Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsPakistan: Scientists Find Ways to Live With Salinity
Soil salinity in Pakistan has been boggling scientists foryears, until the country’s agricultural biotechnologistsdiscovered ways of making good use of the vast salinewetlands and its salty ground water
A breakthroughtechnology now makes growing crops using brackish waterpossible.
BIO-SALINE: A BIOTECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH
After more than adecade of researchand experimentation,Pakistan is nowlearning to live withsalinity.Pakistan’sNuclearInstitute of Agricultureand Biology(NIAB)has developed a new “bio-saline” agricultural technology that puts the so-called “saline wastelands” to good use. The method calls forintroducing salt-tolerant trees, grasses, and other cropsthrough plant succession to improve the soil in thecountry’s vast saline areas. These soil-tolerant plants, whichcan have a profound effect on the physical, chemical, andbiological make-up of the soil, are irrigated using abundantsalty groundwater. Soil salinity is carefully monitored so asnot to allow salt buildup. “We now have evidence that the vast saline areas or the so-called wastelands can be used for growing fodder, fuel andother raw materials by using salt-tolerant plant species,” says Riaz A. Waheed, Principal Scientist at the Pacca AnnaBio-Saline Research Station near Faisalabad, one of tworesearch stations trying out the new technology. The otheris in Rakh Dera Chahl near Lahore. “Along with different species of trees and grasses, we arealso growing plants like barley and wheat, and fruits likepomegranates, using the underground saline water on whatused to be the saline wasteland,” he adds. “We have tolearn to live with salinity as there is no other way.”
SALINE WASTELANDS IN PAKISTAN
Almost 11 million hectares of land in Pakistan has saltdeposits, making the land unsuitable for normal agriculture.Roughly 16 million of Pakistan’s 160 million people live inregions with salty water or saline soils. Scientists estimatethat finding a way to cultivate on this land can contributeup to an annual US$2 billion to the country’s economy. Pakistan began research to address soil salinity in 1972when it set up the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture andBiology (NIAB) in Faisalabad to develop scientific facilitiesand expertise for solving the problems of crop productionand conservation.As adequate supply of good quality surface water is scarcein Pakistan, finding ways to use salty water for irrigation hasbecome imperative. NIAB, together with its two researchstations, has found the way.
BARREN TURNS GREEN
The research station at Pacca Anna has demonstration plotsthat spread across 400 hectares. Pacca Anna residents can’thelp but believe what has been as good as a miracle. “Thisland was completely barren about two decades ago but nowit has turned completely green using water that is otherwiseuseless,” says Muhammad Ali, a 60-year-old resident.The soil at Pacca Anna is highly saline and the salinity variesdepending on the water table. The scientists test both thesoil as well as the salt levels in water before using it forirrigation.Soil salinity is causedby the rise in thewater table, whichresults in the saltbeing deposited on thesurface. Theconventional approachin tackling the problemwas to pump out theunderground waterand wash the plantroot region with fresh water. However, this technique wasgood only as long as there was adequate fresh water forflushing the fields. “The only other option is to irrigate with salinegroundwater,” says Iqrar Ahmad Khan, Chief Scientist andDirector of NIAB. “We have found ways to cultivate the landusing the same saline water to irrigate the plants.” NIAB has already carried out trials with several dozens of species of Eucalyptus, Casurina, Acacia, Brassica, and otherplants which can grow even in extreme saline conditions. “The greenery you now see is the result of 15 years of patient work and trying out of different techniques andwaiting,” Khan said.