ISLAMABAD, July 7: The Planning Commission has proposed ‘commercial irrigation’ as a long-term solution to conservation by treating water as an economic good, especially in the face of emerging challenges of climate change.
However, careful consideration is needed to safeguard interests of the poor, smallholder and marginalised farmers, says the planning commission study on canal water pricing for irrigation in the country.
Commercial irrigation is also the answer to public sector financial deficits, and increasing demand for quality, reliable and adequate irrigation service for high-value agriculture, the study says.
It suggested that options for making canal irrigation systems as commercial entities based on business principles should be explored on pilot basis.
Each province may lease out management of a small piece of land to a private company for duration of two or three years to assess the financial, technical and social implications of commercial irrigation service.
The study suggested that the canal water rates needed to be rationalised in the context of groundwater cost to minimise market distortion in water pricing in areas where use of both groundwater and surface canal water irrigation are practiced simultaneously.
It said that the provinces should develop an asset management plan for levying water charges systematically to recover the actually needed operation and management cost for provision of agreed level of reliable, flexible and sufficient water service to farmers.
Punjab has already taken steps in this regard.
Explaining the plan, the study states that it is a cost-effective programme for renewal, rehabilitation, replacement and modernisation of the irrigation assets.
The study suggests that to safeguard smallholders against higher water charges, incremental water charges, efficient governance, cost-effective management and full or partial financial autonomy for irrigation service provider will be needed so that the larger share of the revenue could be spent on improvement of irrigation system’s performance and equity, which will benefit smallholders most.