Pakistan looks to new tech to curb crop burning and cut smog

A farmer burns straw stubble after harvesting a paddy crop in a field near the India-Pakistan Wagah border, some 35 kms from Amritsar on October 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2020

Pakistan looks to new tech to curb crop burning and cut smog

  • Punjab government is providing 500 rice farmers around Lahore with a set of machines that together eliminate the need to burn crop stubble
  • Among underlying causes of smog in Punjab, agriculture — mainly rice residue burning — accounts for 20% of total air pollutant emissions, UN says 

LAHORE: Air pollution is a long-standing problem in Pakistan, but every October and November contaminates in the air in Punjab province shoot up as farmers burn rice stalks left behind after harvesting to clear their fields to plant wheat.
During these cooler months, the provincial capital Lahore, which is surrounded by rice-growing districts, is covered with thick smog.
“It is a health emergency – the air quality monitors in Lahore routinely show hazardous levels in November,” said Farah Rashid, a climate and energy program coordinator for green group WWF-Pakistan.
Now the Punjab government hopes to tackle the problem by providing 500 rice farmers around Lahore with a set of machines that together eliminate the need to burn crop stubble.
The machines include a shredder that breaks down rice stubble and mulches it into the ground and a seed drill — called the Happy Seeder — that follows to sow wheat through the mulch.
“It’s a useful technology,” said farmer Aaamer Hayat Bhandara, who has used both machines at a friend’s large farm, and has pushed the government to subsidise them.
“These machines used together could really make life much easier for us farmers,” said Bhandara, from Pakpattan in Punjab province.
Malik Amin Aslam, climate change adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan, called air pollution a “silent killer” and said Lahore’s smog had increased in intensity and frequency over the last five years.
He explained that rice farmers traditionally use combine harvesters to cut their rice in October, leaving behind about four inches of stubble.
With less than two weeks before they have to ready their fields to sow wheat, burning is the fastest way to clear the land, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Pakistan, rice is grown on an area of about 2 million hectares (5 million acres), mainly in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. Many of the fields are cleared by burning every year.
In October and November, Lahore’s Air Quality Index level can jump to over 300, a number that the US Environmental Protection Agency says corresponds to a “health warning of emergency conditions.”
CUTTING EMISSIONS
Farmers say the new farm equipment can help combat smog, but note that crop burning produces only a small share of the province’s pollution.
“The stubble is burned only for a few weeks in the winter. It is a fact that the problem becomes worse during this short period,” Bhandara said.
“But farmers are not the only reason for this pollution,” he added.
A 2018 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the underlying causes of smog in Punjab noted that agriculture — mainly rice residue burning — accounts for 20% of total air pollutant emissions.
That puts it behind industry, which produces a quarter of the air pollution in the province, and transport, which contributes more than 40%.
Tackling air pollution — and leaving stubble on the soil as mulch, rather than burning it — also has the benefit of reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
In India, where farmers have been using the rice stubble shredder and Happy Seeder for the past few years, a group of scientists published a report last year stating the technology could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%.
Ejaz Ahmad, an environmental expert with the Institute of Urbanism in Islamabad, said any efforts to curb air pollution will benefit Pakistanis.
“The Happy Seeder seems like a useful machine,” he said.
CHOSEN BY LOTTERY
In Mandi Bahauddin district, where famed Basmati rice is grown, Muhammad Afzal, an agriculture officer at Punjab’s Government Agriculture Seed Farm, has been experimenting with the Happy Seeder for the past two years.
“Stubble management is a serious issue for farmers,” said Afzal, who helps farmers adopt new farming techniques.
Pakistan has penalties for rice stubble burning, including fines of up to 20,000 Pakistani rupees ($125) per acre — but most farmers have little other choice and simply continue the practice and pay the penalty when they are charged.
But a growing number are looking for alternative solutions, Afzal said.
The total cost for the stubble shredder and Happy Seeder is about 637,500 rupees ($4,000), and the government this year is paying about 80% of the price for 500 farmers, he noted.
“For those who can’t afford it, bigger farmers are willing to rent out the machines. In the future, more service providers will come up to rent them out,” Afzal said.
One drawback to the machines, he noted, is the need to mount them on the back of a tractor — and not just any tractor will do.
“It requires a large, 85-horsepower tractor,” he noted, something most rice farmers in Pakistan do not have.
Bhandara, the farmer in Pakpattan, said the subsidised machines also are only available in certain districts around Lahore, in the so-called smog “red zone.”
“The subsidised machines should be made available to rice farmers in South Punjab and Sindh as well, otherwise they are too expensive for most farmers,” he said.
Despite the limitations, the Happy Seeder has proven so popular that the government has had 10 applicants for each of its 500 machines, according to Aslam, the climate change adviser.
He said authorities are using a lottery system to decide who gets the subsidised equipment.
The government has plans to expand the Happy Seeder program next year and cover the whole of the Punjab rice belt by 2023, Aslam noted.
In the meantime, he added, it is already working on a technology upgrade.
“The agriculture extension department has developed a prototype to combine the two shredder (and) seeder machines into one ‘Pak Seeder’, which will be even more effective and efficient” — plus 30% cheaper, he said. ($1 = 159.3100 Pakistani rupees) 


