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AIT student dreams of transforming agriculture using technology and science

22 Jul 2022
AIT webmaster

By Office of Public Affairs

Bareerah Khalid has always been a bright student, securing merit-based scholarships since her secondary school. As a child, she felt the idea of a tree sprouting from a single seed to be magical and fascinating. This feeling instilled the yearning in her to understand the science behind the transformation. It aspired her to work in agriculture, a challenging career for a female in her country, Pakistan.

When the time came, Bareerah says she didn’t have any second thoughts about enrolling for an undergraduate degree in agriculture at Islamia University, Bahawalpur, Pakistan. “I was aware of the challenges on my path, and not once did I doubt my career plan. Very few females are seen pursuing a career in the agricultural sector in my country, which is mostly male dominant. As most jobs require traveling to remote areas, there is a mindset that men perform better which has created self-doubt among women. My class consisted of only 30 percent girls”, she added.

The agriculture sector of Pakistan plays a crucial role in its economy, contributing 18.9% to the GDP and employing 42.3% of the labor force. According to World Bank, Pakistan has 47% agricultural land, and almost 80% of the cultivated area is irrigated. The sector has 64% female employment, with most illiterate women working as cheaper field labor. 

Stating how very few women are provided with the responsibility of supervision and field experiments, Bareerah added, “Women’s involvement in the field is necessary for the socio-economic upliftment of our country. Despite many hurdles, there is still scope in the field. The Government of Pakistan is trying to minimize challenges in the field by providing a special quota to female students in different public departments.”

In her undergraduate, Bareerah was the gold medalist of her batch and much admired by her faculties and peers. Among many others, she also won the 1st prize in the 3-D model competition at Farmers’ Convention 2020, organized by Islamia University Bahawalpur. 

After undergraduate studies, she got selected for SUPARCO (Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) boot camp, where she developed a keen interest in the domain of Agricultural Engineering. SUPARCO is the national space agency of Pakistan. “I was awestruck by the farming technologies and data being used in every field worldwide for different purposes.”, she says about her experience in the camp.

With encouragement from her faculties, she applied abroad for her further studies. Bareerah was awarded “The Royal Thai Government – Her Majesty the Queen’s Scholarship” at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT). “I received scholarships in several universities, but AIT’s Agricultural System and Engineering (ASE) program drew my attention. The course focuses on technological aspects, which is important as the world is shifting towards using big data for sustainable solutions. The freedom to choose courses from agriculture engineering and technology was like the cherry on the top”, she says about her decision to pursue the course at AIT.

AIT’s ASE program emphasizes on sustainable agricultural development based on a holistic understanding of agronomic and biophysical production factors, from the perspective of producers and the effects of economic and social forces on agricultural enterprises. It highlights the application of biological sciences, engineering, socio-economic policies and programs, and support services to agriculture to increase the efficiency of agricultural production systems through the availability and efficient use of inputs and management of natural resources. 

Some of the focus areas of ASE are Agricultural Systems Analysis; Agricultural Environments; Farm Production Engineering; Crop Ecophysiology and Modeling; Human Factors Engineering; Design and Testing of Agricultural Equipment; Crop Productivity Management; Livestock Productivity Management; Agricultural Systems and Farm Management Economics.

Apart from academic courses, Bareerah has also been fascinated by the wide range of opportunities for students. “At AIT, I have gained a lot of experience and opportunities that I hadn’t imagined earlier. The humble supportive members, well-established labs and good research environment, university infrastructure, and ambiance make me feel I have made a good choice,” she added.  Bareerah won the Best Presentation Award for “Food Innovations & the SDGs, 2022”. This workshop was organized under the project “Food Processing Innovation
(FOODI)”, co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme specifically to develop capacity building for higher education in Southeast Asia (SEA). 

Students in AIT get several academic and professional opportunities on campus, such as student assistantships, international exchange, internships, summer programs, and many more. AIT has partnered with over 60 universities worldwide for student exchange, aiming to equip students with balanced skills and knowledge, providing platforms to learn inside and outside the classroom at a partner university.

Bareerah participated in the USTC FUSEP International Summer Camp 2021 and received a scholarship for the summer course (topic: SDGs) of Global Youth Leadership Academy (GYLA) 2022, offered by the United Nations campus in Turin, Italy. “This is a wonderful experience that will not only contribute to nurturing my knowledge, skills, and intercultural communication but also expand my network. Although the classes will be online due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, I take this as a big opportunity”. 

Emphasizing that she wants to join hands with other researchers to fill the gaps in agriculture, especially in her country, Bareerah says, “My thesis is related to iron toxicity. So, if provided with the opportunity and support from my faculty and professor, I am confident that I can design equipment to detect a threshold level of iron toxicity in field crops.”

Bareerah wishes to play a crucial role in developing robust agricultural strategies through a decision-making system that utilizes Big Data analysis. “I pursued courses focusing on training professionals with data science and technical skills. Additionally, the exposure to multiple top-ranked institutes worldwide and the opportunity to work with world-class faculties and researchers are building my skills and expertise to contribute to this field and my country.” Talking about her plans after graduation, Bareerah says, “I would love to continue into a Ph.D. and contribute to the academia-society integration through my research.”