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

  • 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.”
 


Two more flights bring over 300 Pakistanis home from Bishkek days after mob attacks

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Two more flights bring over 300 Pakistanis home from Bishkek days after mob attacks

  • Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities, lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week
  • Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and over 1,000 Pakistani students have returned home

ISLAMABAD: More than 300 Pakistanis returned home on Tuesday from Bishkek via two Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights, the PIA said, days after mob attacks on foreign students in the Kyrgyz capital.
Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek on May 17 after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media. The attacks raised concerns about safety of students from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other countries.
Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 1,000 Pakistani students have returned home via different flights. According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.
On Tuesday, a group of 167 students arrived in Islamabad from Bishkek via a PIA flight, while another flight carrying 169 students landed in the eastern city of Lahore where they were received by PIA Deputy General Manager Athar Hassan and Station Manager Ashfaq Awan, according to the PIA.
“The national airline always stands by its compatriots in times of trouble,” a PIA spokesperson said in a statement. “Additional flights will also be operated as per government guidelines and as per requirement.”
The development came a day after Pakistan Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar met Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev in Astana, Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers.
Dar told his Kyrgyz counterpart that Pakistan’s main concern was the well-being of its nationals, especially the students who were primarily affected by last week’s violence, according to Pakistani state media.
Kulubaev said the Kyrgyz government had taken swift action to restore law and order in the country, and the perpetrators of the mob riots would be punished under the Kyrgyz law.


Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply agreement between Saudi Aramco, GO Petroleum

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan approves petrol, diesel supply agreement between Saudi Aramco, GO Petroleum

  • Under the agreement, Aramco will meet GO Petroleum’s petrol, diesel demand for its outlets in Pakistan
  • Pakistan last month approved the Saudi oil giant’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in GO Petroleum

KARACHI: The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has granted a time-bound exemption on relevant clauses of a product supply agreement between Saudi oil giant Aramco and Gas & Oil Pakistan Ltd. (GO Petroleum) for the import and sale of petrol and diesel products to Pakistan, the CCP said on Tuesday.
Aramco Trading Company (ATC) Fujairah FZE Ltd. is one of the world’s largest integrated energy and chemicals companies, while GO Petroleum is an oil-marketing company (OMC) registered in Pakistan that operates a network of retail outlets across the country that sell petrol, diesel and lubricants.
Under the agreement, ATC Fujairah intends to meet GO Petroleum’s demand for essential petroleum products for its outlets, which primarily includes petrol and diesel.
“The parties submitted to the CCP that this arrangement is expected to achieve economies of scale in procurement for GO Petroleum, potentially resulting in better prices for Pakistani consumers,” the CCP said in a statement.
“The exemption sought was on exclusivity aspects of the commercial agreement to supply 100 percent demand of imported products for GO Petroleum’s retail outlets. The CCP has accordingly granted exemption on the product supply agreement with certain conditions included therein.”
The CCP grants exemptions pursuant to Section 9 of the Competition Act, 2010, ensuring that such exemptions have economic benefits that outweigh anti-competitive effects.
“The CCP’s conditions stipulate that both parties must refrain from engaging in anti-competitive activities. Importantly, the exemption does not include approval on any pricing terms and mechanisms related to the products,” the CCP statement read.
“Additionally, as the agreement has referred to certain off specification products, however approval of concerned sector regulator should be ensured for import and sales. The applicants have also been directed to ensure required approvals on their terminals and storage facilities by relevant authorities to be used in the execution of this agreement.”
Subject to the conditions, the CCP said, it had granted the exemption until June 2026 and both applicants could approach it for an extension with required details and also identifying the benefits that have accrued to the improved distribution network of petroleum products and enhanced competition in the market.
Last month, the CCP approved Saudi oil giant Aramco’s move to acquire a 40 percent stake in Go Petroleum, officially marking the Saudi company’s entry into Pakistan’s fuels retail market.
The CCP said it had authorized the merger after determining the acquisition would not result in the acquirers’ “dominance” in the relevant market post-transaction. The acquisition would help bring much-needed foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s energy sector, contributing to economic growth and development of the country, it added.
In February 2019, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia inked investment deals totaling $21 billion during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad. The agreements included about $10 billion for an Aramco oil refinery and $1 billion for a petrochemical complex at the strategic Gwadar Port in Balochistan.
Both countries have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, and the Kingdom recently reaffirmed its commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion.


