Since my arrival in Pakistan on October 31, 2012, I have spoken at length on the breadth and depth of the US-Pakistan partnership. We have a rich partnership in energy, trade and investment, economic development, regional stability and counterterrorism. Today, in honour of Dr Norman Borlaug, who many have called the father of Pakistan’s Green Revolution, I wish to illustrate another facet of our enduring partnership: 50 years of joint efforts to support Pakistan’s agricultural development, especially in wheat production.
Around the world, wheat holds the honour of being grown on more arable land than any other crop. In Pakistan, it provides an average person 60 per cent of their daily caloric intake. Similarly, in the United States, we consume more wheat per person than any other food staple and produce wheat in 42 of our 50 states. We celebrated this crucial crop at a ceremony in Islamabad on April 23 because 50 years ago, a US scientist pioneered a partnership with Pakistani colleagues that quickly revolutionised agriculture here.
In 1963, Dr Norman E Borlaug and several Pakistani scientists, who were supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, began work on a highly productive wheat variety known as ‘Mexi-Pak’. This new variety ushered in a rise in agricultural productivity, increasing wheat yields in Pakistan by 25 per cent between 1961 and 1969. Coined the ‘Green Revolution’ in 1968 by USAID’s administrator William Gaud, the techniques and seeds of the Green Revolution spread around the world helping countries stave off famine as population growth outpaced their farmers’ capacity to feed. Dr Borlaug is credited with saving a billion lives. He received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970 for his work in increasing agricultural productivity. Hundreds of millions of people continue to eat every day because of Dr Borlaug’s efforts.
The story of Dr Borlaug’s work here is the best known result of the US-Pakistan agricultural cooperation. Yet, many Pakistani and American agricultural experts have achieved a number of successes working together. For example, American scientists working at the University of California, Riverside, developed Pakistan’s best known varietal of citrus, the Kinnow. They shared it with their colleagues at what was then the Punjab Agricultural College (now the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad), who perfected methods to grow some of the sweetest citrus in the world. In 1977, the US supported the establishment of the National Agricultural Research Centre and endowed funds that support critical agricultural research. We continue the spirit of the Green Revolution and build upon our past success through our continued and close collaboration to help increase cotton productivity, improve agricultural water management, fight virulent animal diseases and enhance wheat productivity.
Our continuing partnership to support Pakistan’s wheat sector is a direct harvest of the seeds and friendship Dr Borlaug planted 50 years ago. Through the Wheat Productivity Enhancement Project, we have brought together scientists from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, and Pakistani scientists to help Pakistani wheat farmers. This project has introduced two wheat varieties that can resist an extremely virulent wheat rust called UG-99. Without these new varieties, called ‘Pak-Terra’ and ‘NARC 2011’, experts estimate that UG-99 could wipe out as much as 50 per cent of Pakistan’s annual wheat harvest if the disease appeared in the country.
Building on Dr Borlaug’s wheat legacy, USAID recently launched the $30 million Agricultural Innovation Project. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, four international agricultural research centres, a US land grant university and the apex body of Pakistan’s agricultural research system have put their hands to the plough to give farmers innovative technologies and modern practices. This project will provide tens of thousands of farmers access to improved varieties of wheat and other cereals, as well as access to modern technology for cultivating cereals, growing vegetables and raising livestock.
In addition to toiling together in the fields and laboratories, the United States and Pakistan are partnering in the classroom, where the seeds of innovation are sown and solutions to the next generation of challenges blossom.
How? The US supports agricultural universities across Pakistan. The Agricultural University of Peshawar has an endowment from USDA that supports research and scholarships. At the University of Faisalabad, we not only have a similar endowment, but USAID is also providing over $30 million to establish a Centre for Advanced Studies in Agriculture and Food Security that will cement links between Pakistani scholars and US universities. The Centre will improve access for disadvantaged students, improve the university’s governance and curriculum, and link applied research to the needs of the private and public sectors. These collaborative institutions will train the next generation of scientists to carry on the legacy of Dr Borlaug and his Pakistani counterparts.
The goals of our ongoing cooperation are tripartite, as together: we increase incomes for Pakistani farmers; we improve access to nutritious food for millions of Pakistanis who depend on wheat; and we ensure that Pakistan can secure its most important food sources. I like to think that Dr Borlaug would be pleased with our continued cooperation and hard work. Nevertheless, we must continue to focus, develop and cultivate new solutions because population growth, finite water resources and new diseases threaten the progress we have made so far. We remain fully committed to advancing these important partnership activities to continue to cultivate the spirit of Dr Borlaug’s work to keep Pakistan and the world fed.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2014.