Pakistan embarks on innovative bio-saline agriculture in the Thar Desert

dry corn field with young corn plants

Pakistan has embarked on an innovative venture to utilize coal-saline water for agricultural production in the Thar Desert, specifically in Tharparkar, Sindh Province. This initiative aims to foster positive change in regions with minimal annual rainfall. The initiative is led by the Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) with the aim of enhancing local communities through sustainability practices.

The bio-saline agriculture initiative, launched in 2016, marks a significant achievement in this endeavor. It has successfully cultivated 16 edible plant varieties using underground saline water sourced from coal mines. These crops, which include apple berries, livestock fodder, and aloe vera, are saline-tolerant and flourish in the harsh climatic conditions of Thar.

This project taps into the expertise of conservation experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and academics from Karachi University. It has empowered approximately 100 members of the local community with comprehensive training in bio-saline agriculture, which fosters sustainable livelihoods and promotes harmony with Thar’s delicate desert ecosystem.

In addition to agriculture, the bio-saline fish farming initiative at Gorano Lake was launched and has already created a thriving ecosystem for over ten fish species, including Morakhi, Rohu, Theli, Kuriro, Gulfam, African Catfish, and Dangri. This initiative addresses local nutritional needs and has distributed approximately 70,000 kg of fish, providing vital fodder to around 14,500 families during severe drought periods.

Gorano Lake has also become a critical wetland habitat for over 425 migratory birds, further underlining SECMC’s commitment to ecological conservation. Amir Iqbal, CEO of SECMC, emphasized that the company’s “unwavering focus on sustainability and climate resilience continues to drive these groundbreaking initiatives, creating pathways for food security and socioeconomic uplift in Tharparkar.”

A recent study conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with SECMC, has identified over 1,000 species of flora and fauna in the region, some previously unknown. These findings have significant implications for conservation strategies, paving the way for the harmonious co-existence of biodiversity and local communities in Tharparkar.

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