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‘Salt-tolerant plants could tackle food insecurity’

Updated January 08, 2019


PROF Hans-Werner Koyro, senior plant ecologist from Germany, speaks at the inaugural ceremony of the conference at Karachi University on Monday.—White Star
PROF Hans-Werner Koyro, senior plant ecologist from Germany, speaks at the inaugural ceremony of the conference at Karachi University on Monday.—White Star

KARACHI: Experts at the inaugural session of a three-day international conference which opened at Karachi University (KU) on Monday underscored the need for exploring the potential of salt-tolerant plants to tackle increasing food insecurity.

These efforts, they emphasised, must be supported by background research aimed at bringing out solutions that are both economically and environmentally viable and sustainable.

Titled ‘Sustainable development: halophytes for green revolution’, the event began at KU’s business school. It’s the second international conference organised by KU’s Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation (ISHU) on the campus.

Speaking on the conference theme, Prof Hans-Werner Koyro, a senior plant ecologist from Germany, said that the requirement of getting good quality food was increasing day by day with the growing population.

One solution to address this challenge, he pointed out, was to explore halophytes, salt-tolerant plants that grew in waters of high salinity. These plants offered a range of benefits, including their use as food, fodder and biofuel.

These plants also contained medicinal properties and helped protect the coastline.

Prof Koyro, however, cautioned researchers on how they should work with these plants and urged them to “restructure their work”.

“You must have detailed background knowledge of the environment you choose to work in as well as information about the resistance of the plant, its benefits and disadvantages before you start work,” he said, emphasising that the research needed to be ecologically sustainable and economically feasible.

“A university like KU needs to ensure that you do not end up creating worse (environmental) conditions than before,” he added.

Dr Miguel Clusener-Godt, director of ecological and earth sciences division of Unesco, appreciated KU’s research endeavours in the field of halophyte biology.

He was of the view that food shortages could be minimised by adopting halophyte as nonconventional crops for already salt-affected land. The conference theme, he noted, was in line with the sustainable development goals and also with Unesco’s Man and the Biosphere Programme.

Dr Benno Boer, chief of natural sciences, Unesco Bangkok office, spoke about the efforts of KU’s scientists in global halophyte research and said that they made substantial contributions putting Pakistan on the world map as a country with significant achievements in this important scientific subject.

He appreciated ISHU’s research initiatives and said that increasing waterlogging and salinity was a major problem in Sindh and the government would support initiatives offering solutions in this regard.

KU Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan presented a global overview of population growth, water availability situation, and the status of natural resources.

“The changing climatic conditions have exacerbated the situation. We have to find new avenues to enhance our food production, make clean energy, as well as reduce pressure on limited freshwater resources for agriculture in arid regions,” he said.

On how halophytes could help, Prof Khan said that cultivation of these plants thriving on saline water could help produce fodder for livestock especially in areas like Thar where livestock was directly linked to human survival and prosperity.

“We have already developed a model halophyte fodder farm in Thar. The provincial chief minister has also visited it and shown interest in taking it to the next level,” he said, hoping that the farm would soon see big plantation.

He was of the opinion if the government took advantage of this important research, Tharis wouldn’t have to migrate to other places in search of food.

Earlier, Dr Bilquees Gul, ISHU director, welcomed attendees and said that the aim of the conference was to discuss sustainable use of halophytes and bring together leading experts in the field of halophyte biology to develop a collaborative programme.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2019