UMERKOT: Chairman of Sen­ate’s Standing Committee on Food Security and Research Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah on Monday formally launched a Rs5 billion project aimed at introducing new breeds of livestock, more varieties of plants, trees, herbs, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables etc for the benefit of Thari farmers.

Under the project, the agriculture and livestock research system at the Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI), Umerkot, would be strengthened and upgraded to enable it to undertake research leading to the exploration and introduction of such varieties and species.

The project was identified under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

Speaking at a ceremony held here on the launching of the project, Senator Shah criticised elected representatives’ indifferent attitude towards issues of growers in Sindh and their failure to provide any relief to this segment.

He highlighted importance of new crop and plant varieties and livestock species in improving the lot of farmers, and said this would also greatly help stakeholders cope with food insecurity and climate change impact.

He informed the audience that he got the mega project approved in order to help growers of the arid area of Umerkot and Tharparkar stand on their own feet. At the same time, he added, the project would play a key role in averting drought and addressing the issue of food insecurity.

According to him, 52 per cent area of Umerkot district is arid and thousands of its residents routinely migrate to other areas along with their families and livestock to escape drought but attention is paid only to Tharparkar in such a situation every year. Considering the fact that Umerkot always remained a neglected area, the need for launching such a project was felt.

“The five-year project will change the destiny of local people and bring about an economic revolution,” he said.

Senator Muzaffar Shah noted with concern that the area and its people had remained neglected to such extent that he had never heard of AZRI until 2013 despite the fact that during the period 1985-2013, he held different ministerial portfolios and once held the office of the chief minister. He expressed his pleasure over the progress of the institute over the past few years as it introduced several plant varieties through hectic research.

Federal Minister of State for Food Security and Research Syed Ayaz Ali Shah Shirazi said growers of Sindh had been living a miserable life due to abject poverty.

He observed that one factor was uncertified seeds and spurious and substandard pesticides being sold to them by unscrupulous elements. Another factor was unavailability of agricultural inputs to them, he added.

He urged the Sindh government to initiate stern action against manufacturers and sellers of fake and substandard things which ultimately caused heavy losses to growers.

Highlighting the significance of the newly launched project, Mr Shirazi said Umerkot would become identity of Sindh upon its success. He held out the assurance that a campus of the Arid Agriculture University, Rawal­pindi, would be established in Umerkot.

Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) chairman Yousuf Zafar told the audience that by employing drip irrigation, sprinklers and other methods, many fruits, cereals and traditional crops could be grown in Thar and Umerkot as their lands were fertile. He said fish farming in saline water of Thar was done on an experimental basis and this gave better results than expected.

AZRI director Dr Attaullah Pathan said that his institution would now ensure introduction and production of new livestock breeds and plant species as well as skill development of growers.

He said 100,000 trees would be planted within the arid areas of Umerkot and Tharparkar. He said the institute would also set up 10 labs, a modern library, an auditorium, a glasshouse for tree sampling and lay seven solar-powered tube wells, besides initiating research on camel disease and treatment at Umerkot.

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2017

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