MULTAN   -   South Punjab secretary agriculture Saqib Ali Ateel has said that 6.5 million hectares area in the country was saline that could have contributed US$ 31 million to the national economy had it been productive.

World loses 1.5 million hectares annually to salinity, a phenomenon that could complicate food security related problems in the days to come, Saqib said at a “Salinity Policy Review” workshop organized by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) in Islamabad last Thursday, according to an official release issued by the agriculture spokesman here Friday.

Saqib recalled that Pakistan suffered US$28.5 million loss in crop production due to salinity in 2017 adding that total impact of the annual economic loss was US$300 million then. He disclosed that salinity related average production losses of wheat, the main food crop, were 65 per cent in the country in moderate saline lands.

He said that excess use of groundwater, industrial waste and sewerage waste water causes salinity and climate change has worsened the situation further due to extreme temperatures and departure of moisture. The reduction in cultivable land due to salinity, exploitation of natural resources, and ceaseless increase in population necessitated that every inch of agriculture land must be protected to keep it cultivable and productive.

Saqib said that methods of irrigation needed to be changed and advocated mulching technique for the soil to retain moisture. The layers of salt seen usually on the saline land surface must be removed continuously as and when they emerge.

South Punjab secretary agriculture also stressed on the need to develop crop varieties that can survive on saline land adding that country’s barren and semi-dry tracts of land were suitable for cultivation of plants that can survive amid salinity. However, for this to happen, country needed proper and correct arrangements and a system of production. These areas can contribute to the national economy if properly utilized, he added. He suggested cultivation of canola, dates, fig, guava, Falsa, Kallar Grass, Roads Grass, Desi and Australian Keekar, other trees and fodder crops. Such plants have been cultivated by farmers in Australia, Spain, Israel, and other countries and gained good results, he said.

Saqib also advocated promoting aqua culture on saline land by developing fish farms of Tilapia and shrimps. He said that excess use of ground water including by tube wells was also causing salinity problem. An official said that there were 1.2 million tube wells in Punjab alone.

Saqib said that research work of different departments is needed to be brought at one platform and be studied in depth to carve out a flawless strategy to minimize the salinity impact on crop production in Pakistan.