Genetic erosion is taking place in both commercial and traditional crop species. This is due to many reasons like the growing population, the shift to intensive agriculture and the changing agricultural and economic environment. These include the opening of trade boundaries, and the lower economic return for the indigenous varieties.
The public sector research infrastructure developed and released more than 700 improved varieties of crops in Pakistan. This was due to the exemption of agriculture from patent laws. The share of the private sector in this field in Pakistan is negligible. This has aided the increase of food grain production since breeders have been able to develop high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties of crops without payment of royalties. Hence, seed is made available to farmers at low prices. A number of federal and provincial agricultural research institutes and universities in Pakistan are working on agricultural Biodiversity issues like conservation, evaluation and utilisation. A list of such institutes is given in Appendix C.
The Plant Genetic Resources Institute (PGRI) located at NARC is a federal facility for the conservation of plant genetic resources. At this institute, the germplasm of various crops and their wild relatives are collected and stored in the gene bank at low temperatures and moisture where they remain viable for a longer period. If any material goes out of stock, it is reproduced. This national facility has arrangements for mid-term conservation (10-20 years) and long-term conservation (more than 50 years). The material stored in the gene bank is documented and evaluated for various genetic characteristics.
After characterisation and evaluation, information is supplied to other research institutes. The various discipline-oriented institutes help to evaluate the germplasm for desirable characters. Research on recalcitrant species (where the plants fail to produce seeds or the seeds can not be stored) is still lacking in the country.
The above mentioned on-going Biodiversity conservation project at NARC deals with ex-situ conservation. Minimal work has been done on livestock animals. The conservation of livestock animals is mostly concentrated on a few breeds of buffalo and cattle. The on-going activities on the conservation, documentation and evaluation of crop genetic resources are given in the following sections.
9.7.2 Ex-situ Collections
Because of 28 plant collecting expeditions by the scientists of NARC, 18,000 samples of different crops have been collected and conserved at the PGRI.
The germplasm collections at the PGRI, Islamabad, are fully documented in a format recommended by the International Biotechnology and Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IBPGRI) and are kept in the form of data books. There are more than 16,000 samples currently present in the gene bank. Out of them about 60 percent have been acquired through expeditions and the remaining have been acquired from other institutes within and outside the country. The passport data of 75 percent of the collected samples has been entered into a database. Most of the donated data is present in electronic form. However, a complete computerised database has not been fully developed. The work on this database is in progress and reports have been designed for the users. The process of cataloguing the collected information is in progress. At present, only passport data of collections is being catalogued. Reports are generated crop wise. Agronomic evaluation information is separately maintained in the form of database files and hand-written data registers, still not integrated with the passport data file. Almost 80 percent of the samples are fully documented.
9.7.4 Evaluation and Characterisation
The evaluation of indigenous land races, primitive cultivars and their wild relatives need to be studied of the entire national germplasm. This evaluation will help to incorporate local desirable traits into the modern cultivars for sustainable agricultural production. It is strongly urged that evaluations be carried out at multiple locations. No systematic characterisation and evaluation work in these botanical gardens has been undertaken so far.
In order to fulfil its international obligations, Pakistan has become a party to several international agreements and has been actively involved in the discussions in various preparatory meetings on plant Biodiversity. The agreements and conventions include the following:
International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, 1961 (UPOV).
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Flora and Fauna, Washington, D.C. 1973.
International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, Leipzig, June 1996.
World Food Summit, Rome, November 1996.
Pakistan still has to go a long way to frame laws and policies to conserve all its genetic material, the multilateral exchange of material, farmer’s rights, etc.
This section describes livestock diversity; the breeds of cattle, horses, camels, goats and sheep. It also touches on the social and cultural values of livestock in the rural communities of Pakistan. It highlights the need for conservation of the local breeds, which hitherto has been ignored due to commercial considerations.
Domesticated cattle were already in use in the Indus Valley around 4000-5000 BC. Farmers of this region learned livestock improvement through breeding. Their main contribution is the excellent breeds of cows. These cows have been exported to all regions of the world. The cattle of the Indo-Pak subcontinent belong to the family Bovidae, Unlike the European cattle these are humped. Tolerance of extreme climatic conditions and sturdiness are the main qualities of the livestock of Pakistan. There are eight breeds of cows, two of buffalo, twenty-eight breeds of sheep, twenty-five of goat, one of horse, four of camels and three indigenous breeds of poultry. Wild relatives of cattle are not known. The urial is believed to be the wild relative of the sheep. The jungle fowl is believed to be the wild relative of the domestic chicken and is almost extinct. Wild relatives of the buffalo exist in India and Bangladesh.
Table 10.1: Estimated Livestock (Ruminant) Population of Pakistan
Due to the expansion of the irrigation system in the Punjab, two separate breeds of buffalo, the Nili and the Ravi, have inter-bred so much that they are now classified as one breed. Thoroughbred horses were imported from Britain in the early 20th century and raised in military stud farms. Fifty thousand thoroughbred horses were exported to England during the Second World War.
Pakistan has given the world some excellent breeds of cows. The Sahiwal cow has been exported to many countries and is noted for its large milk productivity. A brief account of the major breeds is given below, while the detailed list is given in Appendix F.