Salt-tolerant plants to add fertility to Pakistan’s affected soils

Web DeskWeb Editor

10th Aug, 2021. 06:34 pm
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BEIJING: To better combat salinity, Pakistan and China have been cooperating with each other in reclaiming salt-affected soils and developing new varieties of quality salt-tolerant plants in Pakistan.

“In Pakistan, around 14 per cent of irrigated lands have deteriorated with salinity, while 64 per cent yield losses are reported due to salinity,” Research Fellow and Director of the Research Centre of Saline and Alkali Land of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration of China Dr Zhang Huaxin said.

He said: “In Pakistan, the average level of salinity increases by an estimated one tonne per hectare each year in irrigated areas and can rise to as high as three to five tonnes in extreme cases.”

Such prevalent salinity is largely driven by high temperatures and scarce water resources and this calls for urgent actions against deteriorating salinity.

There are broad prospects for China and Pakistan to collaborate on determining the types of saline/sodic soils and germplasm resources of salt-tolerant plants in Pakistan, and developing new varieties of quality salt-tolerant plants in Pakistan, Dr Zhang told CEN.

On the sustainability of biological solutions for Pakistan, Dr Muhammad Saqib, associate professor of the Institute of Soil and Environmental Science, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, said a triad of scientific measures have been adopted worldwide to contain sprawling salinity in soils, namely the engineering approach, the reclamation approach, and the biological approach.

In the engineering approach, a lot of systems are installed, which involves a huge amount of work and expenditure and is not sustainable, Dr Saqib said.

Likewise, the reclamation method, which requires a strict combination of clean water and amendments, is not suitable for Pakistan, as the country is grappling with the rising temperatures and salinity.

The third is the biological approach, in which the salt-tolerant plants and trees grow in the salt-affected soils and absorb a certain amount of salt in the soils.

“We have been struggling with salinity for decades, and the biological approach is the only solution in Pakistan. It is sustainable because trees and plants are important with respect to the environment and the water cycle,” Dr Saqib added.

To better combat salinity, Pakistan and China have been cooperating with each other in reclaiming the salt-affected soils, he said, adding that in May, the Chinese Academy of Forestry and the University of Agriculture Faisalabad signed a letter of intent (LoI) to deepen Pakistan-China cooperation in the remediation of saline/sodic soils through exchange activities, joint academic conferences, and joint academic projects.

“China has a wide variety of salt-tolerant plants and some of them can be introduced to Pakistan to deal with the salinity, such as the plants in the southern part of China’s southern autonomous region of Xinjiang,” Dr Saqib said, who made field investigations in several demonstration zones in China’s eastern Shangdong province and discussed with the Chinese experts about the collection, preservation and optimisation of the salt-tolerant plant resources during his visit to China in 2019.

With such cooperation in place, saline/sodic soils are likely to regain their fertility in Pakistan.

Dr Saqib said: “We know China has been developing salt-tolerant rice varieties that can maintain a high output in the salt-affected lands. Such rice varieties can also be introduced to Pakistan on an experimental basis and rolled out to more farmers with adequate research and demonstration.

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