a new stage in the CPEC

As agricultural countries, China and Pakistan are currently facing the same challenges – growing food demand and scarcity of agricultural land jointly threaten food security.

In addition to the world’s three main staple foods, one crop has gradually gained attention: sorghum.

As an indispensable dry food crop, sorghum is second only to wheat, corn, rice and barley in China in planting area and production.

Agricultural experts call it “the camel of crops” because of its many excellent qualities such as resistance to pests and diseases, high temperature, cold and salinity.

“Sorghum is a versatile crop that can play an important role in food and fodder supply. At a time when the world is facing the double challenge of the epidemic and the food crisis, it is a win-win choice to integrate this versatile culture into the cooperation framework of CPEC and to add a layer of additional guarantee to the food security of China and Pakistan”, which was the consensus shared by the experts of the Symposium on the development of the industry of the sorghum of China and Pakistan organized recently.

According to Dr Shahzor Gul, an assistant professor at the Institute of Food Science and Technology, Sindh University of Agriculture, Pakistan, since the climatic conditions are excellent for sorghum production and the emergence of a water shortage has necessitated the production of sorghum on a large scale, this cash crop means the most affordable option.

“In Pakistan, about 5.4 tons of sorghum is produced per hectare, more than wheat and rice, which have 3 and 2.2 tons per hectare respectively. Meanwhile, since wheat is mainly a winter crop and sorghum is mainly a summer crop, the demand for sorghum is considerably lower and there is no direct competition,” Gul told the CEN.

However, he pointed out that sorghum yields in Pakistan are still meager due to lack of better cultivators, insufficient plant population, unscientific fertilizer application, lack of weed control techniques and water conservation procedures. Further, Gul indicated that the mode of consumption of sorghum is quite traditional and it is not available as a commercially processed food in the Pakistani market.

“This is mainly due to the lack of processing technologies and the availability of machines. And sorghum has not been used in our beverage and bakery industry due to various factors including lack of awareness and lack of taste.

“There are not many grain sorghum processing factories in Pakistan. This industry holds immense potential to provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of people. Similar views are shared by Dr. Shahzad Sabir of the Punjab Department of Agriculture. “Punjab and Sindh are Pakistan’s major sorghum producing provinces, contributing 47% and 26% of the total respectively,” he said.

“On the other hand, in 2019, we exported $23,500 worth of sorghum, making Pakistan the 53rd largest sorghum exporter in the world. In the same year, sorghum was the 91st most exported commodity in Pakistan. Obviously, it falls far short of expectations, especially in the face of the growing global food crisis.Countless opportunities await us to discover together.

“In 2020-2021, we conducted planting trials of more than 10 sorghum varieties in Pakistan and obtained preliminary results. Of these, five varieties – 01, 02, 03, 04 and 12 – performed better,” said Yuan Guobao, Vice Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Agricultural Expert Committee of the NEXT Federation, in a statement. exclusive interview with CEN.

“The tannin content of locally grown sorghum is generally around 1.3% to 1.6%, however, depending on trial data, benefiting from excellent local light and temperature conditions, the tannin count can climb up to 2.3%. Given the important role of tannin in food processing and industrial production, we can promote the cultivation of these varieties in Pakistan and then send them back to China for further processing.

At the symposium a few days ago, Yuan not only systematically presented the preliminary results of planting trials, but also pointed out the multiple economic benefits brought by possible large-scale plantings in the future.

“The superior drought, sterility and saline-alkaline tolerance of Chinese hybrid sorghum varieties makes them a good choice for the water-scarce and saline-alkali regions of Pakistan.

“Secondly, Pakistan has a vast rice-growing area. In some southern regions near the Indian Ocean, after the rice harvest, sorghum can be planted in autumn and winter, increasing local farmers’ income through crop rotation. If the planting area can be expanded in the future, the offshore area means our vessels will be more convenient to transport the processed sorghum and save transportation cost. Undoubtedly, it is an excellent model of cooperation with multiple economic benefits, effectively increasing Pakistan’s foreign exchange.

According to Yuan, if large-scale planting of China’s dominant varieties can be achieved in Pakistan, it is conservatively estimated that local production will increase by around 50%.

Even better, the high tannin content of sorghum means that this type of strong-smelling, astringent chemical has a natural resistance to birds and insects. Similar to the antiparasitic effect of garlic, it is very beneficial for the effective control of insect attacks.

This is just a tip of the iceberg of opportunity for Pakistan’s sorghum industry. Yuan mentioned that China is implementing active quota management on the import of rice, corn and wheat. Sorghum is subject to quota-free import management and only needs a bilateral quarantine agreement for import.

According to statistics released by the General Administration of Customs of China, from January to December 2021, China’s import volume of sorghum was 9.42 million tons, up 4.61 million tons or 95, 8% compared to 2020.

The amount of imports was $3.027 billion, an increase of $1.871 billion or 161.9% from 2020.

Based on the plantation, experts from China and Pakistan agreed that it is crucial to further develop downstream deep processing industries and create more employment opportunities in the future.

Although imports have increased, processed products have not been included. “If agricultural joint ventures are established in countries along the Belt and Road, subsidies will be given to processing lines, which will benefit the sorghum processing industry,” Yuan told CEN.

Dr. Shahzor Gul specifically said, “Sorghum could be made into baked goods, puffed food, drink, porridge, etc. And the introduction of new technologies can remove the constraints of traditional processing methods, while improving the nutrient content and shelf life of products. We are fortunate to have a wide scope of cooperation.

At present, the China-Pakistan cooperation plan for sorghum has taken a strong first shot. “Our first stage, the sorghum planting training program for Pakistani students is progressing smoothly, with high quality seed sources being the top priority. People engaged in agricultural sciences often say that “seeds are the chips of agriculture”, and I believe that the day when China-Pakistan cooperation on sorghum will bear fruit is not so far,” concluded Yuan confidently.

The article was originally published on the China Economic Net

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18and2022.

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