A futuristic vertical farm now blooms in Karachi’s old yarn factory

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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
Updated 30 September 2019

A futuristic vertical farm now blooms in Karachi’s old yarn factory

  • Pakistan’s first vertical farm grows eco-friendly, fresh greens for sale to city’s finest restaurants and markets
  • Urban agriculture is immune to the constraints of climate, allowing non-seasonal vegetables to grow year-round

KARACHI: In 2006, Sohail Ahmed’s once-booming polyester filament yarn plant closed down due to a worldwide recession, alongside lawlessness and a power crisis at home, in Pakistan’s seaside metropolis of Karachi. Twelve years later, Ahmed has converted the top floor of the old yarn factory into a futuristic farm, with kale, rosemary and dozens of other vegetables growing vertically under the purple glow of LED lights.




Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)

Pakistan’s first urban vertical farm is a commercial venture, with the produce being supplied to some of the city’s finest restaurants and supermarkets. But the use of hydroponics, where plants grow in nutrient solution instead of traditional soil, and where water is continuously recycled, contributes toward eco-friendly practices by using 90 percent less water than field farming, using no pesticides and omitting gas emissions involved in the long transportation routes from rural to urban centers- all leading to the freshest greens in the city.




Farhan Sohail, a process and product development engineer in Pakistan’s first vertical farm, speaks to Arab News in Karachi on September 26, 2019 (AN Photo)

“When our family business shut down in 2006, I started to think about different business models with the help of technology. In 2009, I did a course on environmentally friendly and futuristic plant growing technologies. In the next two years, we set up our flower greenhouses in Karachi and Murree,” Ahmed told Arab News, and added that the success of his greenhouses led him to think of urban agriculture as a serious business model. 




Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Ahmed and his son, Farhan Sohail, an engineering graduate from the American University, started working on the urban agriculture project in 2016 and by April 2018, their vertical farm had been set up in the 60 ft. room, and already blooming.
Farhan, who largely oversees the project, said around 2,500 plants of kale, cherry tomatoes, pak choi, iceberg lettuce, red swiss chard, rocket, basil, capsicum, jalapenos, microgreens, parsley, celery, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage are grown within a cycle of 45 to 60 days from the time of seeding to harvesting. 




Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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Farhan explained the nutrient solution traveled from a tank into PVC pipes which became inundated, and because the plants rested inside these pipes, when they were flooded, the roots took water up and the plant watered itself.
Dim LED lights are optimized for every plant, adjusted according to its own declared spectrum. 
“In addition to that, we also artificially provide exactly what the plant needs in terms of carbon dioxide, humidity as well as temperature levels,” Farhan said.




Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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“We have 70 times more production per square meter as compared to field farming,” he said, and added that the elimination of pesticides and preservatives, meant the produce that came out of his vertical farm was “extremely healthy.”
Urban agriculture is largely immune to the restraints of climate conditions, which force most farmers in Pakistan to stay away from growing certain crops throughout the year and adding to the country’s import bill, Farhan said.




Different types of vegetables, mostly non-seasonal, are grown at this vertical farm at the Site Industrial Area of Karachi, where light, humidity and temperature is optimally controlled. September 26, 2019. (AN Photo)
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“Having setups like the vertical farm allow us to grow these vegetables within our own country throughout the year and then send it to the market,” he said, and added that if the model was successful on a large scale, Pakistan could start producing vegetables for export to international markets as well, especially to the Middle East.


EU safety agency suspends Pakistani airlines’ European authorization

Updated 01 July 2020

EU safety agency suspends Pakistani airlines’ European authorization

  • The step has been taken due to concerns about the country’s ability to ensure compliance with international aviation standards
  • PIA expects the ‘earliest possible’ lifting of suspension after action by the government and the airline

ISLAMABAD: The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) has suspended Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) authorization to fly to the bloc for six months, the airline said on Tuesday, in a major blow to the country’s flag carrier.
Separately, the safety agency said it took the action due to concerns about the country’s ability to ensure compliance with international aviation standards at all times.
The suspension follows Pakistan’s grounding of 262 of the country’s 860 pilots — including 141 of PIA’s 434 — whose licenses the aviation minister termed “dubious.”
“EASA has temporarily suspended PIA’s authorization to operate to the EU member states for a period of six months effective July 1, 2020 with the right to appeal,” PIA said in a statement. It added it would temporarily discontinue all its flights to Europe.
Confirming the move in an emailed statement, the EASA referred to a recent investigation by Pakistan which it said showed a “large share” of pilot licenses to be invalid.
Pakistan’s grounding of the pilots followed a preliminary report on a PIA crash in Karachi that killed 97 people last month.
PIA said it is in contact with the EASA to take corrective measures and appeal against the decision, adding that it expected the “earliest possible” lifting of the suspension after action by the government and the airline.
The EASA also suspended the authorization of another Pakistani airline, Vision Air International.
Vision Air International did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Following the EASA’s decision, the UK Civil Aviation Authority said it, too, was withdrawing PIA’s permit to operate from three of its airports, as required under law.
“PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect,” a spokesman for the UK authority told Reuters.
The three were major flying destinations for the airline.
Meanwhile, Pakistani pilots and their union, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), say there are discrepancies in the government’s list of pilots with licenses deemed dubious and are demanding a judicial investigation.
PIA and private airline Air Blue have also queried the list with PIA saying 36 of its pilots mentioned had either retired or left the airline, while Air Blue said it no longer employed seven of nine pilots on the list.
“It contains names of highly educated and qualified pilots who have passed all the tests,” PALPA’s president, Chaudhry Salman, told Reuters. “We want a fair and impartial resolution to this matter.”
An official at Pakistan’s aviation ministry, Abdul Sattar Khokhar, said they did not have full details of the discrepancies. “The issue is being sorted out in consultation with airlines and civil aviation authorities.”