Experts urge forming policies to adopt alternative solutions to tackle challenges of food insecurity in future

Karachi, January 07, 2019 (PPI-OT): The experts during the inaugural session of three-day long international conference on ‘Sustainable Development: Halophytes for Green Revolution’ urged on the policies to adopt alternative solutions to tackle challenges of food insecurity in future.

The Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization (ISHU) of the University of Karachi (KU), has organized second international conference at the Karachi University Business School (KUBS), KU, is scheduled from January 07 to 09. One of the keynote speakers, Professor Dr Hans-Werner Koyro from Germany shared that people are getting older and requirement of getting good food is also getting higher and higher as the competition with food has increased over the years.

He informed that if one wants to work with salt resistance plants, then he or she must keep it in mind that it is not easy at all. There are around 2000 different types of halophytes around the world and still the definition of halophyte is not clear. Some people even labelled potatoes, which is largely used as regular food item, as halophyte. Hence, there is a dire need of research based use of plants for saline agriculture. We believe, many local halophytes of saline habitats which are already salinity tolerant, can be shaped as future crops through intense direction-based research.”

Professor Dr Hans-Werner added that many plants are already being used as food around the world and besides getting nutrition from such plants, there are many other benefits including biofuels which is not bad for environment. He observed that halophytes could also provide protection to the coastal lines and in some cases, Pakistan and other countries, are using plants as greenification as well. He advised that structurized work approach should be adopted while working on halophyte projects.

Meanwhile, the Director UNESCO France Dr Miguel Clusener-Godt, shared that it was his second visit to the country and Karachi University as well and was pleased to see how academia and scientific bodies are moving forward in the field of halophyte biology.

He observed that the higher education institutes are taking interest in halophytes and spreading awareness and knowledge regarding the uses and benefits of halophytes. The youngsters are taking interest in the topic which is a very positive and good sign as they have to take over in future and this is right time for them to learn and implement.

He was of the view that halophyte utilization is one of the most reliable answers for heavy investments in science and particularly in agriculture field. The food shortages could be minimized by adopting halophyte as nonconventional crops for already salt-hit lands. The conference theme is also in-line with the UNESCO’s sustainable development goals and also with the Man and Biosphere Program.

The Advisor Science, UNESCO Thailand, Dr Benno Boer, informed the audience that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi, Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ajmal Khan is one of the global key-drivers of halophyte research, and it was him and his colleagues, who made substantial contributions putting Pakistan on the world map as a country with significant achievements in this important scientific subject.

He mentioned that last time he was at Karachi University in April 2018, and observed researchers at ISHU were seriously trying to use salt-water for agriculture, food- and energy security. “We concluded that they are true scientific visionaries, ahead of their time. They realised long ago that fresh-water resources are so limited, they only constitute less than three percent of all the global water of which only one third is available for human consumption.”

Referring to latest edition of the series of Sabkha, he further said that the idea to develop a global book series on Sabkha Ecosystems was born when he asked his colleague Dr Hans-Jorg Barth, who studied salt-deserts in the late 80s and early 90s together with him, to write a scientific article and define the Arabic term ‘Sabkha’.

He added that the term was used by biologist, ecologists, geologist, and nature conservationists in their scientific documentations for the description of certain saline ecosystems, but with a different understanding on what exactly it means. We consulted international specialists, and we secured the support of UNESCO, Springer Nature, and the University of Karachi.

“Prof. Khan, Prof. Gul, and Dr. Clusener-Godt were all contributors to the first volume that was published in 2002, and they made major contributions to the entire series throughout the time between then and now. The input of the University of Karachi became increasingly more significant with every volume published.”

Dr Boer shared that the final volume has a remarkable new dimension: the Editor-In-Chief, for the first time, is a woman, Prof. Bilquees Gul. We have achieved something big, tangible, and something that finds a lot of global visibility in the international halophyte community. This book series is a benchmark publication.

The chief guest, provincial minister for agriculture and supply and prices, Muhammad Ismail Rahoo, expressed that there is a threat wobbling over Pakistan regarding shortage of freshwater in future. The holding of such informative conferences which suggests suitable solutions are always helpful for the governments.

