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[ISLAMABAD] The recent Pakistan floods have caused substantial damage to the country's crop research, washing away new seed varieties and test crops planted in the fields, and damaging buildings and equipment, leaving the country's research institutes in disrepair.

So far, the floods have killed more than 2,000 people and affected a further 21 million, killed 200,000 livestock and destroyed 4.25 million acres of crops worth US$5 billion, according to estimates from the Ministry for Food and Agriculture and Livestock.

The country has lost not just major crops such as wheat, cotton, rice, millet and sugar cane, but valuable new seed varieties developed over years to increase staple crop yields for particular regions. The long-lasting floods will also affect the ecology of the region rendering much previous crop research useless.

"The recent floods in Pakistan have changed the agriculture research scenario altogether," said Muneer Goraya, scientist at the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council. "Our previous data has been rendered useless as [the] post-flood scenario has changed cropping systems, soil characteristics, the pH [degree of acidity] of different substances, and underground water depth."

The country's Cereal Crops Research Institute (CCRI), in the country's Nowshera District, has "turned into ruins", Atta-ud-Deen, the institute's director told SciDev.Net.

The institute has lost all its machinery, scientific equipment and field farms — an infrastructure loss worth an estimated US$3.3 million, according to the province's agriculture department.

Before the floods the institute was engaged in developing new high-yielding, insect-resistant maize and wheat for different agro-ecological zones to meet the food demand of the increasing population in this food-deficient province. 

The institute had recently developed two new hybrid seeds — Babar and Karamat — which could boost maize production from curent 1,800 to 4,000–5,000 kilograms per hectare, according to Atta-ud-Deen. But mass production of these seeds has now been postponed.

Agriculture Research Institute experiment destroyed by floods. Credit: A. A. Khan

Crop breeding research programmes will have to be restarted

Ahmad Said, Research Farms in Charge, ARI Tarnab, Peshawar

He said the institute would need to be rebuilt, obtain new seeds, and only then restart crop breeding research programmes. 

Other regional agriculture research centres have suffered extensive damage worth US$4.5 million in total: the Sugar Crops Research Institute, in Mardan; the Agriculture Research Institute (ARI) at Tarnab, near Peshawar; the ARI in D.I. Khan, Agricultural Research Station in Swat, Agriculture Research Center in Boner, all of which were engaged in developing the new seed varieties and hybrid crops adapted to local ecological conditions.    

Ahmad Said, who heads the ARI farms, told SciDev.Net: "Our experimental farms spanning over 6,000 acres of land were deeply inundated in water which took away many new varieties of fruit seeds which were in the final stages of development. We started research on those seeds three years back. We have also lost 70 tonnes of new varieties of maize seeds which were sowed on 50 acres of land."

Shahid Mahmood, director of the Soil Fertility Institute at the Agriculture Department of Punjab, told SciDev.Net that "damage has been done to soil fertility research in the flood-hit areas of Punjab. We have lost some of our experiments on soil for cotton and oil seed crops in [several of] our field stations." 

Goraya said that, with support from the government and international agencies, Pakistan's damaged agriculture research institutes will be able to resume work. But so far, other provinces have not even estimated losses to agriculture research infrastructure.

The destroyed crops in Pakistan's flooded areas include three million bales of cotton worth US$1 billion, sugarcane worth US$588 million, maize worth US$259 million, rice paddies worth US$247 million and over 667,000 tonnes of wheat worth US$190 million; also livestock worth US$1 billion and fruits and vegetables worth US$518 million were lost.

"We have nothing to start our research with, all equipment is damaged, the building is in such a condition that we do not even have a place to sit," Atta-ud-Deen told SciDev.Net.