STAFF REPORT RWP: As Pakistan is seriously vulnerable to food security to due to multiple factors, soil scientists have a major role to play by gearing up their efforts for meeting the future challenges of fulfilling requirements of the countrys food security.

This was the crux of the speakers at a three-day 16th International Congress of Soil Science recently concluded at the Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University (PMAS-AAUER), Rawalpindi.

The theme of the congress was “Healthy Soils for Food Security” which was held under the auspices of Soil Science Society of Pakistan (SSSP).

Faculty members of PMAS-AAUR and more than 300 scientists from federal and provincial policymakers, education sector, agriculture extension industry from Pakistan and abroad attended the congress.

The speakers emphasised the importance of protecting and improving natural resources, particularly soil, for increasing agriculture production in the country.

Federal Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain, who was the chief guest, said, that overall the economy of a country was heavily dependent on the health of its soils, the productivity of which was resultantly affects its intrinsic characteristics coupled with interaction of external inputs such as water, fertilizer and climate and a host of other factors.

“Tremendous variations in soil productivity are noticed depending upon how the soils are used and managed,” he said adding an indiscriminate use adversely affects soil health, especially in developing counties like Pakistan.

Thus, precise understanding and development of science-based sound strategies for their profitable use on sustainable basis without damaging the soil resource and the environment is a challenging task, the minister said.

However, with the expertise available in the country and professional commitment and past accomplishments, he was optimistic about effective handling of the current as well as future challenges in this scientific area of enormous significance.

He said that the challenges ahead in the 21st century would undoubtedly be more complex, difficult and numerous in the wake of continued rapid depletion, degradation and pollution of soil resources.

Tanveer also said that scientific management of soil and water has to continue to play a key role in realizing the yield potential of the modern high yielding crop cultivars.

In view of the changing global agricultural scenario, the future of agriculture has to be more knowledge-based, the minister said.

In their remarks, other speakers stressed the need for adopting the latest agriculture practices and urged the agricultural scientists to speed up their work to boost production in order to feed the increasing population.

Soil health has been defined as the capacity of soil to function as a living system. Healthy soils maintain a diverse community of soil organisms that help to control plant disease, insect and weed pests, form beneficial symbiotic associations with plant roots, recycle essential plant nutrients, improve soil structure with positive effects for soil water and nutrient holding capacity, and ultimately improve crop production. A healthy soil also contributes to mitigating climate change by maintaining or increasing its carbon content.

In his welcome address, PMAS-AAUR Vice Chancellor Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad highlighted the importance of efficient use of farm inputs and said that water shortage for agricultural crops is a major problem faced by farming community.

He said that consistent efforts needed to meet the growing food requirement of the population, and urged the Soil Science Society of Pakistan to play leading role in conservation of land and water resources and guide policymakers in evolving research priorities.

At the end, shields were presented to the federal minister, MNA Shizra Mansab and Pakistan Science Foundation Chairman Dr Muhammad Ashraf.

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