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Agricultural Project Could Convert Thar’s Desert Into Grasslands

By TR Pakistan

Karachi University’s Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization (ISHU) have inked an agreement with Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company to develop model cash crop cultivation farms in the Thar Desert to grow green fodder on an experimental basis.

Researchers at the University of Karachi have developed a cropping system which can transform barren saline lands into sustainable croplands, mainly for animal fodder and other important by-products like medicines and biofuels.

ISHU Director Bilquees Gul said researchers had been offered land near Green Park at Thar Block II where the SECMC would provide water, land leveling tools, equipment shed and other items to formally start growing plants.

She said this bio-saline agriculture project would play a vital role in taking care of local communities of Tharparkar and adjoining areas. She said halophytes – a salt-loving plant species – are cultivated in saltwater. “The fodder grass is perennial, and once sown, it can be continually harvested about 63,000 kg per hectare per year without reseeding. These plants are often well adapted to desert conditions and are a promising sources of fodder and bioenergy feedstocks. They can thrive in highly saline environments,” she said.

Read more: Turning Saline Soil Into Pasture for Cattle Fodder

The ISHU director said that the proposed species of fodder could survive in local climate conditions. “We have made significant progress in research on this subject and believe that if properly implemented, it could contribute significantly in rehabilitating saline land and providing fodder to arid areas like Thar. The communities along the Tharparkar are extremely poor and the introduction of this grass could greatly uplift their economic conditions,” she said.

The director said that tests on animals that had eaten this fodder had shown no harmful effects. “Good management is required to grow the grass, which is probably the best fodder grass for sub-tropical regions of the world as it can grow from coastal regions to inland regions,” she said.

“Utilizing brackish water in Thar will reduce pressure on fertile lands and sweet water resources. The crops were being watered by underground saline water pumped from a level of 180 metres from the pen-pit coal mine. Plantation of the fodder plant has started near Green Park at Thar Block II,” she said.

Thar is the largest desert in Pakistan and the 9th largest in the world. With a tropical desert climate, rains play a vital role in the Thar region as underground water is rarely found.

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