Food is essential for life. And, as such, food security is vital for a nation’s long-term health. Indeed, it is the key to its independence in the truest sense. Without this, it becomes difficult for any country to comfortably take its place among the peace-loving international community. Thus political stability follows food security; it cannot come before. And state apparatuses need to keep this in mind given that regimes around the world will find it difficult survive in the face of increasing food insecurity due to rising populations; which risk widening prevailing disparities in accessing food. Pakistan is considered a low-income developing country. Agriculture is its most important sector due to its primary commitment of providing healthy food to the fast growing population. And although this rate has slowed down considerably from more than 3 percent during the 1980s to 2.09 percent for 2009-2010 — it is still rather high according to global standards. In fact, Pakistan’s population is expected to double by 2050 — taking it from the world’s sixth most populous nation to the fourth. This is extremely worrying given that our total cultivated landmass has increased by just 40 percent over the last 60 years. During this same period the population grew by more than four times; while urban areas saw a more than a seven-fold rise. This has resulted in so-called mega-cities, which, in turn, has led to the erosion of cultivated land. Thus food crops have not managed to keep up with such population booms. Realising grain production sustainability and overall food security continue to be challenges for much of the developing world, including Pakistan. Immense efforts are therefore needed to narrow the existing gap between population growth and domestic food production. Biotechnology offers a way forward. If this were adopted by Pakistani farmers, the result would be increased productivity and, by extension, improved food security. Biotech crops can significantly boost productivity and income by serving as an engine of rural economic growth; thereby contributing in real terms to lifting small and resource-poor farmers out of poverty. Yet Pakistan appears to have no long-term strategy towards this end At a time when nations across the world are focused on multiplying agricultural output, preventing disease and tackling environmental pollution — this country appears to have no long-term strategy to use this revolutionary science to confront any of the above. Biotech crops can significantly boost productivity and income by serving as an engine of rural economic growth; thereby contributing in real terms to lifting small and resource-poor farmers out of poverty. More than a decade ago, the government directed the Ministry of the Environment (presently, the Ministry of Climate Change) to draw up a set of national guidelines pertaining to biotechnology. The result was the Pakistan Biosafety Rules 2005, regulating all manner of biotech activities across both the public and private sector. These Rules not only legislate to underpin growing local demand for biotechnical interventions to improve corps — but also to meet Pakistan’s international obligations, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The 2005 Rules provides for the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) as the apex committee charged with approving proposals related to import, export, field trials as well as the commercial release of genetically modified crops in Pakistan. The NBC is headed by Secretary Climate Change and is located at the National Biosafety Centre, which houses the necessary facilities to implement the Rules. Then just last year, the Ministry of Food Security and Research notified Seed Rules 2016, which contains a detailed registration process for agricultural-biotech products conditional upon NBC approval. All of which is good news. The implementation of Biosafety Rules, along with its comprehensive set of guidelines, has given much needed impetus to agri-biotech research. Nevertheless, the government still needs to implement Seed Rules 2016 to ensure that biotech product registration is undertaken in order that farmers reap the productivity benefits. Let us not forget that number two of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals reads: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” For Pakistan, realising this means doubling agricultural output by 2030. Thus our policymakers need to get serious about further researching and identifying the importance of biotechnology in the agriculture sector. After all, our farmers’ livelihood is dependent upon this; not to mention that of our entire economy. In short, innovative technologies have to be exploited today in order to secure food supplies in the future. And biotechnology can help boost both crop yield and nutritional quality while also taking care of the environment. Pakistan can’t afford to be left behind. The writer is a freelance journalist specialising in socio-economic development in Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected] Published in Daily Times, December 3rd 2017.