LAHORE, Oct 15: The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has developed, after a 20-year research, a new technique which can help bring under plough some 6.5 million hectares of saline lands in brackish water zones of the country.

The technique, which is quite different from and more effective than the approach adopted in Wapda’s Salinity Control and Reclamation Project (SCARP), involves the use of waste lands and brackish ground water for growing salt tolerant plants rather than reclaiming the soil to grow conventional crops.

Although the technique improves the quality of the land with the passage of time, its main thrust is on preparing the farmers to live with the brackish water.

In case proper irrigation water is available, the waste lands can also be used for conventional crops.

This biological approach involves screening and selection of highly salt tolerant plant, species and varieties from the naturally existing germplasm or from those developed through breeding, wide hybridization and other biotechnological techniques.

It has been estimated that a grower, using this technique, can earn up to Rs15,000 per acre per year.

The minds behind the breakthrough claim that the promotion of the technology will be economically very profitable for owners of waste lands.

The Central Development Working Party at a recent meeting approved a project to use the methodology over 25,000 acres in four provinces. The project will cost Rs176 million.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also very keen to promote the project and there are indications that the Vienna-based agency will extend financial assistance for the purpose.

Dr Kausar Malik, PAEC member (biosciences) has been entrusted with responsibility of promoting the technology with the involvement of farmers.

It is said model areas comprising predominantly salt-affected waste lands in different ecological areas will be selected for the purpose.

In the Punjab, the project will be launched around Zahir Pir Town, in Rahim Yar Khan district, and around Shorkot.

In Sindh, it would be either Larkana or Badin district. In Balochistan, it would be implemented in Nasirabad division while in the NWFP, Bannu district has been selected for the purpose.

On the successful implementation of the project, production of biomass to be used as fuel, timber, fodder and forage, higher livestock production, introduction of acquaculture, honeybee farming, mushroom production and small scale agro-based industry are expected to get a boost.

The National Rural Support Programme is being involved in the project.

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