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

Soil salinity has posed a major threat to Pakistan’s agricultural production. According to the Ministry of Climate Change of Pakistan, 4.5 million to 5.3 million hectares of lands are of saline/ sodic nature, which accounts for 5 to 6 % of the Pakistani landmass and take a heavy toll on Pakistan’s food security.

Severity of saline/ sodic soils in Pakistan

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

He added, “In Pakistan, the average level of salinity increases by an estimated 1 ton per hectare each year in irrigated areas and can rise to as high as 3 to 5 tones in extreme cases.”

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

Sustainability of biological solutions for Pakistan

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, according to Dr. Muhammad Saqib, Associate Professor of the Institute of Soil and Environmental Science, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

In the engineering approach, a lot of systems are installed which involves a huge amount of work and expenditure and is not sustainable, noted Dr. Saqib. 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 rising temperatures and salinity, Dr Saqib told China Economic Net (CEN).

The third is the biological approach, in which salt-tolerant plants and trees grow in 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,” noted Dr. Saqib.

Promising future for saline/sodic soils

To better combat salinity, Pakistan and China have been cooperating with each other in reclaiming salt-affected soils, said Dr. Saqib. In May, the Chinese Academy of Forestry and the University of Agriculture Faisalabad signed a Letter of Intent (LoI) to deepen China-Pak 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 salinity, such as the plants in the southern part of China’s southern autonomous region of Xinjiang,” said Dr. Saqib, who made field investigations in several demonstration zones in China’s eastern Shangdong province and discussed with Chinese experts about the collection, preservation and optimization of salt-tolerant plant resources during his visit to China in 2019.

“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.

With such cooperation in place, saline/ sodic soils are likely to regain their fertility in Pakistan. According to Dr. Saqib, “We know China has been developing salt-tolerant rice varieties that can maintain a high output in 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.”

Source: China Economic Net

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