The agricultural sector of Pakistan is severely ne­glected, with limited gov­ernment initiatives that force conventional farmers to adopt new varieties of different crops. In the midst of this, innova­tion has become a buzz­word. Keeping this situ­ation in mind, a group of overseas Pakistanis has taken steps to promote new indigenous varieties of gar­lic (G1) produced by the Nation­al Agricultural Research Centre (NARC). NARC G1 is an excel­lent variety of garlic that has at­tracted a large number of farm­ers to resume production. G1 garlic has many advantages, in­cluding a long shelf life, so it of­fers farmers an opportunity to market their product for a longer period, besides having the high­est production of any variety of garlic. After entering into G1 gar­lic cultivation, farmers would opt for exploring more varieties of different food staples as very few varieties of wheat, cotton and rice exist in the country. The cultivation would also encour­age research on ways to enhance per-acre yields and on short-du­ration crop varieties.

There is a need to research crop varieties having durations of 100-110 days to resolve the economic turmoil and food shortage issues in the country. This also advanc­es in plant breeding and genetics, resulting in a surprising increase in the per-acre yield of crops. In­novation in farming works both ways: bringing prosperity for farmers by increasing productiv­ity, employment, and income for stakeholders and supplement­ing governmental efforts to meet the increasing demand for staple food items. The agricultural sec­tor can contribute to the national economy and help in alleviating poverty since it is one of the main employers of the country as well.

The investment of overseas Pakistanis has paved the way for switching from 43-year-old lo­cal varieties including desi gula­bi and NS 756 to NARC G1 which has four times the production. While some farmers continue to cultivate unapproved varieties for higher production, these vari­eties failed to get greater accept­ability from the public and farm­ers, so garlic is being imported. The new variety NARC-G1 has been under investigation and ob­servation for many years not only for mass production but also to gain pharmaceutical and thera­peutic benefits. Humayun Khan was the principal founder and scientist for the NARC G1 variety. His research was widely appre­ciated but mass production was not put into practice.

NARC G1 garlic, with all the nu­trient benefits, can sprout even if it is stored in household baskets. Its freshness remains intact for a longer period. Due to these qual­ities, G1 garlic has the potential to replace all varieties in the next five to six years. According to fruit, vegetables, and condiment statistics of Pakistan 2014-15, the production of garlic in Pakistan was 72,987 tons from an area of 7973 hectares with an average yield of 9.15 tons. Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa was the leading garlic-producing province with an av­erage production of 34,167 tons followed by Punjab, Balochistan, and Sindh. On the other hand, Uzbekistan is the top garlic-pro­ducing country in the world with 26.7 metric ton per hectare, fol­lowed by Haiti and China.

In recent years, according to facts and figures gathered offi­cially, the area under G1 cultiva­tion is 4500 to 5000 acres across the country. Some progressive growers will also have hundreds of acres under G1 cultivation this year. Only 35 to 40 percent of the seed can be available to new growers. 60 to 65 percent of the seed will be retained by the same growers and investors for further multiplication. NARC-G1 has vig­orous compatibility with harsh environments and can bear the differences in agro-climatic con­ditions without affecting yields which is why more and more pro­gressive farmers are adopting this variety. Meeting the domes­tic demand for NARC G1 cultiva­tion would help cut garlic imports in the country as low yield has re­sulted in the import of garlic to cater to the demand in the coun­try. Currently, Pakistan is import­ing 40,303 tons of garlic from Chi­na, India, and Chile that’s worth about Rs.45.71 billion.

Apart from introducing mod­ern machinery, more local labour is accommodated in G1 garlic fields as cloves are separated in­dividually and planted by hands, two inches deep and seven inch­es apart on ridges and flat seed­beds by local farmers. Hand-planting is a preferred method, as machine-planting cloves are not evenly distributed. The invest­ment by overseas Pakistanis has been supporting a large number of other sectors including local la­bour, machinery, fertiliser, pesti­cide, transportation, and storage houses whereas, in the past, over­seas Pakistanis preferred to make investments in the real estate sec­tor which would not be beneficial for other sectors.

Another positive contribution made by overseas Pakistanis is more unused land being used as G1 garlic cultivators prefer to use wasteland on cheaper leases to cut costs thus bringing a large part of the land into a produc­tive position. The aim is to help small farmers supplement their earnings through NARC G1 gar­lic production. More initiatives are being planned for the provi­sion of quality seeds, technical assistance, and market access to integrate sustainability into the garlic business.

Gulrez Shahzad

The writer is an agronomist in the United Kingdom and can be reached at gulrezshahzad