KARACHI - The experts during the inaugural session of three-day international conference on ‘Sustainable Development: Halophytes for Green Revolution’ stressed the need for adopting alternative solutions to tackle challenges of food insecurity in future.

The Institute of Sustainable Halophyte Utilization (ISHU) of the University of Karachi (KU), has organized second international conference at the Karachi University Business School (KUBS), KU.

One of the keynote speakers, Professor Dr Hans-Werner Koyro from Germany shared that people are getting older and requirement of getting good food is also getting higher and higher as the competition with food has increased over the years.

He informed that if one wants to work with salt resistance plants, then he or she must keep it in mind that it is not easy at all. “There are around 2,000 different types of halophytes around the world and still the definition of halophyte is not clear. Some people even labeled potatoes, which is largely used as regular food item, as halophyte. Hence, there is a dire need of research based use of plants for saline agriculture. We believe, many local halophytes of saline habitats which are already salinity tolerant, can be shaped as future crops through intense direction-based research.”

Professor Dr Hans-Werner added that many plants are already being used as food around the world and besides getting nutrition from such plants, there are many other benefits including biofuels which is not bad for environment.

He observed that halophytes could also provide protection to the coastal lines and in some cases, Pakistan and other countries, are using plants as greenification as well. He advised that structurised work approach should be adopted while working on halophyte projects.

Meanwhile, the Director UNESCO France Dr Miguel Clusener-Godt, shared that it was his second visit to the country and Karachi University as well and he was pleased to see how academia and scientific bodies are moving forward in the field of halophyte biology.

He observed that the higher education institutes are taking interest in halophytes and spreading awareness and knowledge regarding the uses and benefits of halophytes. The youngsters are taking interest in the topic which is a very positive and good sign as they have to take over in future and this is right time for them to learn and implement.

He was of the view that halophyte utilization is one of the most reliable answers for heavy investments in science and particularly in agriculture field. The food shortages could be minimized by adopting halophyte as nonconventional crops for already salt-hit lands. The conference theme is also in-line with the UNESCO’s sustainable development goals and also with the Man and Biosphere Program.

The Advisor Science, UNESCO Thailand, Dr Benno Boer, informed the audience that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi, Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ajmal Khan is one of the global key-drivers of halophyte research, and it was him and his colleagues, who made substantial contributions putting Pakistan on the world map as a country with significant achievements in this important scientific subject.

He mentioned that last time he was at Karachi University in April 2018, and observed researchers at ISHU were seriously trying to use salt-water for agriculture, food- and energy security. “We concluded that they are true scientific visionaries, ahead of their time. They realised long ago that fresh-water resources are so limited, they only constitute less than three percent of all the global water of which only one third is available for human consumption.”

Referring to latest edition of the series of Sabkha, he further said that the idea to develop a global book series on Sabkha Ecosystems was born when he asked his colleague Dr Hans-Jörg Barth, who studied salt-deserts in the late 80s and early 90s together with him, to write a scientific article and define the Arabic term ‘Sabkha’.

Dr Boer shared that the final volume has a remarkable new dimension: the Editor-In-Chief, for the first time, is a woman, Prof. Bilquees Gul. We have achieved something big, tangible, and something that finds a lot of global visibility in the international halophyte community. This book series is a benchmark publication.

The chief guest, provincial minister for agriculture and supply and prices, Muhammad Ismail Rahoo, expressed that there is a threat wobbling over Pakistan regarding shortage of freshwater in future. The holding of such informative conferences which suggests suitable solutions are always helpful for the governments.

He informed that being part of the administrative body of the institute it is his responsibility to promote the important mission of halophyte to serve as a source of possible usage. Sindh need such plans as it is affected with the saline land.

The Vice Chancellor, KU, Professor Dr Muhammad Ajmal Khan, mentioned that world’s population has exceeded seven billion people. However, our natural resources such as land, water, food and air are limited in supply and resources like fossil fuel, fresh-water and biodiversity are declining.

The climate change and increased resources consumption are expected to accelerate this undesired situation in future as well.

He shared that the dry lands are facing more problems and with continuous increase of the human population we have to find new avenues for the production of food and clean energy, as well as reduce the pressure on limited fresh-water resources for agriculture in arid regions.

“The human’s survival depends upon food security and as sources of freshwater are not available in large quantity, proper use of saline resources is the only closest replacement or alternative options available at the moment.”