He informed that being part of the administrative body of the institute it is his responsibility to promote the important mission of halophyte to serve as a source of possible usage. Sindh need such plans as it is affected with the saline land.

The Vice Chancellor, KU, Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan, mentioned that world’s population has exceeded seven billion people. However, our natural resources such as land, water, food and air are limited in supply and resources like fossil fuel, fresh-water and biodiversity are declining. The climate change and increased resources consumption are expected to accelerate this undesired situation in future as well.

He shared that the dry lands are facing more problems and with continuous increase of the human population we have to find new avenues for the production of food and clean energy, as well as reduce the pressure on limited fresh-water resources for agriculture in arid regions.

“The human’s survival depends upon food security and as sources of freshwater are not available in large quantity, proper use of saline resources is the only closest replacement or alternative options available at the moment.”

He said that in Thar, owing to lack of sufficient rain, drought remains for many years affecting the local communities in many ways. As the pattern of rainfall has changes and alternate freshwater sources are not available in good numbers, not only animals but humans are also dying. Therefore we believe cultivation of halophytes using salty water irrigation can be a sustainable way to produce fodder for the livestock of poor Thari communities.

“We have already developed a model halophyte fodder farm in Thar. The provincial chief minister has also visited and shown interest in taking it to the next level and hopefully big plantation would be seen in coming days.”

He assured that drought effects could be removed and locals would not have to migrate to other places and animals would not be dying if the government decides to take advantages from their research.

Earlier, the Director of the ISHU, KU, Dr Bilquees Gul, in her welcome notes, informed that main objectives of the three-day international event is to discuss in general the sustainable use of halophytes as green revolution and to bring together world renowned professionals, academia, government agencies, UN agencies, leading experts in the field of halophyte biology from all around the world and private sector to develop a collaborative program.

She said experts would also discuss the current state, ideas, experiences and future directions about the sustainable utilization of halophytes for the common benefit of humanity. The latest information on promising sustainable technologies and role of halophytes to combat global challenges with special insights into development of salt resistance fodder/ forage crops, energy feedstocks and other industrial products will also be discussed.

She also informed that besides keynote lectures, seminar sessions, a field trip to Thar Coal Block II, will provide the latest information on emerging technologies and breakthrough research on salinity tolerance and sustainable utilization of halophytes as non-conventional crops for arid/saline lands.

While quoting Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Land and Plant Nutrition Management Service, Dr Bilquees Gul stated that over six percent of the world’s land is affected by either salinity or sodicity. The term salt affected refers to soils that are saline or sodic, and these cover over 400 million hectares, which is over six percent of the world land area.

In addition, she said that of the current 230 million ha of irrigated land, 45 million ha is salt affected (19.5 percent), and of the 1500 million ha under dry land agriculture, 32 million is salt affected to varying degrees (2.1 percent)”, she said.

She explained that the continuous expansion of salt affected land is highest in some of the most populated and economically challenged countries including Pakistan posing a serious threat to sustainable agricultural production. On a global scale, it is estimated that every minute 3 ha of arable land becomes unproductive due to secondary-induced salinization.

“Another FAO report suggests that by the year 2050, the world population is projected to stabilize at around 9.5 billion people. In order to feed this population, global agriculture must double its food production and farm productivity must increase by 1.8 percent each year – indeed a tall order.”

Dr Gul observed that with 7.65 billion people inhabiting our common planet, and all of us in need of the basic necessities, such as access to food, clean water, clean air, carbon-balance, education, medicinal care, shelter and employment, we simply have to support all avenues that lead to improved situations. Scientific research is an absolutely essential ingredient to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

She expressed that the ISHU, KU, is one of the leading institutes of the world for research on halophytes and saline agriculture. She shared that in recognition of achievements of ISHU in very short period of time (since its establishment in 2006), UNESCO established first ever ‘Chair in Sustainable Halophyte Utilization’ at ISHU in 2009 under UNITWIN Programme of UNESCO. Despite small size and scarce funding, ISHU is trying its level best to play a pivotal role in sustainable utilization of halophytes and saline lands. At the end of the inaugural session, traditional Sindhi Ajrak were presented to the chief guest and international scholars.

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