Fostering barren lands: Somali scientists seek help from KU

Overcoming problems of salinity, fresh water and fodder production

APP June 29, 2015
Karachi University’s Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization may be helping Somalis rehabilitate barren and saline regions. The institute has been doing similar research in Sindh as well. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Scientists from Somalia have requested their counterparts from Karachi University (KU) to assist them in the rehabilitation of the barren and saline regions of Somalia by using latest technology so that the fodder for the livestock and agricultural crops can be grown. 

Prof Dr Bilquees Gul, a senior researcher associated with KU's Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization (ISHU) told the media on her return from a conference on the sustainable development goals on biodiversity, climate change and water, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the aegis of Unesco.

The world is currently experiencing a fast change in climate than it ever had in the past, she said adding that higher average global temperatures are causing fresh water crisis that is posing challenges for cash crop, fisheries and livestock.

The problems of cash crop production due to drought and salinity can be overcome by using latest technology and expertise available at KU, she said.

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The Unesco office in Addis Ababa has also invited ISHU to participate in programmes related to floating mangrove in the dry regions of Somalia to develop fodder crops on saline lands, she added.

"If such things are successful in Pakistan then it may be useful for African countries to ensure sustainable cattle farming, which would play a vital role in increasing the production of milk and meat in the region and help reduce poverty and famine," she elaborated.

The researcher said the conference held in Addis Ababa was focused on the sustainable development of dry land agriculture in the arid and saline regions of Somalia and the formulation of conventional and non-conventional fodder crops.

She reiterated that there are vast surfaces of untapped resources of barren and abandoned marginal lands that are commonly believed to be useless but have been proven to be of high value.

With specific reference to Pakistan, an agro-based economy that employs 60 per cent of its rural population, she said Karachi University's ISHU is making optimum utilisation of modern technology to understand the physiology of salt tolerance in plants.

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This is all the more crucial, she said, as good quality water for agricultural uses is becoming ever more limited in regions where irrigation is necessary due to increasing requirements for domestic and industrial uses.

In the given situation, sea water or saline water may be used to irrigate a variety of plants. Similarly, it is possible to imagine dedicated halophyte plantations for forage production, soil rehabilitation, bio-energy generation, landscaping, carbon sequestering, in areas with extreme soil condition or water salinity.

"Therefore, it is imperative to study these halophytes and to identify genes and regulatory systems which can improve plant growth in solemnised land," said Dr Gull.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2015. 

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