Genetic Engineering & Food Security

Currently, Pakistan is the eighth largest wheat producer in the world, yet it struggles with undernou-rishment and stunted growth among children.

The agriculture sector of Pakistan occupies a substantial portion of its landmass, 9 percent higher than the glob­al average of 38 percent. Yet the nation faces significant challenges in ensuring food security as evidenced by its low ranking in the Global Hunger Index. This disjuncture be­tween abundant agricultural resources and persistent food insecurity induces genetic engineering as a po­tential solution.

Pakistan’s foray into modern biotechnology dates back to 1985. Since then 56 bio-tech research institu­tions have been founded to genetically modify crops. These institutions facilitated advancements in crop mod­ification, leading to increased yields in staple crops. Howev­er, a narrow focus on staple crops self-sufficiency overlooks the broader definition of food security, which encompasses access to safe and nutritious food. The country’s reliance on imports for nutritious crops like vegetables, pulses, and fruits not only con­tributes to food inflation but also exacerbates the trade deficit.

Currently, Pakistan is the eighth largest wheat producer in the world, yet it struggles with undernourishment and stunted growth among children. The National Food Security Policy 2018 recognised the skewed focus on staple crops like wheat, rice, and sugarcane, neglecting other essential crops for balanced nutri­tion. To address this issue, initiatives like genetic modification of seeds have shown significant results in enhancing crop yields. The Ministry of National Food Security & Research initiated a pi­lot project of genetically modifying maize seeds that resulted in an increase in production from 1 million metric tons in 2013 to 10.5 million metric tons in 2023. This implies that genetic engi­neering offers motivation for enhancing both the quantity and quality of crops, thereby ensuring national food security.

Oilseeds are one of the most needful crops in Pakistan that are being imported to meet the local demand. In the fiscal year 2021-2022, Pakistan imported 3.7 million metric tons of edible oil. To reduce this import surplus, the Ministry of National Food Security & Research gave the National Oilseed Policy in 2023 to attain self-sufficiency by producing oilseeds locally for next 10 years. The current roadmap to achieve the set goal is by in­creasing the area of harvesting, subsidising oilseeds, and capac­ity building of farmers. However, more production on less ag­ricultural land can be attained by genetic engineering. For this purpose, plant genetic modification techniques could be uti­lised. It is an in-plant and in-vitro genetic modification proce­dure for oil and protein seed crops. These genetically modified plants are more tolerant toward pests, heat, drought, and flood­ing. As Pakistan witnessed floods in 2022 which completely de­stroyed crops, causing food insufficiency and Pakistan is also a water-stressed country; therefore, this technique could ensure efficient and cost-effective oilseeds production.

Additionally, livestock contributes 62 percent to the agricul­tural GDP of Pakistan. According to Livestock Department Pun­jab, poultry is showing an impressive growth of 8 percent annu­ally and Pakistan has become the 11th largest poultry producer in the world. However, in Pakistan, chicken is the most exces­sively bred poultry product. Pakistan should invest in the ge­netic breeding of ducks, pigeons, and other Halal birds. Genet­ic breeding of duck has become a popular trend in Europe that could be indigenised. For this purpose, Runner and Campbell breeds of duck could be selected as they are excellent egg layers. They have the capability to lay 300 eggs annually which is much higher than broiler chickens. Ducks are also biological control­lers of insects; therefore, they could be used in rice fields and water ways to eradicate mosquitoes and pests.

Genetic engineering holds immense potential in bolstering Pak­istan’s food security by addressing deficiencies in crop produc­tion and livestock breeding. While strides have been made in en­hancing staple crop yields, attention must be directed towards promoting diversity in agricultural output. By incorporating ge­netic modification techniques and diversifying livestock produc­tion, Pakistan can mitigate the impact of environmental challeng­es and ensure access to safe and nutritious food for its population. However, comprehensive strategies that encompass minor crops and adulterated poultry species are imperative for achieving sus­tainable food security and alleviating hunger in Pakistan.

Naba Fatima
The Writer is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore. She can be reached at

The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. She can be reached at

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