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Drip Irrigation: Can Pakistan Make its Deserts Bloom?

Large tracts of desert in Cholistan, Kharan and Thar land lay barren in Pakistan today. Can some parts of these deserts be made to bloom given the worsening water crisis in the country with per capita water availability approaching 900 cubic meters? How does Pakistan improve long term food security for its growing population? The answer to both lies in efficient water management through effective drip irrigation.

Drip Irrigation 

What is Drip Irrigation:

Drip irrigation is a micro-irrigation system using tubing that saves water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly into the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. It puts water directly into the roots and minimizes evaporation.

Water mixed with fertilizer is carried out through tubes which release a small amounts of water per minute directly to the roots of each plant. Precision watering cuts evaporation, run off, and waste.

More Crop Per Drop:

Agriculture uses over 90% of all available fresh water in Pakistan. "More crop per drop" program focuses on improving water use efficiency by promoting drip and sprinkler irrigation in agriculture in Pakistan.

The Punjab government started this effort with the World Bank with $250 million investment.  The World Bank is now providing additional $130 million financing for the Punjab Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Improvement Program Phase-I.

The project is the Punjab Government's initiative called High-Efficiency Irrigation Systems (HEIS) to more than doubles the efficiency of water use. Under the project, drip irrigation systems have been installed on about 26,000 acres, and 5,000 laser leveling units have been provided. The additional financing will ensure completion of 120,000 acres with ponds in saline areas and for rainwater harvesting, and filtration systems for drinking water where possible, according to the World Bank.

Cost of Drip Irrigation System:

Most crops are not irrigated with the drip method due to higher costs. In the United States and Spain, where the technology is used most, it comprises 6.75 and 2.75 percent of the total irrigated area, respectively, according to the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage. Farmers are offered subsidies to encourage the use of drip irrigation in most countries as a way of conserving precious water.

Subsidies in Punjab, Pakistan:

Punjab provincial government is subsidizing up to 60% of the cost of installing new drip irrigation systems, according to Business Recorder newspaper.  Director General Agriculture (Water Management) Malik Muhammad Akram said that latest irrigation techniques ensure availability of water and fertilizer in time to the plants and it also ensure uniform supply of these two major ingredients to all the plants in a field. It helps attaining more per acre yield with minimum agricultural inputs, he added, according to the paper.

There's at least one example of public-private partnership to promote drip irrigation in Sheikhupura near Lahore. The installation has been carried out by Nestlé Pakistan in collaboration with the Government of Punjab, covering 40% and 60% of the farmer’s cost respectively. The Agricultural Efficiency Project was initiated in the year 2017 and has so far covered 109 acres of land in 2018 with an estimated 280 million liters of water saved, according to a Nestle press release.

Using drip irrigation, farmers can save up to 95% of water and reduce fertilizer use, compared to surface irrigation, according to Malik Mohammad Akram. In flood irrigation – the traditional method of agriculture in the region – a farmer uses 412,000 liters per acre, while using drip irrigation the same land can be irrigated with just 232,000 liters of water, he explained to Zofeen Ibrahim of The Third Pole that covers Asia's water crisis.

Success Stories:

Writing for The Third Pole,  Zofeen Ebrahim has cited a couple of success stories of farmers receiving Punjab government's drip irrigation subsidies: The stories of ex IT Engineer Hasan Abdullah and Infiniti Agro and Livestock Farm.

Hasan Abdulla is has planted an orchard on his 40-acre plot in Cholistan Desert. He has orange, lemon olive trees which are now fruiting three years after planting. He is among the first farmers experimenting with drip irrigation.While Abdullah was saving water, the cost of diesel for running water pump was proving astronomical. It would have been difficult for Abdullah to continue farming with drip irrigation had the government not announced an 80% subsidy on solar power plants for farmers in 2018. He promptly took it up.