Pakistan’s Sirbaz Khan scales Mt Everest without supplementary oxygen

Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan’s Sirbaz Khan scales Mt Everest without supplementary oxygen

  • Khan is the first Pakistani to summit 11 out of 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ without using supplementary oxygen
  • He was part of ‘Imagine Nepal 2024 Everest Expedition,’ which included 14 international climbers, 18 sherpas

KHAPLU, GILGIT-BALTISTAN: Pakistani mountaineer Sirbaz Khan on Tuesday achieved another milestone by successfully scaling the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, without supplementary oxygen, Pakistani and Nepalese expedition organizers said.
Born and raised in Ali Abad village in Pakistan’s mountainous Hunza district, Khan has previously summited 13 of the 14 peaks in the world above the height of 8,000 meters, including K2.
He was part of the ‘Imagine Nepal 2024 Everest Expedition’ team, which included 14 international climbers and 18 sherpas who reached the 8,849-meter-high summit on Tuesday morning, according to the Imagine Nepal tour company and the Alpine Club of Pakistan.
“Congratulations to Sirbaz Khan on successfully summiting Mount Everest 8,848.86 meters (29,031.69 feet) without the use of supplemental oxygen,” Karrar Haidri, secretary-general of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, said in a statement.
The team of 14 international climbers and 18 sherpas summitted Everest in “various hours between NPT 5:15 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. on the morning of 21 May 2024,” the Imagine Nepal tour company said in a Facebook post.
Khan’s family celebrated the feat in Pakistan, according to his younger brother, Shahbaz Khan.
“We are very happy because today Sirbaz summited Everest without supplementary oxygen. We are celebrating this moment and especially our mother is very excited. There is an environment of festivity at our home,” Shahbaz told Arab News over the phone.
“Whenever he [Sirbaz] starts his summit push, we offer special prayers for him. Because you know, we can’t trust the mountains. However, when he summits, we celebrate. Now we are also offering prayers for his safe descent.”
Khan planned to summit the 8,027-meter Shishapangma peak — the last of the 14 peaks above 8,000 meters — but had to delay the expedition as China did not open the mountain to international climbers, according to his brother.
He also climbed Everest in 2021 and is the first Pakistani to climb 11 out of 14 ‘eight-thousanders’ without oxygen support. Khan had summitted only Annapurna and Kangchenjunga peaks using oxygen support.
“Congratulations @sirbazkhan_mission14 for climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen and a personal sherpa. He is now the only Pakistani to climb 11 peaks without Oxygen,” Naila Kiani, a Pakistani woman climber, said in an Instagram post.
“Sirbaz is the second [Pakistani after] Sajid Ali Sadpara to climb Everest without O2, following our younger brother @sajidalisadpara, who climbed it last year. Sirbaz is also the only Pakistani to climb Everest twice. Climbing Everest without oxygen is a true test of human grit. Congratulations, Ustad.”


PTI leader Raoof Hassan injured in attack outside private news channel office in Islamabad

Updated 21 May 2024
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PTI leader Raoof Hassan injured in attack outside private news channel office in Islamabad

  • PTI calls the attack ‘very shameful and reprehensible,’ demanding full inquiry into the incident
  • CCTV footage shows Hassan was attacked by transgender persons who wielded a sharp blade

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Tuesday one of its senior leaders, Raoof Hassan, was injured in an attack after he arrived at the office of a private news channel in Islamabad.
Hassan, who has served as the PTI spokesperson, gained political prominence following a crackdown on the party after the May 9 riots, which erupted in the wake of Khan’s brief detention on corruption charges.
The crackdown resulted in the incarceration of top PTI leadership, many of whom continue to remain behind bars. Despite these circumstances, Hassan was vocal, addressing news conferences and passionately advocating for his party’s position.
“Very shameful and reprehensible,” the PTI said in a social media post after the attack. “Central Information Secretary Rauf Hassan attacked by unknown persons outside the office of a private channel.”