Afghan Taliban blame foreign Daesh fighter for Pakistan embassy attack

Updated 10 sec ago

Afghan Taliban blame foreign Daesh fighter for Pakistan embassy attack

  • A Pakistani security guard was wounded in a gun attack on Friday
  • Pakistan called it attempt to assassinate its head of mission, who was unhurt

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban said on Monday a Daesh militant attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul was carried out with involvement of unidentified foreign groups with the intention of sowing distrust with Pakistan.

Daesh, which fights the Taliban in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the Friday gun attack on the Pakistani embassy in a statement carried by one of its affiliated channels on the Telegram messaging service on Sunday.

A Pakistani security guard was wounded in the attack that Pakistan called an attempt to assassinate its head of mission, who was unhurt.

Pakistan has for decades had good relations with the Afghan Taliban but recently ties have been strained over security concerns on their common border.

The Taliban said they had arrested one suspect and recovered two guns and Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the suspect was a foreign Daesh member.

“Behind the attack there is the hand of some foreign groups and their aim is to create distrust between the two brotherly countries,” Mujahid said.

He did not say which country the suspect was from. An investigation was continuing, he said.

The Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed several high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months, including a suicide blast outside the Russian embassy in September.

Pakistan said earlier it was consulting Afghan authorities to verify the report of a Daesh claim of responsibility for the attack.

Pakistan said it had no plan to close the embassy and the head of the mission was in Pakistan for consultations.


Head of Pakistan's newly formed reforms commission 'confident' of simplification of tax system

Updated 05 December 2022

Head of Pakistan's newly formed reforms commission 'confident' of simplification of tax system

  • Ashfaq Tola says the independent commission will address issues pertaining to complex tax system, budget
  • The reforms commission head says it'll be able to give first set of recommendations by the mid of April 2023

KARACHI: Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, chairman of recently formed Reforms and Resource Mobilization Commission (RRMC) of Pakistan, on Sunday said he was "confident" of playing a catalyst role in the simplification of the country’s complex taxation system and cut the informal, parallel economy to size.  

Pakistan has been grappling with a widening current account deficit, a balance-of-payment crisis and inflation hovering around historic highs in recent months. The South Asian nation has also witnessed an economic slowdown in the wake of recent floods that have damaged huge infrastructure and agriculture output.  

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last week constituted a powerful commission to review the existing revenue policies, identify issues and risks of existing tax system, review budget proposals and evaluate their consequences as well as review complexities of tax legislation.

An undated file photo of Ashfaq Yousuf Tola, Chairman of Reforms and Resource Mobilization Commission (RRMC). (Supplied)

Tola, who is currently serving as a technical advisor on the Board of International Federation of Accountants, would directly work under the finance minister and hold a full-time office at the Islamabad headquarters of the national tax agency, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).   

“This commission is completely independent and will play a key role in addressing complex taxation and other economic issues,” Tola told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Sunday.   

“The commission will have access to analyses, revenue policies and meet with the stakeholders. The commission will have its input in budget and budget evaluation.”  

The RRMC head, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP), has an experience of over 30 years in financial and forensic auditing, tax advisory and corporate structuring.   

The 11-member commission headed by him comprises FBR chairman, experts on taxation and economy, and representatives of the business community. 

This is the second commission formed by Dar in the last eight years and is given both short- and long-term objectives, with a major focus on finalization of taxation measures for next fiscal years.  

“This commission is completely different from the previous one and it has no lifecycle,” Tola said. “This time strong players have been picked up for the commission who have the capability to deliver.”   

Asked how the commission would work, Tola said it would form different sub-groups to come up with assessments of their relevant fields.  

“For instance, economists would be tasked to evaluate the size of parallel economy and the chartered accountants would be asked to draw global comparison and identify snags and [present] recommendation on how to rectify them,” he explained. 

Pakistan has complex taxation measures in place, which experts say are highly "oppressive" in nature.  

