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Improving water-use efficiency

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Provincial governments of Sindh and Punjab are trying to economise water use in farms by promoting sprinkler and drip irrigation systems. The objective is to boost agricultural productivity by checking wastage without compromising on the actual water needs of plants, farms and orchards.

The Punjab Government shares 60pc of the cost of installation of drip irrigation systems, while the Sindh Government is offering an even higher subsidy of 80pc. Both the governments are also trying to attract local and foreign investment in manufacturing of sprinklers and drip irrigation systems. But small growers say officials of irrigation departments do not respond to their queries about these schemes that have so far benefited only a handful of big landlords.

“Only lately we’ve launched a media campaign encouraging farmers to keep in touch with local offices of relevant departments for availing of drip irrigation scheme or the likes of it,” says an official of Punjab’s Agriculture Department without elaborating on the scheme itself. He says that the provincial government has been supplying drip irrigation systems for some time to farmers in Potohar region for improved cultivation of grapes and olive, adding that lately the scheme has also been extended to Multan. It could not be learnt, however, how many subsidised drip irrigation systems have so far been supplied to farmers.

Officials of the Sindh Government say that in the last fiscal year, the provincial government had installed subsidised sprinkler systems on 2,590 acres of land; drip irrigation systems on 1,025 acres and Rain Guns on 2,296 acres. Industry sources say about three dozen companies are currently marketing around 50 local and imported tools and mechanised systems for efficient water use. Some of them are also exporting them. Big farmers have long been using these products including farm water sprinklers and drip irrigation systems on their own. But now the provincial governments want to make their use more common. “This drive has two components. Number one is to incentivise the use of these products and number two is to attract investment into their local manufacturing,” explains a senior official of Sindh Irrigation department.

Officials of the Sindh Government say that a comprehensive survey conducted in 2012-13 had established the need for not only price subsidies but also making capital grants to promote manufacturing and use of drip irrigation systems.

Officials in provincial agriculture department say more than half of the cultivated land in the province (about three million hectares out of 5.5 million hectares) does not get enough water for various reasons. Water sprinklers and drip irrigation along with rain water harvesting in such areas can prevent farm productivity from falling due to water shortages.

An official of Balochistan Agriculture Department told Dawn over phone that about 10 years ago about 100 drip irrigation systems were installed in various parts of the province with the financial support of international agencies including ADB but most of them failed to achieve the desired results. The reasons for failure were many including lack of knowledge about irrigation scheduling and high cost of electricity.

He said the provincial government is interested in reinvigorating not only the dysfunctional drip irrigation systems but also in installing new ones and has been in touch with international and local companies for this purpose. He gave no further details.

A recently released study of the International Food Policy Research Institute lists drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation and water harvesting among those practices and technologies that can help boost agricultural productivity by up to 67pc. Crop protection, drought and heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, and organic and precision agriculture among major technologies and practices that can boost farm productivity.

Officials of National Food Security and Research say they have identified a number of countries from where technical help and private investment can be sought in making drip irrigation technology more popular in Pakistan. These include Cyprus, Jordan, France, South Africa, the US and UAE. The private sector companies of these countries can also make investment in our drip irrigation systems if we can offer them a suitable environment.

Environmental changes affecting water availability, growing population, food security and exports have increased the need for most prudent use of water. Sprinkler and drip irrigation systems effectively use 30 - 50pc less water than in the most common furrow irrigation without affecting the crop growing needs.

Some farmers say that Rain Gun irrigation system or overhead sprinkler irrigation system is gaining popularity among farmers because in addition to economising the use of water it saves labour cost in cases where grain fields are periodically watered with the use of permanently installed riser stands. Sindh-based Jaffer Agro Services is one of the leading local companies that has been involved in manufacturing of sprinkler, rain gun and drip irrigation systems in technical collaboration with India and the US.

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