GM Crops A Divisive Solution To Pakistan's Food Security Challenges

Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan, which accounts for approximately 70% of its exports and more than 20% of its GDP.

Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan, which accounts for approximately 70% of its exports and more than 20% of its GDP. For the last two decades, Pakistan has faced several challenges, such as drought, salinity, temperature, climate change, and an increasing population, causing food security issues to rise. The use of biotechnological approaches in agriculture to fulfill the desired need is one of the solutions. Still, the public is reluctant to use GM crops due to several reasons, including cultural aspects and traditional values.

GMOs are organisms whose genetic makeup is artificially modified to have specific traits of your choice. According to a survey, 90% of farmers are willing to grow GM cash crops. Still, the majority is reluctant to GM food crops because farmers’ awareness and knowledge about economic benefits is very low.

It is observed that the willingness to grow GM food crops and GM cash crops is highly dependent on the literacy rate, financial stability, land fertility, and family size of farmers. GM food is perceived as unnatural, affecting the acceptability of these crops.

While talking about consumer preferences, in contrast to developed countries, people here are not well aware of genetically modified crops. A few studies have been done focusing on the consumer acceptability of GMOs. Older customers are more resistant to genetically engineered crops.

The same is the case with male customers, while female consumers are more willing to buy engineered food crops. GM food introduction into an already existing food production system can lead to several questions about the environment, product safety, effects on health, and labelling.

There are several reasons why people express concerns about GMOs, and health or safety concerns are significant among these.

Among GM crops, Bt cotton, being a cash crop, has been adopted very well by farmers. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission provided farmers with insect-resistant GM cotton seeds, which were tested for resistance and susceptibility to insects, high temperatures, and drought, showing promising results and high yield.

Pakistan is bound by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol and enacted its own biosafety rules in 2005. Also, the Ministry of Environment has developed a few guidelines proposed by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). But still, risk assessment is not properly done by the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (PEPA) regarding GMOs.

These areas need to be addressed as soon as possible to feed the ever-growing population of the country and face the economic disruption. With the passage of time and improving awareness, acceptance of GMOs has been enhanced because of the availability of much cheaper food.

The provision of adequate information among farmer communities and the public is important. Clear policies and guidelines must be provided by the government of Pakistan to ensure the adoption of safety protocols and regulations.