A team of young Pakistani agricultural scientists at the National Research Center of Intercropping (NRCI), the Islamia University of Bahawalpur (IUB) are researching on strip intercropping technologies with the hope to help their country shrink the import bill of food commodities especially soybean, which already is a huge burden on Pakistan’s economy.
It’s remarkable that the ongoing work there originated from their collaboration with China, but has been optimized specially for Pakistan based on the country’s realities, which has been a shining model of Sino-Pak cooperation in both scientific research and educational exchange.
Since 2018, Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza, a post-doc who is graduated from Sichuan Agricultural University (SAU), China, has started to promote China’s maize-soybean strip intercropping technology in Pakistan with his professor Yang Wenyu’s support and guidance, which has received good response particularly from local industrialists and progressive farmers in the recent years. After years of hard work, he has become a productive agronomist and expert in intercropping research in Pakistan.
In 2020, Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza who graduated from Sichuan Agricultural University (SAU) presents maize-soybean strip intercropping technology to local farmers. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ali Raza]
Under the vision of the IUB Vice Chancellor Prof. Athar Mahboob, the National Research Center of Intercropping was inaugurated on August 11, 2021 to introduce strip intercropping technologies in Pakistan’s agriculture to improve crop yields and soil productivity. Now, Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza acts as the Director of the center, leading intercropping technology’s popularization in Pakistan.
To date, the center has already developed and optimized the Chinese maize-soybean strip intercropping technology according to local conditions, and conducted trials on the wheat-soybean strip intercropping. Moreover, to further enhance resource use efficiency and land productivity from the sugar belt of Pakistan, the center is working on developing sugarcane-based intercropping systems.
Recently, the center conducted trials of sugarcane- and wheat-based strip intercropping systems including rapeseed, soybean, clover, and chickpea as secondary crops, with developing the intercropping-specific varieties of these crops. The center is also conducting research on the different row configurations, particularly the wider strips, with an objective to encourage the mechanization of strip intercropping systems with existing farm machinery in Pakistan.
Intercropping demonstration plots at the National Research Center of Intercropping (NRCI). For this spring-summer season, their research focus is sugarcane- and wheat-based strip intercropping systems. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ali Raza]
Following the slogan of “Think Globally, Act Locally”, Sino-Pak cooperation is a special feature of NRCI. The center has signed multi-dimensional MoUs with Sichuan Agricultural University (SAU), Gansu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (GAAS), and Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences (SAAS) to exchange resources, researchers and students, and also has initiated collaboration with the National Soybean Center (NSC), Agro-ecology and Conservation Lab, and Molecular Biology Lab at Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU). It’s learned that the research at NRCI on the development and optimization of maize-soybean strip intercropping technology using water-saving technologies like drip irrigation is sponsored entirely by GAAS. Later on, GAAS will also help in the transfer and dissemination of the developed technology in Pakistan.
In addition, presently, there are eight researchers in total at NRCI including four agronomists, two breeders, two soil scientists, and one crop modeler, among which five graduated from top-notch Chinese agricultural universities including Sichuan Agricultural University and Nanjing Agricultural University on Chinese scholarships for their Ph.D. studies. Having been well groomed and trained in the strip-intercropping research and molecular physiology of the crops, they are applying what they learned in China to developing Pakistan’s agriculture sector.
Young Pakistani scientists of the National Research Center of Intercropping (NRCI) are checking the sowing work in the demonstration plots and discussing intercropping systems. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ali Raza]
“Learning from Chinese experience through bilateral cooperation would surely train and groom Pakistanis to fight against the current economic calamity. Particularly, the support of China in agricultural education and training would surely boost agricultural productivity in Pakistan, which will not only stabilize the economic condition of the country but also provide a nearby and cheaper food source to China that could reduce food security pressure on China,” Dr. Muhammad Ali Raza said with the vision of achieving a win-win situation via Sino-Pak agricultural cooperation.