“Pakistan’s tax system is complicated, fragmented, oppressive, narrow and anti-growth. It has one of the highest rates for the corporate sector,” Dr Ikramul Haq, a Lahore-based taxation expert, told Arab News.   

“It is highly oppressive for salaried persons and citizens with fixed income living under hyperinflation. It levies and collects main taxes at import stage, making exports uncompetitive and increasing the already heavy cost of doing business.” 

The Tola-led commission is assigned a daunting task to come up with recommendations to reform the ages-old taxation system and broaden the tax net.  

Pakistan has less than 3.5 million income tax filers, with a majority declaring its income below the taxable limit or reporting losses. The number of individuals registered for sales tax is less than 350,000 and actual payers are less than 85,000, the rest claim refunds, according to official data.   

Haq suggested dismantling the fragmented tax structure by giving power to the federation to levy and collect tax from all sources, including from the ones whose income is based on agriculture.  

Provinces should have exclusive jurisdiction over harmonized sales tax on goods and services and all these should be collected through a national tax agency, he added. 

The RRMC is given an April 2023 deadline to submit its first report, which Tola is confident to meet.   

To a question about the timing of the RRMC formation amid an uncertain and fluid political and economic situation, Tola said the formation of the commission was a "good initiative" and must be kept apolitical.   

“This is a good thing formed and if it is kept apolitical that would be good for the country,” he said.   

He, however, conceded that there was no guarantee of the commission’s future in case the government changes.  

Pakistan has been hit by political instability for years now, which has aggravated since the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan in April. 

The instable political situation has been taking a toll on the country's frail economy, already suffering from devastating impacts of the floods. 


For Pakistani beauty and fragrance brands, the newest craze is Middle Eastern scented wood chips

Updated 05 December 2022

For Pakistani beauty and fragrance brands, the newest craze is Middle Eastern scented wood chips

  • Popularly known as 'bakhoor' in the Arab world, the agarwood chips are said to have several medical and psychological benefits
  • Local businesses say the incense chips are in high demand in Pakistan, though many customers also find them quite expensive

KARACHI: Beauty and fragrance brands across Pakistan have been importing a product which has long dominated the Middle East culture and is widely used in traditional Arab households and markets. 

'Bakhoor,' or agarwood chips, are used to spread lingering fragrance at homes, shops and offices. Pakistani businesses have been bringing these scented bricks from Arab countries before offering their different varieties to customers. 

A salon in Karachi, for instance, provides hair bakhoor scalp treatment which, it says, is quite popular in the Arab World. 

"Bakhoor is in high demand in Pakistan," Adeel Shafiq Alam, chief executive officer of an Arabian fragrance shop, Souk Galleria, told Arab News. 

Alam's organization has been doing good business in Karachi and Lahore since 2020 and boasts international outlets in places like Dubai and the United States. 

"We import bakhoor from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," Alam added. "Bakhoor farming is not common in Pakistan. Even if we start it today, it will take another 25 years for us to benefit from it. A large number of people in Pakistan are still not very familiar with bakhoor." 

A Saudi man holds a handful of Bakhoor or Agarwood at his shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on October 10, 2007. (AFP/File)

Alam, whose business offers several types of bakhoor products, said people used to ask him all sorts of questions about the scented bricks when Souk Galleria started advertising bakhoor in Pakistan two years ago. 

"Many of them want to buy bakhoor but are usually deterred by high prices," he continued. "Most of them find it difficult to afford good quality bakhoor, which can cost around Rs1,000 per gram." 

The incense chips, which have been used in the Middle East for centuries, are said to have several medical and psychological benefits. Some say they change people's mood and relieve them of stress and anxiety. 

"The future of bakhoor is bright in Pakistan since many people from this country visit Arab states, especially for Hajj and Umrah, and see how Arabs use these scented chips," Shiekh Faisal Ghani, chairman of Saeed Ghani, a popular Pakistani brand for herbal and skincare products, told Arab News. 

Ghani's business offers bakhoor fragrances that include Oud Wood, Oud Combodi, Oud Kindi and Oud Amber. 

"Ninety-nine percent of bakhoor is imported from Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman," he added. 

Karachi's Scalpxury, a beauty salon, says it is the only place in the country offering bakhoor hair treatment. 

"Hair bakhoor are different from normal bakhoor sold in Pakistan. The fragrance and texture are slightly different and they give longevity to one’s hair," said Shehla Khan, the salon owner. 

"Conventionally and commercially, hair bakhoor are not available in the market. I get them from the Arab region." 

Khan said her business was different since it was not retailing or selling bakhoor, but using them to offer a popular variety of hair treatment. 


