Challenges to Biotechnology in
Sayyar Khan Kazi
establishment and development of bio-energy production also
needs biotechnological tools at the grass root level.
Similar facilities have
already been established in developed and some developing
Ethanol production from
sugarcane and maize is a routine activity and some countries
such as Brazil has transformed its automobile sector from
fossil fuels to bio-ethanol.
Likewise, in Japan,
biotechnology research is in advanced stages on the
industrial production of bio-petroleum from microorganisms
such as green algae.
The advantage of using
bio-feed stocks for bio-energy production over fossil fuels
is that bio-feed stocks are renewable resources which can be
grown in abundance and secondly these give maximum
protection to the environment by less CO2 emission and low
effect on green-house effect and climate change. In the near
future, these new energy resources will completely shift our
dependency on fossil fuels to ethanol, biodiesel and
There are many reasons behind the slow growth of research,
development and adoption of biotechnology products and their
commercialization in Pakistan. One of the main reasons is
lack of awareness of international obligations that regulate
research and development and trans-boundary movement of
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on
Biological Diversity is an international agreement that
specifically address the safety of transgenic organisms or
Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) in the environment in
relation to international trade. Pakistan signed the
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2001.
However, due to the slow establishment of infrastructure and
facilities for the Protocol implementation, the ratification
came in March 2009. It is worth mentioning that during Gen.
Musharraf regime (1999-2008), much emphasis was placed on
science and technology and Higher Education Commission (HEC)
was established under the able leadership of Dr.
Atta-Ur-Rehman. First time in the history of Pakistan, a
fairly large proportion of the country’s annual budget was
allocated for science and technology with the emergence of
new universities and research institutes across the country.
Biotechnology as a new baby also received a big share of the
allotted funds for building biotechnology infrastructure
including new buildings, purchase of equipments and trained
and skilled manpower. Thousands of biotech graduates were
sent abroad on scholarships to get training, expertise and
overall foreign research exposure.
However, this golden period
did not sustained longer and came to an end with the
transition of government from military rule to democracy.
Under the huge pressure from the so-called inherited
challenges including energy crisis, global recession and the
mounting international debts, the new democratically elected
government imposed big cuts on the funds allocated for
higher education. In addition, poor management at the
administrative level, gross mismanagement in funds
allocation and appointments of incompetent and non-technical
personnel resulted in hip-hazard research activities with no
clear cut future goals.
Apart from that, research duplications, lack of coordination
among the ongoing research activities at various biotech
centers, failure in targeting priority research areas, lack
of industry link with biotech research and lack of awareness
among common people towards adoption of new technologies and
their products, further aggravated the future of
biotechnology in Pakistan. These illogical and unhealthy
manoeuvrings undoubtedly damaged the future vision of
socio-economic development as perceived by the progress of
biotechnology and other science and technology related areas
working under the HEC.
The recent worsening of the energy crisis and continued
electricity shortage in the country added further fuel to
the fire. In the current situation with low funding for
research activities and frequent power shortage, it is
almost impossible to carry on biotechnology research
activities of international quality and standards at the
university and institute level. During the first decade of
2000, which represents the initial phase of biotech
establishment in the country, a major portion of the
allotted funds for biotech institutes was spent on purchase
of expensive and state of the art research equipments.
However, the present situation is that most of these
equipments are not functional due to either lack of trained
and skilled manpower or shortage of funds to fulfill their
energy and other consumption requirements. That is the main
reason, our biotech institutes are mainly focusing on theory
rather than quality and product-oriented practical research
of international standards.
In 2001, in the University of Agriculture, Peshawar, an
institute called IBGE (Institute of biotechnology and
genetic engineering) was established as a step forward to
introduce and promote biotechnology in the KPK. Prof. Dr.
Zahoor Ahmad Swati, a well known educationist and the
founder director, solely envisioned the need of such an
institute at KPK and gave it a practical shape. IBGE is now
a reality with a newly constructed building, labs,
green-houses, research fields and most importantly a highly
trained and qualified young academia, zealous to deliver and
compete on international level.
During this limited time
period since its establishment, IBGE has produced a large
number of graduates who are either working in the country or
went abroad for higher studies. Apart from academic
achievements, IBGE has also focused and accomplished on
several aspects of the genetic improvement of some important
crop plants such as disease resistant wheat and better oil
producing brassica varieties. Despite these positive
developments, researchers are facing various challenges to
continue quality and competitive research activities.
Frequent electricity breakout nowadays is a major obstacle
that restricts a continuous running of equipments for
research activities and sometimes even small experiments can
take longer times extended to weeks and months, compromising
the quality of research. As an alternative energy source,
electric generators are available but again the problem
arises due to availability of either no or low funds to meet
their fuel requirements.
These and related issues must be sort out before forecasting
any role of biotechnology in the socio-economic development
of the country on one hand and competition with rest of the
world based purely on scientific achievements on the other.
Now it is high time for the concerned authorities at the
provincial and federal levels, dealing with promotion of
science and technology to realize seriousness of the
situation and give due attention to the mounting challenges
to science and technology in general and biotechnology in
Sufficient funds should be provided to biotech institutes so
that they can continue and focus on practical research
activities without any interruption either due to
electricity load shedding or lack of necessary consumables.
On the parallels, the ongoing research activities at various
biotech institutes in the country should be streamlined
under a centralized regulating body free of red-tapism and
political shuffling that could efficiently govern their
tight regulation, evaluation and coordination.
The following points should be focused for improvement of
biotech research in the country;
1) setting priority research areas to avoid research
duplication and loss of resources,
2) tight monitoring and evaluation to ensure quality of
3) meeting international regulatory obligations,
4) proper infrastructure for biosafety of transgenic plants,
5) linking the local industry with biotech research,
6) jobs creation for biotech graduates,
7) seeking international donors and multinational companies
to invest in the biotech sector,
8) protection of intellectual property rights and patenting
9) education and awareness of common people towards biotech
10) inclusion of biotech courses at the school and college
These points, if sincerely taken into consideration may help
straighten the direction of biotechnology towards a
product-oriented discipline contributing to the
socio-economic development of the country.
The Frontier Post