In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation

In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation
Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo examines the tomatoes he is growing on a hydroponic farm in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on March 29, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 12 April 2024
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In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation

In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation
  • Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo is using water-based nutrient solution instead of soil to grow tomatoes
  • Shift to urbanization combined with climate change is reducing farmlands in Pakistan, UN official says

HYDERABAD, PAKISTAN: In a large storehouse in the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad, a 29-year-old entrepreneur is growing tomatoes on a hydroponic farm, defying land degradation, water shortage and power cuts in a country that ranks among the top 10 nations worldwide most affected by climate change.

Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo says his solar-powered set-up, in which farming is done in water instead of soil, will provide an urban solution to Pakistan’s agriculture needs as it faces more extreme rainfall, drought and heat waves, crop losses and other worsening threats from climate change.

Instead of soil to grow the tomatoes, Bhayo uses a water-based nutrient solution, coco peat, which is crushed from coconut husks, comes in the form of fine dust or powder and is popular due to its environmental friendliness and sustainability. In hydroponic farming, water is conserved because it is reused multiple times. Hydroponically grown plants also require no pesticides because there are no soil-borne diseases.

Spread over a large 4,000 square feet storehouse, Bhayo’s farm has been registered with the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) since April 2022 and yielded its first produce in January this year. Since its inception, the farm has produced around 100 kilograms of tomatoes and exotic cherry tomato varieties.

Bhayo said his farm is the first solar-powered vertical farm in Pakistan, though there is no official confirmation of this.

“This is controlled environment agriculture based on hydroponic technology. In this system plant roots are submerged in a nutrient-drenched water solution,” Bhayo, the chief executive officer (CEO) and owner of Sulit Agro (Pvt) Ltd, told Arab News.

“Basically, the main difference between this system and the traditional system is yield and the quality of the fruit. As you can see this is a controlled environment so we don’t use any pesticides or fungicides which give us organic produce.”

Bhayo, who comes from a traditional family of farmers in Pakistan’s Sindh province, decided to pursue hydroponic farming while pursuing a Masters of Science degree in Engineering Business Management in the United Kingdom.

On returning to Pakistan in 2018, he set up his farm under the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme at a cost of Rs20 million.

“URBAN FARMING”

Hydroponic farming offers many benefits, including minimal food wastage as compared to open field cultivation, the prevention of nutrient runoff pollution that endangers livestock, fertilizer conservation, savings in pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, water conservation through closed-loop systems to avoid aquifer depletion, elimination of tilling to save Co2 emissions and protect soil microbes, and high yield in small spaces, Bhayo explained. 

But the primary distinction between hydroponics and traditional farming was yield and fruit quality, the grower said. 

Under the controlled environment of a hydroponic farm, pesticides and fungicides were unnecessary, resulting in organic produce. Additionally, produce could be available year-round compared with soil-based farming, which typically yields tomatoes for only three or four months annually.

Also, with traditional farming, the average yield per plant is 5 to 8 kilograms per season each year, whereas with hydroponics, the yield is year-round with an average of 36 kilograms per plant. If more advanced hydroponic systems are used in a high-tech temperature-controlled environment with special lights, the yield can go up to to 60 kilograms per plant yearly. 

It is for these reasons that vertical farming is gaining momentum in Pakistan, primarily driven by the private sector, with public sector organizations also embracing the modern agricultural approach.

The Soil Salinity and Reclamation Research Institute (SS&RRI), a provincial body established in Sindh’s Tando Jam town, recently carried out experiments using hydroponics. 

“Under the hydroponic system, we experimented with five vegetables, brinjal, chilies, tomatoes and others,” an official at the institute, Jamila Jamro, told Arab News.

In soil-less farming, she said, plants received essential elements without toxic additions like arsenic and cadmium, making the fruits healthier than those that came from field crops.

“We recommend indoor farming over traditional field farming,” Jamro said.

She said the institute’s future plan was to expand its research to major crops such as rice and wheat, for which it would identify salt-tolerant varieties.

“FUTURE SOLUTION”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, 70 percent of which will be living in urban areas mainly in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia.

Against this background, the FAO has been supporting the transformation of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) into a recognized urban land use and economic activity, integrated into national and local agricultural development strategies as well as food and nutrition programs and urban planning, a Sindh-based FOA official, James Robert Okoth, explained.

He told Arab News the social shift toward urbanization in Pakistan, combined with climate change which was reducing available farmland, had spotlighted the importance of urban farming to enhance food security and availability in communities.