 

 

The party also shared Hassan’s video in which one can see blood coming out of his face as he walks into a building.
CCTV footage aired by Geo TV captured the incident involving a group of five or six transgender individuals who surrounded and attacked Hassan, slapping him and knocking him to the ground.
The motivation for the attack remains unclear, but PTI’s Shibli Faraz called for a full inquiry into the incident while addressing an ongoing Senate session.
“This is not coincidental,” he said. “These transgender people also attacked a journalist in the past.”
Islamabad police also confirmed that Hassan was attacked by transgender people, with one of them inflicting a gash on his face with a sharp blade.


Experts warn of health risks as Pakistan braces for severe heatwave

Updated 21 May 2024
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Experts warn of health risks as Pakistan braces for severe heatwave

  • The meteorological department says temperatures may rise up to 50°C in parts of Pakistan in the coming days
  • Health experts say heatstroke can damage brain, heart and kidneys, leading to serious complications or even death

KARACHI: Experts on Tuesday warned of health risks and advised people to limit time spent in harsh sunlight as Pakistan is poised to experience some of the hottest weather conditions in the coming days.
According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), a heatwave is expected to hit parts of Pakistan this week, with temperatures in certain areas of the southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces potentially surging past 40°C.
The PMD also warned of glacial lake outburst floods in the country’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province due to rising temperatures.
In previous years, heatstroke, which occurs when the body temperature rises to 104°F (40°C) or higher due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or physical exertion in the heat, has been reported by dozens.
“Without prompt care, heatstroke can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and other organs, leading to serious complications or death,” Dr. Naseem Salahuddin told Arab News, adding it was always important to act immediately and cool down the body of a heatwave victim.
“Extreme heat can damage the temperature control center in the brain,” she said, urging caution during high temperatures.
On Tuesday, as of 2 PM, temperature in Jacobabad and Mohenjo Daro reached 47°C, while it was 45°C in Sibbi, Lasbela, Rahimyar Khan, Hyderabad, Khairpur and Bhakar.
“The temperature is expected to further rise from tomorrow, with the upper regions of Sindh experiencing up to 50°C,” Dr. Sardar Sarfaraz, Pakistan’s chief meteorologist, said, noting the heatwave would affect settlements in upper Sindh and Punjab provinces.
With temperatures expected to rise further in coming days, Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, a health expert and former secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, emphasized social awareness was crucial to avoid health problems in such extreme weather.
“People should not spend too much time in the sun,” he said. “If it is essential to go out, the body should be completely covered.”
In June 2015, Pakistan experienced the worst heatwave in the country’s south, especially in its port city Karachi, where over 2,000 people died of dehydration.
Dr. Sajjad recalled the cases where patients, after receiving first-aid, instead of moving to the shade or discontinuing work, went back to perform labor and died shortly thereafter.
“If a person has suffered heatstroke, he or she should be taken to a cold place and not allowed to work, even if they seem to recover,” he said, adding people should pour water on their head in such a case.
He pointed out since climate change had made the weather more extreme, every household should keep umbrellas which should be used by its members to shield themselves from the sun.
“An umbrella should be a must,” he said. “Water intake should be increased to 22 glasses daily to keep the body hydrated.”
Dr. Sajjad also noted that people should consume fresh vegetables and fruits after washing with clean water and avoid dining outside.
“Prevention is better than cure,” he continued. “We don’t see as many deaths now as we unfortunately witnessed during the 2015 heatwave because there was no awareness then. More awareness can keep citizens safe.”