Asif Riaz Taj, who manages Infiniti Agro and Livestock Farm in Bahawalpur, heard of Abdulla's drip irrigation project and paid him a visit. He like it and decided to follow the example.  Now in their fourth year, the Infiniti orchards have started fruiting over 70 acres. But it will not be before its sixth year, Taj said, that they will “break even”. The drip irrigation and solar plant was installed at a cost of PKR 25 million (USD 174,000), and the monthly running cost of this farm is almost PKR 4 million (USD 28,000).

Summary:

Pakistan faces a severe water crisis that threatens the nation's long term food security.  The country needs to expand area under cultivation while efficiently managing its precious water resources. It needs to make parts of its deserts bloom. The best way to do it efficient water management through effective drip irrigation. Such projects are expensive to implement. The Punjab government is offering up to 60% subsidy to farmers to encourage wider use of drip irrigation.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

Pakistan Water Crisis: Facts and Myths 

Groundwater Depletion in Pakistan

Water Scarce Pakistan

Cycles of Drought and Floods in Pakistan

Pakistan to Build Massive Dams

Dust Bowl in Thar Desert Region

Dasht River in Balochistan

Views: 62

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 2, 2019 at 8:07pm

RAINFALL last year and this monsoon has filled Darawat Dam to a level where water flows could be released for irrigating the command area spread over 25,000 acres.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1350114


Since this command area is not connected with off-taking canal of the dam through watercourses, an ad-hoc arrangement has been made to ensure water supply at least to small farmers to enable them cultivate winter and summer crops. Farmers are using pipes to lift water downstream of the dam.

The dam, a federally funded project, was completed in August 2014 by a Chinese company. Its construction started during the previous government’s tenure in January 2010. It is located some 135 kilometres north-east of Karachi and 70km west of Hyderabad, and is built on Nai Baran, a hill torrent in Jamshoro district.

Spread over 10,500 acres, the dam’s reservoir area upstream lies in Jamshoro district with a storage capacity of 121,600 acre-feet.

At present, 33,000 acre-feet of water is available in the reservoir. The level, which was 50,800 acre-feet in August 2016, has dropped after flows were ensured for cultivation of onion and wheat crops during the last year. Presently, farmers are getting water for cotton and vegetable sowing.

Zahid Sheikh, superintending engineer at the Sindh irrigation department, says a study on the topography of the dam’s command area is under way to assess which kind of high efficiency system — sprinkler or drip — suits this rain-fed area considering the fact how water travels in the hilly terrain.

The irrigation department does not seem to take control of the dam even by early next year as it lacks expertise, officials say

While the Sindh government has to build an irrigation system, the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) is also in the process of bidding two pilot projects on 10 acres each to be connected with drip and sprinkler systems on farmers’ land to see results of per-acre productivity.

The dam’s project director, Iqbal Sheikh, says bidding is already under way for this purpose but it is not part of the whole project which stands completed. The pilot projects would be completed in one and a half years and would be monitored by Wapda.

The project is reported have hit by cost overruns, and Wapda is seeking a second revision of its PC-I, a project document which covers almost all aspects of the project.

The first revision of the PC-I was approved at Rs9.3 billion by the federal government after it was conceived at Rs3.175bn in September 2009. PC-I would now be revised at Rs11.67bn by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council.

An amount of Rs6.37 billion has been paid to the dam’s Chinese contractor whose liabilities have now accumulated. Sources say the federal government has earmarked Rs800m for the project under the current fiscal year’s Public Sector Development Programme.

Wapda has set up 73 outlets with a main line canal and three distributaries that can irrigate 25,000 acres on the right and left banks of the canal that has a designed discharge of 156 cubic feet per second (cusecs) and stretches over nearly 46km.

The entire command area is to be connected with watercourses to be built by the irrigation department. Smallholders say that with the current storage they are able to grow wheat and onion since October 2016.

Dasrat Kumar, a farmer of the area, says that presently more than 1,500 acres of land is being cultivated and the farmers’ produce finds its way to Karachi, mostly through the middleman as farmers get payment in advance to buy inputs.

Another elderly farmer, Noor Ahmed, says that the “rate of evaporation and water losses remains very high as our land in this hilly tract remains dry most of the year”.

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