Improving Punjab Irrigation: More Crops from Every Drop
Pakistan is facing serious threats from escalating water shortages. Over half Punjab’s share of water in agriculture is lost in canals and watercourses.
A Punjab government project, supported by the World Bank is providing farmers more efficient irrigation systems, community support, and better technology, maximizing water productivity, minimizing losses, and increasing yields.
“Four hours of water supply was not enough to irrigate even 2 acres of land through the conventional flooding method. However, now 4 to 5 acres of land can be irrigated in less than one hour,” says a beneficiary farmer in District Layyah, Punjab.
Layyah is a small district in southern Punjab, Pakistan. Sand dunes and wild shrubbery make up most of the landscape, one of which, gives the district its name – Layyan, a wild, short stature shrub of fuel-wood.). It is an agricultural area with no significant industry and most people earn their living through agriculture. Like the rest of the Punjab, Layyah also depends on ground water and canal irrigation channels for cultivation.
The conventional irrigation method of flooding however renders significant water losses of 20-25%. Uneven fields and poor farm designing further add to agricultural losses. Pakistan’s Water Accord of 1991 assigns Punjab’s share as 6.9 million hectare meters, though less than half of that, only 3.2 million hectare meters, actually reaches the farm gate due to losses in canals and watercourses. The Punjab Irrigated-Agriculture Productivity Improvement Project (PIPIP), launched by the provincial government and supported by the World Bank is helping Punjab to enhance water productivity by producing more crops per drop.
PIPIP provides farmers with high efficiency irrigation systems (HEIS), including drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, and improving watercourses; helps build community irrigation systems; and improves agricultural technology, such as laser land leveling.
Abdul Baqi, manages his family’s 4.5 acre orchard in Chak 125, Layyah, and has been in the citrus farming business for the last five years. “Drip irrigation is a revolution in the agricultural sector. The efficient application and use of water for every plant is very important. It not only increases the yield but also affects the quality of it,” he says.
“Four hours of water supply was not enough to irrigate even 2 acres of land through the conventional flooding method. However, now 4 to 5 acres of land can be irrigated in less than one hour.” Baqi explained the productivity of the system adding, “Drip irrigation allows better fruiting on every plant. Plant health doesn’t get compromised, while the survival rate of saplings is 97% which was 60% on flooding. It is the best solution to cope with Pakistan’s water crisis and food insecurity.”
According to Shakeel Abbas, Deputy District Officer, Water Management Body, District Layyah, “the impacts gathered from the evaluation studies for drip irrigation show that it increases the efficiency of water use by 50%, enhances the yield from 35-100%, and also reduces the mortality rate of the plants. It also gives uniformity of color, size and shape to the fruit and it gives easy and efficient nutrient distribution. Moreover, it also reduces the labor work of a farmer by about 20%.”
Mohammad Ashfaq of Chak 294, Tehsil Karor of District Layyah owns 15 acres of land and has been in the farming business for 20 years. He is growing some off-season vegetables through tunnel farming techniques.
“The new and modern irrigation methods introduced by the project have done wonders, ”Ashfaq says. “The productivity of my land has increased many folds. The water provided by the government was not sufficient to harvest multiple crops in one season as every crop requires different water levels. Now with drip irrigation, I can harvest multiple crops at the same time. It not only helps in efficient use of water, but also reduces the labor and the number of man-hours. It is certainly less stressful and more useful as I am able to acquire a greater yield in lesser time.”
In the past, “it was very difficult to grow cash crops in Layyah because of its hot and dry climate,” says Meherbagh Ali, the District Officer, Water Management Body, District Layyah, “But the drip irrigation method enables the effective and timely application of water, fertilizer and nutrients as per the plant’s requirement at various stages of its growth. This irrigating system is very efficient for variety of soil conditions such as uneven topography, odd field configurations, rolling sandy areas and long stretches of crops. Drip irrigation is very good for the orchards and high value row crops.”
The agricultural sector plays a central role in Pakistan’s economy, making up 21% of GDP. However, it is facing serious threats from escalating water shortages. PIPIP is helping the farmers of Punjab minimize these water losses and maximize their yields, thereby contributing to a hope for a sustainable future of Punjab and Pakistan.