KARACHI - The inaugural ceremony of the “International synergy meeting on sustainable utilisation of saline resources in support of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with special emphasis on renewable energy based on bio fuels” was held at the Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation (ISHU) at the University of Karachi here on Monday.

Vibeke Jensen, director of UNESCO Office, Islamabad, was the chief guest on the occasion. She deliberated on the longstanding commitment and role of the UNESCO over the last 30 years in halophyte research for a sustainable future. In particular, UNESCO action plans for mangrove reforestation are a testament to this claim. Growth of mangroves holds great potential in carbon sequestration and biomass production for bio energy production. She stressed the importance of interaction between industries and academia in working together for joint action. She supported research on developing floating mangrove cultures, which could help in mangrove restoration efforts globally as well as in coastal Pakistan.

VC Prof M Qaiser said that a vast acreage of agricultural land was salinised in Pakistan due to false irrigation practices. He said that Pakistan was among the top 15 countries hit hard by climate change, and signs of the devastation were already evident in the form of weather anomalies such as heat waves and erratic rainfall. He said that cultivation of halophytic plants on saline soils using salty water irrigation could be an effective way to mitigate the effects of global climate change. Many of these halophytes have tremendous potential to produce biomass for various usages such as bio fuel, fibre, fodder and medicine. He praised the consistent contribution of the Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation at the University of Karachi to saline agriculture and halophyte research.

He said the institute had published more than 200 research articles on this subject in internationally renowned journals, which were frequently cited as references.

During the inaugural session, Prof Dr Ajmal Khan, the founding director of the Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilisation, University of Karachi, introduced the audience to the historical perspective of how ISHU came into being. He said it all started some 30 years ago when late Professor Dr Helmut Lieth from Germany formed a concerted action group of scientists to work on halophytes to turn deserts into green pastures and invited Prof Khan through Dr Benno and Dr Miguel Clusener Godt of UNESCO. This idea motivated Prof Khan to establish an institute for focused research to exploit the potential of halophytes as a source of fuel, fodder and medicine among others without the use of fresh water and prime agricultural lands.

Prof Dr Bilquees, director of ISHU, thanked the foreign and national delegates, faculty members and students for their participation in the event. She also thanked UNESCO for its continuous support and the Higher Education Commission, Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), Sindh Coastal Development Authority and other co-sponsors for their financial support.

Formal inauguration ceremony of the conference was followed by the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between ISHU and SECMC for developing model cash crop cultivation farms in Thar Desert.