Wheat is the major food crop of Pakistan grown over an area of 8 million hectares scattered over a wide range of ecological regions. Presently, most of the areas are occupied by improved varieties but local land races still exist in Balochistan, the Northern Areas, Chitral and Kashmir. Variation is not only in plant characteristics like plant height, straw thickness, grain size, colour, and spike density, but in their tolerance to stresses like salinity and drought. The land races of wheat grown in Balochistan are of great importance due to their tolerance to drought and salinity.
Rice is another important cereal crop. During various surveys, rice germplasm collections were made from 1972-77 and more than 900 cultivars were recorded and collected at the NARC from different areas. Pakistan is considered the origin of the famous Basmati rice, due to its grain length and aroma. Besides Basmati, coarse and glutinous rice is also grown in many areas. Some of the rice cultivars/land races have been reported to be resistant to diseases and pests. In Punjab, where Basmati rice is grown, 100% cultivation is under improved varieties due to the economic value of this cereal crop.
In addition to wheat and rice, primitive types of maize, sorghum, finger millet, foxtail millet, buckwheat, barley etc. are grown in Pakistan. Communities in northern Pakistan cultivate different barley races (covered and naked), foxtail, and millet and finger millet races.
Pulses are grown over an area of 1.48 million hectares and are an important group of food crops providing proteins. Among food legumes, the chickpea, lathyrus, lentil, mung bean, mash bean, pigeon pea, Cowpea and moth bean, broad bean, and the common bean constitute important gene pools of various legumes. Diversity occurs in plant type, days to maturity, pod size, shape, grain colour etc. Some of the germplasm has been identified as resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses. Due to concerted efforts by various research institutes in the country, the release of high yielding varieties in chickpea, lentil, mung and mash has resulted in the erosion of various local races/cultivars from the farmer's field. Due to lesser attention on the pigeon pea, cowpea, moth bean and the broad bean, the rate of genetic erosion is comparatively less than in conventional food legumes, chickpea, lentil, and mung.
Pakistan lies between two major centres of fruit diversity, the Caucasus Mountains and China. An ancient trade route from China to western Asia and Europe passed through this region. Fruit species from the route were brought here and have been grown for centuries. A wide range of fruit species such as mango, guava, citrus, banana, Zizyphus (ber), Eugenia (Jaman), apple, peach, plum, apricot, grapes, and nuts like almond and walnut are grown. These possess wide genetic variability in fruit size, shape, colour, maturity time and quality etc. These fruit species have been diversified through human selection over hundreds of years. There are more than 150 clones/local cultivars of apricots grown in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Wide variation exists in fruit size, shape, colour, taste, seed size, quality of kernel etc. The recent introduction of hybrid varieties of apricots has posed a serious threat of genetic erosion to the local cultivars.
The local pears and peaches are also diverse in terms of fruit size, shape and time to maturity. The grapes grown in Pakistan include land races of Vitis vinefera, V. jacquemontii and V. parvifolia. The adaptation pattern of different species varies from the arid dry to the humid regions. Vitis vinegera demonstrates great diversity in Skardu, Hunza, and Gilgit. V. Jacquemontii is adapted to the high rainfall areas in Swat and Kashmir. The wild species of V. parvifolia are distributed sparsely in the Chickar area of Azad Kashmir.
All the mangoes grown in Pakistan are mono-embryonic. More than 150 varieties have been documented. The most famous varieties are Sindri, Malda, Dosaria, Chonsa, Anwar Retole etc. The maturity time of mango varieties varies from early June to late August or early September indicating a wide diversity. Similar patterns of variability exist in citrus, guava, etc. Mango is the most popular fruit in Pakistan; the private sector as well as the government research institutes continuously works to develop better varieties through grafting. The ratio of grafted to the non-grafted local varieties in the fruit markets have shifted. Today, it is rare to find the non-grafted fruit as compared to fifty years ago.
Market demand and non-availability of local seeds are causing genetic erosion in major vegetables like tomatoes, onions, peas, lady fingers, brinjals, cauliflower, carrots, radishes, turnips, etc. The indigenous diversity is still to be found in cucurbits, bitter gourd, spinach, Lufa, and Brassica spp.
Changes in Food Habits30 and the Effects on Biodiversity
A review of historical records shows that more than 85 percent of the population of Pakistan a century ago was rural, and dependent on agriculture or livestock for a living. There has been a trend to adopt the urban way of life, and now, though the majority still lives in rural areas, have adopted urban lifestyles. One hundred years ago, two meals were taken daily. The staple food was based on the seasonal availability of food; millet was the staple food. It was taken with gur (brown sugar) and butter oil, sag (mustard), and lassi (yoghurt drink). Meat was eaten on marriages and once a year during the Eid ul Azha festival (See section 12.2 on Religious and Cultural Beliefs). The fruit of the thorn forest tree, called Peelu (Salvadora oleides) was the staple food for two months, and entire village communities would go in the bushes to eat the fruit. Today people take three meals daily. As there is not enough butter oil, imported oils are used for cooking. The consumption of white sugar and tea has increased, and Pakistan has the largest per capita consumption of tea in the world. A huge amount of foreign exchange is spent on the import of oilseeds. Edible oils like soya and palm oil are imported. Wheat was occasionally eaten a century ago, but now the staple diet of the entire country is based on wheat. This has resulted in efforts to bring more land area under wheat cultivation. The use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides has increased consequently, and original ecosystems, flora and fauna though not fully documented appear to be on the verge of extinction. Ninety percent of the farming communities use tractors instead of the traditional bulls for ploughing. Consequently, there is little incentive for farmers to keep draught animal breeds. This shift in lifestyle has been gradual and unplanned, and the western way of life is attractive, so the trend continues. The consumptive pattern is likely to expand with economic development, resulting in environmental degradation and Biodiversity loss. With the launching of the NCS (1992), Pakistan is in a much better situation vis a vis environmental awareness than it was a decade ago.