ISLAMABAD: The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), US Agency for International Development (USAID), Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) and other partners convened a two-day annual ‘Maize Working Group’ meeting under Agricultural Innovation Programme (AIP) for Pakistan. While officially opening the meeting, the PARC Chairman Dr Nadeem Amjad said that the maize is the third most important cereal crop in Pakistan. He said that the average yield of maize in Pakistan, currently around four ton/hector, is one of the highest in South Asia. He said the commodity needed further intervention in the areas of well adopted varieties, seed quality and high input costs adding that as Pakistan is among the water scarce countries, it is imperative to have water efficient maize cultivars that could effectively utilise available surface water so that farmers could reduce the number of irrigation they provide to the crop. He said varieties that could withstand drought and other biotic and a biotic stresses are important particularly for small scale farmers adding that the CIMMYT in partnership with national partners is testing maize varieties tolerant to stem borer, low nitrogen and drought stress which is a commendable effort not only it addressed the issue of our small scale farmers but also contributed for a greener agriculture. The PARC chairman said Pakistan imported more than 85 percent of maize hybrid seeds, which is among the causes for the highest unit seed price in the country adding that the hybrid seed price ranges from 6-8 USD/kg as compared to 3-4 USD/kg in other South Asian countries. He said that the import bill for hybrid maize seed exceeds 60 million dollars per year adding that it is the commitment of PARC to help empower local institutions to reduce this dependency. He said PARC doing all the necessary efforts to enhance indigenous hybrid seed production. Under the AIP programme, CIMMYT is providing the germplasm to local institutions to start hybrid seed production in Pakistan, he added. He said the CIMMYT providing parental seeds without claiming royalty, which is a unique approach, in helping farmers in the developing world. He also acknowledged the encouraging results from the AIP maize activities in Pakistan. He said that in February this year, two biofortified maize hybrids were launched from this programme and at the same time, we officially shared the parental seeds of best performing maize hybrids and open pollinated varieties to 11 public and private partners in order to fast track the seed production locally adding that the share of these valuable parental lines and breeder seeds is one of the invaluable contributions and success of AIP. The PARC chairman said that in a period of two years, national partners received the parental seeds of 36 hybrids and 13 OPVs that were tested in the different agro ecologies of Pakistan under the AIP maize Programme. Efforts are required to utilise these precious germplasm so that our resource poor maize farmers can have affordable maize seeds at their doorstep, he added. He also emphasised on strong public-private partnership to make Pakistan self-sufficient in quality maize seed supply and to enhance availability, accessibility and affordability of maize seeds by the resource poor farmers which in turn help Pakistan to become maize seed exporter in the foreseeable future. He acknowledged the role of CIMMYT for the valuable contribution for the enhancement of maize and wheat crops in Pakistan and USAID for the generous financial support for this programme. On the occasion, National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) Director General Dr Muhammad Azeem Khan highlighted the efforts of PARC and NARC for the development of new maize varieties and hybrids and coordination with National Agricultural Research System (NARS). The CIMMYT-Pakistan Country Liaison Officer Dr Imtiaz Muhammad briefed about the AIP Project updates, CIMMYT Maize Improvement and Seed System Specialist Dr Abdu Rahman Beshir gave a detail presentation on “AIP-Maize: progress review and summary of achievements”. He also highlighted the key challenges of production of quality seed and maintenance of parental lines and seed distribution issues in the Gilgit Baltistan (GB), Balochistan, Sindh and AJK. The NARC Principal Scientific Officer and Programme Leader (Maize) Dr Zahid Shafiq also spoke and highlighted the meeting objectives.