Journalist: Yumnah Jafri
Syed Sultan Ali: I am working as a chief scientist; Rice Research Institute Kala Shah Kaku because I got my BSc and MSc Honours degree in agriculture. From that time. I like the rice crop.
Yumnah: So it’s the basmati rice and the purple rice?
Syed Sultan Ali: Yeah basmati and purple rice, but basmati rice with 10 mm grain length. This is the first first time any institute develop such a long rice. So this is our very big contribution for Pakistan. The purple rice will be commercialized to two years. It has many nutritional values, like 23 different kinds of antioxidants. Antioxidants means anti-cancerous rice, anti-inflammatory rice, and antidiabetic. Having more fiber, more vitamins. I contributed in a way for my farmers that they can achieve 15 to 25% higher yield.
Yumnah: You're saying that the main reason why you wanted to research rice, is to help the poor farmers in Pakistan.
Syed Sultan Ali: In the 1980s. Yeah, eighties. The farmers were very poor in Punjab Pakistan, and no variety was bringing prosperity for the farmers. But hybrid rice is the field, which even more can produce a yield. More percentage in terms of at least minimum yield, 15 to 25%. But in the case of our hybrid, it gives even 50% higher yield. So I think this achievement is with the minimum inputs, with the minimum cost of production, you can get the maximum yield. When you get the maximum yield, it means you have this surplus quantity of rice to feed your population.
Yumnah: It's great that you're finding these new breeds of rice that can feed a broader population with minimal effort. That's incredible. And I'm sure being at your position right now as the chief scientist in Pakistan for rice did not happen easily. Could you tell me about some challenges you faced, growing up pursuing your education or your current issues right now as a researcher?
Syed Sultan Ali: Yes. So many problems because Pakistan is a underdeveloped country, so there's a shortage of budgets. Always any government with shortage of budget, even shortage of scientists. When you visit international organizations, many private companies give donations for their research work on the basis of budgets and donations. International organizations, they not only hire the better scientist. And on higher wages. They contribute a lot for the betterment of humanity. But in Pakistan, being the poor country, always face the problem of the finance. So our budget is announced for one year, but we avail this budget just for three months, then again for three months, then again for three months.So this is the way we face many problems for budget. And the problem is the shortage of the scientist. We have set of 40 scientists at RRIKSK, but presently working with less than 50% strength. You can say due to financial constraint. Some political persons, they also pressurize to keep in this person for this post. Either it is eligible or no.
Yumnah: How about advice that you have for students who may be in or out of Pakistan, who are listening to the show right now and are interested in pursuing research and agriculture like you?
Syed Sultan Ali: It's very important question because agriculture is just like worship.
It's not a profession just to earn, it's a profession to the people. To serve the mankind. And when you serve the mankind, then you have to devote all of your efforts, all your energy for their betterment.
But I am sorry to say the young scientists who are joining this agricultural research, they prefer to work in that lab for DNA. But until you work in the field and you adopt the conventional breeding program for the development of the new varieties, no successes there. You may become the expert of the modern equipments, modern technologies, but in the world, not talking about the Pakistan, I'm talking about the whole world. The modern world, America, Australia…no commercial variety has been developed by using these modern technologies. They just help the commercial breeder to increase and improve his work. But the preference of the young scientist is to work in the air conditioned labs. So this is not good. This is not good for even themselves because when they work in the labs or in the air conditioner, they will learn nothing about the practical aspects of the crop. So it is my advice to young scientists if they like to work in the rice crop, they will have to enter the puddle soil, where the water is hot and even the temperature in the sky is very… June, July, you see very hot months of the year. So water in the field is very hot and the sun is very hot in the sky. But if you have the dedication, if you have the passion for the betterment of the future, for the betterment of the mankind, you have to work in the field under the puddle soil.
Yumnah: So you're saying that there needs to be more influence for hands-on experience in the lab rather than not having the results actually reflect what's happening in the real world. What do you think the scientific community as a whole community needs right now. What do they need to achieve? What do they need to know?
Syed Sultan Ali: Very few scientists of Pakistan have the chance to visit international institutions. So if we have the chances of collaborative research with such and visiting each other institute, there will be better improvement in the shortest possible time. So for international community, I would request that the big research institute please give them more funds allocation for the countries like Pakistan, because Pakistan government is a poor government. It cannot afford such a bigger funding. So the international funding agencies should provide opportunities for Pakistani scientists to build the other international organizations for the betterment of our local people.
Yumnah: That's very important to have more emphasis on collaboration across the world. Especially if you have a common goal, then it's very important to talk with others who are pursuing that. Thank you so much for that answer. And that's it for this week of SciSection. Make sure that you check out our podcast available on global platforms for our latests interviews.