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Borlaug’s legacy forges global relations benefiting U.S. soybean farmers

Article cover photo
During a U.S. soy trade mission to South Asia last week, ISA leaders including President Tim Bardole and President-Elect Jeff Jorgenson (third and fourth from left) met with officials to discuss opportunities to import U.S. soybeans. (Photo: Aaron Putze)

By Aaron Putze, APR

Enter the Pakistan Agriculture Research Center (PARC) in Islamabad and you’ll notice a framed, glass-encased photo of Dr. Norman Borlaug prominently displayed in its board room.

It’s not a decoration.

“We salute Dr. Borlaug,” says Azeem Khan, PARC chairman, when asked about the framed picture of the Iowa farm kid who became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate by helping millions avert starvation.

Khan’s voice then lowers, and his shoulders narrow as he leans in and peers directly into the eyes of the soybean farmers and industry leaders gathered in front of him during a U.S. soy trade mission to Pakistan.

“Dr. Borlaug is our hero.”

The respect and admiration that exists for the “Father of the Green Revolution” in a country located more than 7,000 miles from Iowa is genuine and well placed.

The Cresco, Iowa, native’s skills in agronomy helped feed and nourish millions in South Asia, including Pakistan. Wheat developed by Borlaug and introduced in Pakistan in 1965 enabled the country to become self-sufficient in its production in just three years.

Fast-forward 55 years, and Borlaug’s memory isn’t the only tie between Iowa and the people of Pakistan. Today, the country needs soybeans grown by Iowa farmers for its fish, poultry and dairy industries. And once again, farmers are answering the call.

A photo of Dr. Norman Borlaug is prominently displayed in the Pakistan Agriculture Research Center (PARC) in Islamabad.(Photo: Aaron Putze/Iowa Soybean Association)

Need soybeans

“Soybeans are near to our heart,” Kahn told the group he hosted during the trade mission last week. “We need a lot of soybeans and no one knows more than the U.S. soybean farmer.”

A visit to the PARC’s headquarters and conversations with chief Pakistani ag officials was one of more than a dozen meetings held during a U.S. soy trade mission to South Asia in February. Iowa Soybean Association President Tim Bardole, President-Elect Jeff Jorgenson and staff members Kirk Leeds, Grant Kimberley and Aaron Putze joined a 9-person delegation that also made stops in Bangladesh.

Pakistan, the world’s 29th largest economy, is self-sufficient in corn production but grows few soybeans. With a population of more than 200 million (up from 51 million in 1965 and increasing by roughly 4 million annually), the country’s appetite for eggs, fish, poultry and milk is also on the rise.

That requires feed; quality feed requires soybeans.

Five years ago, Pakistan’s soybean imports were almost nil. In 2018-19, the country purchased 1.7 million metric tons (mmt), or roughly 64 million bushels. This year, demand is expected to total 2.2 mmt (or almost 80 million bushels). Pakistan’s appetite for soybeans is estimated to double within five years.

Almost 85% of Pakistan’s demand for soy is fulfilled by U.S. farmers.

Leeds, who has traveled the globe extensively marketing soybeans, says the opportunity for additional sales to a country getting its economic footing is welcomed news to U.S. soybean farmers.

He credits the U.S. Soybean Export Council for nurturing relationships in Pakistan, home to 80 crushing facilities.

“The council is clearly respected here,” Leeds, ISA CEO says. “They’re connected to leaders in the fish, livestock, processing and feed milling industries and among association and government leaders. Its collaboration and partnerships are making a positive difference.”

Azeem Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Center in Islamabad, presents Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association a gift during their visit last week. (Photo: Aaron Putze/Iowa Soybean Association)

Game changer

The development and implementation of In-Pond Raceway Systems (IPRS), a joint venture between USSEC and ISA, has been a game changer for fish production and is taking root in developing countries, including Pakistan.

The ISA makes an annual investment in USSEC and was an early funder of the raceway system now being used in hundreds of locations across Asia. It enables farmers to raise fish more productively, efficiently and sustainably.

Kahn is optimistic about future growth in Pakistan’s aqua industry. Farmers, he says, have access to rivers and wells suitable for fish production. In-pond raceway systems established in the country are also offering opportunities to raise new species and decrease by nearly two-thirds the time it takes to get fingerlings to market.

The quality of fish feed has improved thanks to the use of quality U.S. soybeans, Kahn says.

“Aquaculture people understand the importance of intensive fish culture and new species like tilapia are becoming increasingly popular,” he said. “Soybean in aquaculture has been established and we can work together. U.S. can help us grow not only in terms of selling and promoting its product but answering user questions.”

Kahn says government-funded projects in Pakistan are also underway to help increase aqua farming, including shrimp and trout production.

“If we can hold hands in these phases, there are huge opportunities,” he told the delegation. “I ask my colleagues in the USA to work with us to formulate soybean-based feeds. We remain a protein-deficient country, but with your help, we can change starting with low-cost and effective feed.”

Leeds says U.S. soybean farmers relish being a long-term partner with Pakistani’s feed and fish industries.

“I’ve seen the impact of us working with partnerships around the world,” Leeds says. “The model Pakistan offers is one that has worked very well in other countries.

“The soybean farmers I represent are committed to helping you increase your productivity,” Leeds told Kahn. “Your focus on aqua is shared by the soybean industry – there’s excitement and optimism to grow the industry in Pakistan.”

Contact Aaron Putze at

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