Pakistan must not allow cultivation of genetically modified maize by farmers

All the major stakeholders of agriculture sector including farmers, food processors, national seed companies and agribusiness exerts, etc. vehemently oppose cultivation of genetically modified (GM) maize in Pakistan. The unprecedented near-consensus against GM is amazing. However, the proponents of GM seeds are still trying desperately to get the government approval by openly criticizing Ministry of National Food Security and Research for the delay in granting the permission of cultivation of GM maize in Pakistan.

It is on record that the 1st consultative meeting on commercial cultivation of GM maize was held on February 20, 2019 with the representatives of Seed Association of Pakistan (SAP), Pakistan Kissan Ithad (PKI) and Rafhan Maize Products. The meeting was chaired by Sahibzada Muhammad Mehboob Sultan, Federal Minister, National Food Security and Research, while Dr. Muhammad Hashim Popalzai, Secretary of Ministry, moderated the deliberations.

At the meeting, SAP representative sternly opposed commercialization of GM maize in Pakistan. He said that GM was the most controversial technology in the world and most of the developed countries have not allowed its cultivation. He also said that maize was a highly cross-pollinated crop and cultivation of GM maize would contaminate the indigenous verities, as a result of an irreversible process. He warned, “After a few years, local maize varieties would be completely contaminated due to cross pollination.”

Dr. Khalid Aziz, representative from Rafhan Maize Products, informed that his company has the honour of introducing and sustainably supporting Spring Maize segment in the country. Increasing demand from Rafhan and poultry has been the major driving force behind maize success in Pakistan. He made it clear that not only Rafhan, but other companies have survived solely on the use of non-GM maize.

Afzaal Haider Rizvi, is a Doctor by profession, but actively involved in agriculture since 1995. His farm is located in District Okara and he mainly cultivates Potato, Maize, Rice, Wheat and Fodder. When he was asked to comment on pros and cons of cultivation of GM maize, he said, “United States is the biggest proponent of GM seeds in the world, but even there most of the states have banned its use. In many European countries use of GM seeds is also banned and France is strictly against GM crops. Therefore, local authorities must also apply constraint and avoid using GM seeds, especially because farm using GM seeds and indigenous verities can’t be segregated. This increases the probability of contamination and damage of crop using local varieties.”

As regards use of GM seed in other parts of the world, he was of the view, “GM technology is the domain of high tech companies of developed world. They are also in the process of developing genetically modified verities. At the developmental stage the respective governments are hesitant in allowing use of such seeds, but encourage ‘reputed’ companies to use their goodwill in selling such seeds in developing countries. Sadly, the third world countries are at a disadvantage as they hardly have the technical knowhow, intellectual honesty, capability and willingness to conduct trials or necessary checks. Therefore, Pakistani authorities should not be carried away and focus on cultivation of indigenous verities.”

As regards using GM maize seeds, he insisted, “In Pakistan GM seeds have been introduced in different crops mainly for developing resistance against chewing insects and herbicide chemical, Glyphosate, but there are other ways to control chewing insects and weeds.” He was of the categorical view that using GM seed was unnecessary. He insisted, “Yield of maize is good by all standards in Pakistan, but it can be further increased through better crop management and balanced used of fertilizers.” He warned that since segregation of farms using GM and local varieties is not possible, local farmers should not become victim of greed.

In another meeting at Department of Agriculture, Government of Sindh, the former World Bank project Head Shahajahn Hashmani shared that now all the progressive countries in the world were working hard towards preserving their own indigenous varieties. Pakistan also needs to identify and stop the import of GM based seeds from other countries that includes genetically modified coarse rice varieties from China.

He said, “These rice varieties will not only replace our own varieties like IRRI-6 that enjoys over 110 mounds per acre yield potential, but will also make our coarse rice exports uncompetitive when we export it to the GM conscious countries and that awareness is increasing with the passage of time.”

His biggest apprehension was, “The major threat is that human beings have modified the genetic structure of food items beings consumed directly or indirectly. However, without having comprehensive research about impact of GM product on human beings and their upcoming generations, it would be suicidal to blindly grow the genetically modified verities in Pakistan.”

I would like to conclude on a quote from a column of Ms. Zubeida Mustafa. She has written, “It is horrifying to think of what the impact would be if maize, which is a thriving crop at present, is handed over to producers of GM maize. Has GM maize been thoroughly tested in our soil and climatic conditions? Without extensive research we cannot assess its impact on human health. This should be reason enough for the government to resist pressures tactics from the biotech multinationals which are out to destroy our economy. Let us learn from our own sordid experience of GM cotton. Let sanity prevail. Besides, we cannot allow our peasantry to be destroyed. It is the backbone of our agriculture.”

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