England's Livingstone out of Pakistan tour with knee injury

Updated 05 December 2022

England's Livingstone out of Pakistan tour with knee injury

  • The 29-year-old all-rounder made his Test debut Thursday in the ongoing first Test in Rawalpindi
  • Livingstone jarred his knee while fielding on day two and did not bowl in Pakistan's first innings 

RAWALPINDI: All-rounder Liam Livingstone has been ruled out of the rest of England's tour of Pakistan with a knee injury, the team's management said Monday. 

The 29-year-old made his Test debut Thursday in the ongoing first Test in Rawalpindi, scoring nine and seven not out in England's two innings. 

But he jarred his knee while fielding on day two and did not bowl in Pakistan's first innings. 

Livingstone also missed the Twenty20 series against Pakistan a few months ago after suffering an ankle injury. 

England have yet to decide if a replacement will be called up. 

Pakistan were chasing 343 Monday on the fifth and final day of the first Test. 

England are on their first Test tour of Pakistan since 2005, having declined to visit in the interim years on security grounds. 

The second Test is in Multan from December 9-13, and the third in Karachi from December 17-21. 


Second phase of Pakistan T20 Women's Cricket Tournament to kick off from Monday

Updated 04 December 2022

Second phase of Pakistan T20 Women's Cricket Tournament to kick off from Monday

  • Tournament matches will be played at two Lahore venues, final to take place on December 9
  • PCB says tournament winners will bag Rs1 million, runners-up team to receive Rs0.5 million

ISLAMABAD: The second phase of the Pakistan T20 Women's Cricket Tournament is scheduled to kick off from December 5, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced on Sunday.
The first phase of the tournament concluded earlier this week on Friday.
The second phase, which will begin from Monday, will be held at two venues in Lahore: The Lahore Gymkhana and the LCCA Ground, the PCB confirmed.
"Four teams namely Blasters, Challengers, Dynamites and Strikers will feature in the event where Pakistan's elite cricketers will take part," the country's cricket board said in a statement.
The second phase will be played on a single-league basis, where two matches will be held everyday on 5, 6 and 7 December.
The final of the tournament will take place at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium on December 9 which will also be live-streamed for viewers on the PCB's YouTube channel.
“The tournament provides a great opportunity for players to kick-start their preparations for the ICC Women's T20 World Cup in South Africa later next year and hone their skills in the format," it added.
The contest will feature a blend of Pakistani cricketers who have represented their country internationally along with the emerging talent in the game.
In order to incentivize domestic performers, the best player of every match will continue to receive Rs20,000 as they were getting in the first phase of the tournament. The player of the tournament will bag Rs50,000. The winning team will receive Rs1 million, while the runner-up will get Rs0.5 million.
Blasters squad:
Fatima Sana (Captain), Aima Saleem, Anam Amin, Ayesha Bilal, Ayesha Naseem, Bismah Maroof, Fareeha Mehmood, Gul Rukh, Huraina Sajjad, Maham Manzoor, Mahnoor Aftab, Masooma Zehra, Shawal Zulfiqar, Sidra Amin and Amber Kainaat
Team management – Mauhtashim Rashid (head coach), Shahid Mehmood (assistant coach), Mahlika Mansoor (manager)
Challengers squad:
Omaima Sohail (Captain), Aiman Anwar, Aliya Riaz, Anoosha Nasir, Ayesha Zafar, Dua Majid, Ghulam Fatima, Hamna Bilal, Javeria Wadood, Khadija Chishti, Lubna Behram, Najiha Alvi, Noreen Yaqoob, Rameen Shamim and Rida Aslam
Team management – Azam Khan (head coach), Nazim Khan (assistant coach), Asiya Khan (manager)
Dynamites squad:
Umm-e-Hani (Captain), Aleena Shah, Gull-e-Uswa, Gull Feroza, Kainat Imtiaz, Nahida Khan, Nida Dar, Sadaf Shamas, Sadia Iqbal, Saima Malik, Saira Jabeen, Sidra Nawaz, Tuba Hassan, Waheeda Akhtar and Yusra Amir
Team management – Taufiq Umar (head coach), Jawad Hamid (assistant coach), Hina Azam (manager)
Strikers squad:
Muneeba Ali (Captain), Aroob Shah, Ayesha Irfan, Eymaan Fatima, Fatima Khan, Iram Javed, Javeria Rauf, Kaynat Hafeez, Maham Tariq, Nashra Sundhu, Natalia Parvaiz, Neha Sharmeen, Saba Nazir, Soha Fatima and Zunera Shah
Team management – Waqar Orakzai (head coach), Rehmat Gull (assistant coach), Aisha Jalil (manager)