Imported seeds fast replacing local varieties in Pakistan

In this file photo, Pakistani workers carry freshly picked cotton at a factory at Khanewal in the central province of Punjab on Feb.24, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 02 October 2018

Imported seeds fast replacing local varieties in Pakistan

KARACHI: Agriculture constitutes the largest sector of Pakistan’s economy and the majority of the population depends on it. It contributes about 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), accounts for half of the country’s employed labor force, and is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. It feeds the whole rural and urban populations of Pakistan.
The country has a rich biodiversity and multinational companies have realized this. Thousands of varieties of seeds, medicinal plants and herbs have been developed over hundreds of years by farming communities, who were well-equipped with indigenous knowledge of the local environment, climate and conditions for agricultural production.
But the day is not far off when the entire seed business will be controlled by seed companies, leaving local farmers totally dependent on imported or multinationals’ seeds.
In 2013, Pakistan’s total seed requirements were more than 1.6 million metric tons, whereas the country could produce only 362,000 metric tons of certified seeds. The country has four cash crops — cotton, wheat, rice and sugarcane — which have a major contribution in the country’s GDP worth more than $313 billion.
There are 760 companies in the seed production business in Pakistan, including five multinational companies. The informal sector is still the major seed supplier in the country, with more than 90 percent of the seeds used coming from farmers and other sources such as commissioned agents, retailers and shopkeepers.
Cotton is a strategic crop for Pakistan and a major source of exports. Since 2008, hybrid or GM cotton is being cultivated in more than 90 percent of the cotton belt across Pakistan without proper trials.
Recently, the Pakistan Central Cotton Committee, while ringing an alarm bell, revealed that GM seeds had contaminated all local cotton seed varieties.
Meanwhile, local research institutes have almost abandoned research work, and almost all vegetable seeds are now being imported from India and other countries. Until a few years ago, these seeds were produced locally. Nowadays hybrid corn seeds are imported by multinationals, while fruit seeds including watermelon, melon, strawberries, tomato, capsicum, cucumber, and even coriander are also being imported.
The reason for the fast replacement of indigenous seeds with multinational seeds is a lack of research and development on new varieties, as the local research institutions have completely abandoned this segment. Now, even for cotton, researchers are completely reliant on multinationals after introducing their GM genes into local cotton seed varieties.
As a result, the production of cotton is constantly declining, while the fiber quality is also deteriorating. After the large-scale cultivation of the GM Bt cotton, new pests have emerged and secondary pests are out of control. This means farmers have to bear the additional cost of pesticides, while production is decreasing and seeds are losing their germination quality.
Currently only wheat seed is produced locally, but GM lobbyists are also trying to capture that market. Sugarcane is another cash crop and these seeds are imported from Sri Lanka and Mexico as it is a tropical-weather seed. Indigenous seeds are being replaced without proper impact studies and the authorities lack the proper facilities and skilled workers.
The imported seeds also bring inherited diseases and pests, such as the American cotton bollworm. To cover their negligence, regulators and researchers are linking production loss with climate change impacts.
Though the world’s sixth-most populous country has consistently been a net importer of sowing seeds in terms of value, it has achieved trade surpluses for specific types of seed, including wheat, barley, cotton and herbaceous flowering plants. Still, its dependence on foreign seed supplies remains high. In 2016, the country logged a seed trade deficit of just under $550 million, deriving from $560 million of imports and a little more than $10 million of exports.
The downward journey of Pakistan’s seed exports started in 2014, when they plummeted by 72 percent in volume and 41 percent in value, and this sharp decline has continued.

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.