The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) has viewed that salt and water in the soil render nearly a third of Pakistan’s cultivable land unproductive.
It’s a big problem for a country with a large agrarian economy as 5.33m hectares are affected by salinity and 1.55m hectares by water logging (the saturation of soil with water).
Regional Chairman of the FPCCI on Horticulture Exports, Ahmad Jawad said that the annual cost of crop losses from salinity in Pakistan has been estimated at between Rs15 billion and Rs55bn.
He said the continuous seepage from the network of unlined irrigation system over the years and a lack of natural drainage have resulted in increased groundwater levels.
Though the government has tried to eliminate the problem through sinking tube wells and developing surface and subsurface drains under several drainage projects throughout the country. However, the efforts haven’t borne fruit due to several reasons: the drainage/reclamation approach, besides being costly and energy extensive, also suffers practical implications such as environmental degradation and disposal of brackish drainage water.
Jawad briefed that FAO study says that the reforestation of salt-affected soils is possible with the help of proper site preparation, choice of species and the development of nursery and planting techniques.
However the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) says it has prepared a project to find a comprehensive solution to control salinity and mitigate its effects on the agricultural land.
The project has already been submitted to the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) for funding. If the project is materialised, the ICARDA will work in collaboration with Punjab and Sindh to resolve the issue.
FPCCI Chairman also briefed that due to the intensive use of poor quality groundwater, the problem of secondary salinisation is also being accelerated on an area of around 2m hectares and it warrants a reassessment.
Moreover, “at a national policy dialogue on salt-affected soils it was stressed that economic utilisation of the salt-prone soils with innovative and viable practices, assessment tools and policy interventions are need of the hour” Jawad added
Meanwhile, a project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture is providing a baseline atlas of current soil fertility practices, disaggregated by farm size and cropping systems.
The project is aimed at improving soil health and soil fertility in Pakistan, primarily through agricultural extension activities.
The atlas is expected to help in understanding the required soil fertility management changes for sustainable agricultural intensification.
It will also identify current methods and specific practices being used by farmers in Punjab and Sindh to fertilise soil for selected crops.
In this regard “Cooperation between the public and private sector will be developed to disseminate messages to farmers aimed at improving proper application of fertiliser and to reduce misapplication, and to help ensure fertiliser inputs are used in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.”
Despite US Agency for International Development has already issued funds worth $3m for the three-year project, being implemented by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, ICARDA and Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.
FPCCI Standing Committee further briefed almost half of the soils affected by various types of salinity and sodicity is in Punjab, 40pc in Sindh and 9pc in Balochistan.