a. Name: Prof. Dr. G. Sarwar Markhand
b. Designation: Director
c. Affiliation: Date Palm Research Institute, Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, Sindh
d. PhD from Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), Aberystwyth, UK,
f. Post Doctorate from University of Reading, UK
Dr. Markhand born in village Baharpur, Taluka Gambat, a remote area near Indus River in the western part of district Khairpur. He passed his matriculation from Govt. High School Agra and Intermediate from Govt. Superior Science College, Khairpur. He graduated from University of Sindh Shah Abdul Latif Campus, Khairpur. Professor Markhand was awarded Commonwealth Scholarship, UK for Ph.D. He did PhD from Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), Aberystwyth, UK. He also did Post Doctorate from University of Reading, UK in the field of Biotechnology. He has a habit to see dreams and that continued during his stay and education in advanced world. He kept thinking how rural community of his land can improve their livelihood. He always dreamed to do something productive for the rural part of Sindh and Pakistan.
Dr. Markhand being an active and challenge accepting scientist got opportunity to establish Date Palm Research Institute (DPRI) through a project funded by Higher Education Commission (HEC), Islamabad. He took that opportunity with great zeal and benefitted society with good quality, rapidly growing date palm trees.
• Khairpur Sindh- Date Palm Industry
District Khairpur is located in remote part of Sindh, Pakistan with rural economy heavily dependent on agriculture. Date Palm is the largest agriculture produce of this area. Although, the area is very rich in terms of this high value crop and known as biodiversity center for Date Palm but condition of farmers is not improved much. Khairpur is the largest Date Palm producer of Pakistan with 60% shares in total country produce of 05-07 Lacs tons annually. The 20-30 % produce is exported in form of fresh fruit, soft dates and dried dates (Chohara) out of total country production and 70-80% is consumed locally. Aseel is known good variety here and also is a predominant. But there are other high price varieties in the world which are not cultivated here. The farmer is not well acquainted with modern pre and post-harvest practices of Date Palm crop. Hence, post-harvest losses usually go around 30%. The second serious problem is value adding process. Lot of fruit is wasted or converted into low value product due to lack of technology and value-added processing. Here comes the role of entrepreneurial scientist who can transform the rural sector economy through new technology
• Director DPRI
Dr. Markhand established DPRI with a mission to do something for local rural economy dominated by date palm sector. He decided to develop DPRI and take it up to the level where real economic contribution is made. During his last eight years of services in DPRI, he produced eight MPhil and two PhDs in the field. Currently, three M.Phil and four more PhDs are doing research on date palm in the Institute.
DPRI copartners with annual date palm exhibition in Khairpur organized to attract world leaders and expertise in date palm. The exhibition, technology seminars and discussions are planned to attract the investment and promote business activity in the sector.
• Tissue Culture Lab DPRI
DPRI has established state-of-art tissue culture lab to produce plants of novel and locally needed varieties of date palm. DPRI tissue culture lab was set up as a part of Date Palm Research Institute Project.
DPRI has contributed more than twenty research papers publication and many Conference presentations through its researchers in the country and abroad. The specialized science work was then ready to impact the rural economy.
• The Revival of Date Palm Sector
The date palm plants cultivated and planted conventionally takes 4-5 years to bring fruits. The mortality rate is generally high and sometimes offshoots bring diseases with them which eventually become the source of problem for whole the area. If the variety has little occurrence then not many off shoots can be available at a time. There is also no chance to cultivate high value varieties that can fetch high prices for farmers.
Dr. Markhand has taken as a challenge to produce through its tissue culture lab plants of elite local varieties. After hard team work of few years, they are able to produce few thousand plants of different date palm varieties. He has shifted these plants to the field for their evaluation. These plants in nursery started fruiting last year (2016).
Around 1000 plants of different date palm varieties produced through tissue culture were distributed free of cost as a gift to the local farmers in September 2014. Some plants of them have given fruit this year. The date palm plants produced through Tissue Culture have many advantages. These plants are disease free, uniform in age, availability in terms of quantity, very low rather next to nil mortality rates, easy to transport, fruiting in third year etc. These plants are quarantine free and boundaries less. Once date palm plants ready to be given to the farmers to cultivate in the field, they take only three years to produce fruit. Farmer will only wait after buying plants from DPRI to enjoying fruit of health tree for three years only. These plants are disease free and healthier. DPRI now sales plants ready to cultivate on subsidized rate of Rs.1000/= and few thousand plants are already sold to local community. The science has done the magic for rural community. Instead of waiting 4-5 years and facing high mortality, they will start enjoying the fruits in three years’ time only with nearly no mortality.
• Advocacy for Best Practices
Professor Markhand is not only providing good plants, he is also consulting farmers for agriculture best practices. He advocates how to give right fertilizers on right time. DPRI guides people about nutrition, irrigation and new plantations through individual counseling and interactive seminars.
Professor Markhand made a great science contribution in rural economy development and we are thankful to him.
• Next Challenges for DPRI
Professor Markhand has planned to develop elite (high price) varieties of other countries locally through his lab. The success in these varieties will bring a revolution in this sector and will boost socioeconomic change in rural economy. Also this will alleviate poverty in the community. He has also planned to develop processing industry and looking for funding and support.