“Urban farming is important for Pakistan, especially in Sindh province, as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident,” Okoth said. “There is considerable land degradation, and much of the groundwater is becoming brackish, limiting crop options in these areas.”

Urban farming allows for intensification within a small area, enabling the cultivation of diverse, nutritious vegetables, as well as creating employment opportunities, the FOA official added.

Bhayo agrees and hopes the idea will catch on.

After having successfully established his farm, the entrepreneur now offers consultancy on greenhouse technology to others intending to set up similar farms.

“The response is that people are most likely scared whether they will get a return from this huge investment or not,” he said, adding that government support to scale hydroponic farms, through loans and knowledge transfer, was the way forward. 

“This will provide them [farmers] a good opportunity to invest in this system,” Bhayo said. “Once you stabilize the system, there are minimum requirements to maintain the system.”
 


US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million
Updated 22 May 2024
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US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million
  • illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, as per a 2018 report by Standard Chartered 
  • This marks fifth such transfer between US and Pakistan, from where artifacts dating to Gandhara period were stolen

ISLAMABAD: The United States this week returned 133 pieces of stolen antiquities valued over $13 million to Pakistan, state-run media reported, marking the fifth such transfer to the South Asian country from where artifacts dating back to the Gandhara period were stolen.

Artifacts are man-made objects, such as pieces of art or tools, that are of particular cultural, historical, or archaeological interest. 

The illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry according to a 2018 report by Standard Chartered Bank. The trade is also often a major funding source for criminal and militant groups on the supply side, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). 

“The United States returned to Pakistan 133 pieces of stolen antiquities worth over $13 million at a ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. 

Some of the antiquities were displayed during the ceremony at which Pakistani Consul General in New York Aamer Ahmed Atozai said the artifacts would adorn museums across Pakistan. 

“The consul general also signed an agreement with the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, who heads the Antiquities Trafficking Unit for the repatriation of the returned artifacts to Pakistan,” APP said. 

Bogdanos said he was delighted to return “glorious pieces of Pakistani heritage” to the country whose civilization dates back to 5,000 years, APP said. 

Pakistan and the US regularly collaborate to return stolen artifacts to Pakistan. In 2021, the US, after conducting a probe into an Indian-American art dealer Shubash Kapoor, had returned 192 stolen antiquities worth around $3.4 million.

In August 2022, the US again returned 104 artifacts valued at $3.3 million to Pakistan that were among thousands of antiquities looted from Asian countries and seized from Kapoor.
 


Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener

Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener
Updated 22 May 2024
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Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener

Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener
  • Match was supposed to be launchpad for England’s defense next month of T20 World Cup title
  • Both teams will now meet each other on Saturday at Edgbaston in second of four-match series 

Leeds, United Kingdom: Persistent rain saw the first Twenty20 international between England and Pakistan at Headingley on Wednesday abandoned without a ball being bowled.

The match was meant to be the launchpad for reigning champions England’s defense next month of their T20 World Cup title in the Caribbean and the United States.

But a heavy and lengthy downpour in Leeds led the umpires to call the game off approximately an hour before the scheduled 17:30 GMT start.

The four-match series against Pakistan, the team England beat to win the 2022 T20 World Cup final in Melbourne, will now continue at Birmingham’s Edgbaston ground on Saturday before games next week in Cardiff and at the Oval.

England were also the defending champions heading into last year’s 50-over World Cup in India but Jos Buttler’s men suffered a tame exit, losing six of their nine matches.

The Pakistan T20 series could see the return to international duty of England fast bowler Jofra Archer. Injuries have blighted the quick’s career, with elbow and back problems sidelining the 29-year-old from top-level cricket for 14 months.


Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 

Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 
Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 

Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 
  • Authority directs TV channels to report only written orders of courts, refrain from airing news related to court hearings
  • Journalists’ associations reject directives, call on Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to withdraw notification 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulatory body has banned TV channels from airing news, opinions, and commentary on proceedings of ongoing court cases, prompting journalist associations on Wednesday to reject the directive and call it a violation of the country’s constitution.

The development takes place amid tensions between the government and the Islamabad High Court over the alleged kidnapping of Kashmiri poet Ahmad Farhad last week. The poet’s family has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of abducting Farhad from his Islamabad residence for his critical social media posts that targeted the military.

Media extensively reported on the case’s hearings this week as the high court directed authorities to produce the missing poet within four days, warning it would otherwise summon senior government officials. The court also criticized Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, prompting the law minister to say on Monday that the court’s comments were “shocking.”

