationals after introducing their GM genes into local cotton seed varieties.
As a result, the production of cotton is constantly declining, while the fiber quality is also deteriorating. After the large-scale cultivation of the GM Bt cotton, new pests have emerged and secondary pests are out of control. This means farmers have to bear the additional cost of pesticides, while production is decreasing and seeds are losing their germination quality.
Currently only wheat seed is produced locally, but GM lobbyists are also trying to capture that market. Sugarcane is another cash crop and these seeds are imported from Sri Lanka and Mexico as it is a tropical-weather seed. Indigenous seeds are being replaced without proper impact studies and the authorities lack the proper facilities and skilled workers.
The imported seeds also bring inherited diseases and pests, such as the American cotton bollworm. To cover their negligence, regulators and researchers are linking production loss with climate change impacts.
Though the world’s sixth-most populous country has consistently been a net importer of sowing seeds in terms of value, it has achieved trade surpluses for specific types of seed, including wheat, barley, cotton and herbaceous flowering plants. Still, its dependence on foreign seed supplies remains high. In 2016, the country logged a seed trade deficit of just under $550 million, deriving from $560 million of imports and a little more than $10 million of exports.
The downward journey of Pakistan’s seed exports started in 2014, when they plummeted by 72 percent in volume and 41 percent in value, and this sharp decline has continued.