IRRI began its first initiative in Pakistan in 1966 when the Ford Foundation decided to fund IRRI directly to hire rice specialists. It was through this arrangement that Kenneth Mueller was hired as a rice specialist to lead the Pakistan accelerated rice production project. Collaboration between Pakistan and IRRI has continued and extended into mechanization, rice-wheat cropping systems, and resource-conserving technologies.
IRRI began its first initiative in Pakistan in 1966, when the Ford Foundation decided to fund the Institute to hire rice specialists. It was through this arrangement that Kenneth Mueller was hired to lead the Pakistan accelerated rice production project.
Modern rice varieties were adopted rather rapidly after they were introduced in Pakistan in 1968. The rice variety IR8 was reportedly successful in Pakistan because of high solar radiation and abundant irrigation water. When properly managed, IR8 yielded three to four times as much as local varieties and enabled the country to increase its rice production substantially.
Rice was an export commodity for Pakistan. Since the early 1970s much of Pakistan's exported rice has gone to the Middle East, a market that is willing to pay premium prices for high grade, traditional, scented basmati rices. IR8’s high yields in Pakistan's irrigated, high-sunlight environment influenced the rate and adoption level of modern varieties like IR8 across the country. By 1971 to 1972, modern rice varieties like IR8 were planted on nearly 50% of the national area.
Between 1971 and 1984, IRRI enabled rice researchers and extension workers in Pakistan to start collection campaigns of different types of locally grown rice. Whenever IRRI staff participated in field collection, the focus was on special ecological niches where adverse environmental (both biotic and physiologic) factors prevailed and where resistant or tolerant varieties might have been found.
During IRRI’s mechanization program, the Institute also worked closely with local manufacturers in several Asian countries that included Pakistan. When threshers had been developed they became the most popular threshers for paddy in the tropics, and adapted versions were also reportedly produced in Pakistan. Adapted from an IRRI design, a 2.2-m-wide tractor-mounted reaper in Pakistan also entered commercial production, and over 2,000 machines were manufactured in 1983-1984.
Current research and development with Pakistan
Breeding better rice varieties
IRRI is involved in the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium (HRDC). Through HRDC, new parental lines that are resistant to bacterial blight – the most important disease for hybrid rice in the tropics – and are tolerant to floods and drought are being developed via molecular marker selection. On average, about 1,200 breeding lines and 2,500 new hybrid varieties are included in the development activities each year. The breeding lines are shared with HRDC members, which provide new germplasm and hybrid rice parents for HRDC members. Besides developing hybrid rice parental lines with bacterial blight resistance and tolerance to flooding and drought, focus is given to molecular markers use on hybrid rice research and studying hybrid rice heterosis (capacity or vigor for growth).
Enhancing grain quality
IRRI aims to select effectively against chalkiness in rice through molecular markers. These markers are currently being used to screen for rice genetic materials called alleles that confer low chalkiness in rice. Using one breeding line that never shows chalk, many populations have been reportedly developed using recurrent selection (selecting for certain traits generation after generation). The tests showed that many of the rice progeny are low-chalk and also yield significantly above the current variety check used in IRRI's yield trials.
Integrated rice farming systems
Resource-conserving technologies were developed, tested, and widely adopted by farmers in rice-wheat systems across South Asia. Since farming systems in Pakistan usually involve diverse crops, technologies like conservation agriculture for rice-wheat systems helped farmers increase their productivity while enhancing the sustainability of these systems.
Rice varieties that are widely adaptable to different stresses like submergence, salinity, and other types of problem soils (alkalinity, iron toxicity, acid sulphate soils, or peat) were developed by screening existing tolerant rice varieties and then hybridizing them with other varieties that are tolerant to a different type of stress.
Water-saving technologies like alternate wetting and drying (AWD), aerobic rice, and other less water-intensive rice varieties have allowed farmers in the core rice-growing areas of Punjab and Sindh to reduce their water use so that some water can be diverted to other crops. Pressure on water resources is also reduced. Aerobic rice and other varieties that required less water provided 4.5-7 tons per hectare to farmers despite the lower amount of water used. Pakistan also identified eight IRRI lines that yielded 6 tons per hectare under AWD conditions. Moreover, four local basmati rice lines that yielded 4.5–5.5 tons per hectare, and four non‐basmati lines, which yielded 7 tons per hectare under AWD conditions, were identified. Meanwhile, in Sindh, 15 IRRI lines were identified as suitable for aerobic rice cultivation, and two lines (IR67015‐63‐3‐6‐3 and IR79906‐B‐192‐2‐4) were nominated for national variety testing for release.
Since IRRI was founded in 1960, it recognized that building scientific human capital was crucial to agricultural production so it supported the training and development of scholars from different countries, including Pakistan. From 1966 to 2012, a total of 224 Pakistani scholars were hosted or supported by IRRI, including 137 on short-term courses, 34 PhDs, 18 Masters, and 35 on-the-job trainees.
Like most countries in Asia, Pakistan sees agriculture as an important industry not only in providing food and fiber domestically, but also in providing livelihood and employment to a majority of the country’s population. Almost 67% of this population, who live in rural areas, are said to be either directly or indirectly dependent on this industry for their livelihood.
On the average, agriculture contributes one-fourth (about 22% in 2005-2006) of total Gross Domestic Product, and is also a major source of foreign exchange earnings. Rice is one of several agricultural commodities that Pakistan exports, and reportedly, has comparative advantage with.
The country specializes in and is famous for exporting long- and extra-long grain aromatic basmati rice, which has markets in the European Union, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and America. This premium rice can fetch up to as much as 567 USD per ton compared to 240 USD per ton of coarse rice in the international market, although Pakistan also exports the latter.
Rice growing situation and challenges
Rice crops are grown in Pakistan under four distinct zones that have diverse agroecological conditions. These are temperate Japonica rice in high altitude mountain valleys; and long-grain and heat-tolerant variety in Sindh, Baluchistan, and the south North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Because of rapid industrial growth, urbanization is consuming more fertile agricultural land. Other problems like disease complexes on popular basmati types also plague small-scale farmers besides inadequate resources for costly inputs or machinery. While IRRI types, due to their disease resistance can give farmers high yields, other areas need attention to help improve the rice scenario in Pakistan. These include focus on good varietal improvement, finding ways to sustain or improve soil fertility, better pest management; poor quality inputs, inadequate allocation of water (during years of drought), traditionally small-sized farm holdings, and others.
Fifteen years of research to help farmers conserve resources and manage their rice-wheat farms better in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan are captured in a book launched on 8 October 2009 at the Asian Development Bank.
Media releases and news items
- From crop production to market: Improving the livelihood of Pakistan’s basmati rice farmers
- “Super rice” to reach more poor farmers in Asia and Africa