Journalists in Pakistan have spoken of growing press and media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for illegally detaining journalists and torturing them. The military has repeatedly denied the allegations. 

“TV channels are directed to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and shall only report the written orders of the court,” a notification from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said on Tuesday. 

The regulator also directed TV channels to air “no content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal.”

However, PEMRA allowed TV channels to report on court proceedings if they were broadcast live by the judiciary.

Journalists’ associations covering Pakistan’s Supreme Court and the IHC rejected the directives, saying it was in violation of the country’s constitution.

“Both the journalists’ associations covering court proceedings reject PEMRA’s notification while terming it against press freedom and independent judiciary,” the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association said in a joint statement on Wednesday. 

“PEMRA has no legal right to ban coverage of court reporting,” the statement said, adding that the regulator’s notification was a “serious violation” of journalists’ rights enshrined in the constitution.

The associations demanded that PEMRA withdraw its notification, warning that they would otherwise challenge it in court. 


Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister
Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister
  • Cash-starved Pakistan spends over $20 billion each year on petroleum imports to meet energy demand
  • Pakistan welcomes foreign companies to invest in its oil and gas sector, says Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik

KARACHI: Pakistan wants to enhance the production of its indigenous petroleum products, Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik said on Wednesday, citing the financial burden that expensive crude oil imports have on the country’s fragile economy. 

Cash-strapped Pakistan relies heavily on imported petroleum products as its energy demands grow. Struggling with a balance of payments crisis, high inflation and steep currency devaluation, Pakistan is looking to secure cheaper energy imports and find alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation. 

According to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the country’s indigenous oil production meets only about one-fifth of Pakistan’s current oil needs. The rest is met through high-cost imports.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has urged the government to turn toward renewable energy resources. Last month, he said the country currently imports oil worth $27 billion to meet its power and transportation needs, which puts a strain on the cash-strapped nation. 

Speaking at the Pakistan Energy Symposium, Malik said it would be difficult to manage the country with such a huge energy import bill when Pakistan’s exports were around $30 billion. 

“We want to first of all, produce as much of the petroleum products, including gas and crude, indigenously as much as possible,” the minister said, adding that the government has put blocks for bidding and is actively trying to attract global players in exploration activities.

Malik said the government is expediting oil and gas exploration within the country, adding that it welcomes foreign companies to invest in the sector.

“So, we are telling the world that Pakistan is open for business, our regulatory process, particularly the petroleum concession process is very dense and opaque,” he said. 

He said investment processes and information about oil and gas exploration have been digitized and simplified to facilitate the government’s aims to enhance indigenous production of energy resources. 

Malik advocated for increasing the utilization of Pakistan’s abundant renewable energy resources, pointing out that the country’s solar energy costs have significantly decreased. 
 


PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector
Updated 22 May 2024
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PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector
  • Pakistan’s exports of gems and precious stones to China saw 47 percent increase in 2023, as per official figures
  • Pakistan possesses immense natural resources in KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions, says Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday stressed developing the country’s gems and precious stones sector, urging authorities to take steps to accord it the status of an industry, a statement from his office said. 

According to a report by Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce, the country’s exports of pearls and precious stones to China saw a 47 percent increase in 2023, showcasing the rising demand for Pakistan’s precious stones in China. 

“The prime minister gave directions for steps to be taken for the gems and precious stones sector be granted industry status,” the PMO said, as Sharif chaired a meeting of the gems and private stones sector in Pakistan’s capital on Wednesday. 

Sharif said Pakistan possesses immense natural resources, particularly in the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He called on authorities to properly utilize these resources to Pakistan’s advantage. 

“Efforts should be made to obtain international certifications for precious stones and the products made from them, and to ensure Pakistani representation in global exhibitions,” the prime minister said. 

He directed necessary consultations to be held with the private sector and provinces in this regard.

Separately, the prime minister also presided over a meeting on Information Technology Parks, directing the construction of Islamabad IT Park “as soon as possible.”

The Islamabad IT Park is expected to act as a state-of-the-art facility that would aim to foster collaboration, innovation and product development in teh capital. 

“The establishment of IT parks to promote IT, increase IT exports, and provide facilities to startups is a welcome development,” PM Sharif was quoted as saying by the PMO.

Sharif was told during the meeting that the Islamabad IT Park would be completed next year in collaboration with South Korea. 

“The Islamabad IT Park will feature startups, incubation centers, banks, restaurants, and other facilities,” the statement said.