Water conservation mode — drip and sprinkler technologies — is not getting the needed response from farmers in Sindh though it is water-use efficient and increases productivity.
Growers complain that operational costs, especially power tariff charges, are a deterrent. The systems were initially installed on trial basis by the provincial government in some areas only to be discontinued shortly afterwards. Farmers, however, agree that this setback doesn’t necessarily mean failure of technology itself and stress that it needs to be promoted.
Besides lack of education among farmers, red-tapism and kickbacks are factors that discourage farmers to switchover to these modern methods of farming even though the systems are cost efficient, help save labour charges and use of fertiliser.
Until two years back, the Sindh government had been providing subsidy on installation of system with 80:20 ratio. A farmer was required to contribute 20 per cent of the overall cost of system while 80 per cent was to be paid by the government.
However, there were complaints that officials of agriculture engineering who were dealing with it were demanding commission and delaying system’s installation on one pretext or the other.
Officials working in Drainage and Reclamation Institute of Pakistan (Drip) say that farmers prefer flood irrigation. That is sheer wastage of irrigation water which also results in lower productivity and increases underground water table. For instance, Drip recommends 390mm of water for an acre of wheat for 130-day crop cycle. Usually farmers provide seven to eight cycles of water under flood irrigation which means 550mm to 700mm of water.
“If we compare furrow and bed system with sprinkler and drip, the latter save 70 to 100 per cent water”, says Drip’s Abdul Salam Arain. He says that Drip which works under ministry of science and technology had installed five such systems but they didn’t deliver due to lack of interest on farmers’ part.
“One of the systems was installed on the land of Director General Agriculture Engineering Sindh Agha Zafarullah, but the system’s upkeep was not ensured and it was abandoned”, he says.
Both the drip and sprinkler systems ensure uniformity in provision of water and proper intake of fertiliser. Water supplied through them covers roots zone of plant which need water most. Their cost of maintenance is not that expensive. The farmers don’t have to invest much in manual labour. But power tariff and load-shedding are two main hurdles.
In their defence, farmers claim that they are slapped with domestic tariff although they are entitled to agriculture tariff. But since power utility officials make them shunt from one office to another, they lose interest in installing the systems.
So ratio of growers switching over to water conservation mode from conventional one has been dismal so far in spite of government subsidy until recently.
“I am paying Rs89,000 for my 42 acres of land to keep the drip irrigation going in my mango orchard”, says Mir Ejaz Talpur. He says that despite his best efforts he has not been able to get his tariff issue settled with power utility.
Nadeem Shah, another grower who is using drip system, says that Wapda withdrew subsidy on tube-wells. “I have tube-well system on my land for drip, but I am facing electricity problem. We don’t have transformer”, he says. Shah admits that the system is cost efficient and better for water conservation.
Farmers can easily use sprinkler system on minimum 50 acres. Until three years ago, such a system used to cost Rs100,000 per acre. It was helpful in providing irrigation water to a maximum height of 18 feet. A mango tree, according to Mr Talpur, needs in an area of four to five feet. “Usually the distance between two mango trees is 40 feet which means if two trees need water for 10 feet area, the remaining 30 feet area is unnecessarily flooded under conventional method of farming of flood irrigation”, he says.
He claims that he is getting100 per cent increase in crop productivity and using the system for cotton and mango orchards as well as maize.
The Punjab government is reportedly encouraging its farmers to opt for sprinkler and drip irrigation. A $300 million programme is underway there. But subsidy in Sindh has been abandoned.
Farmers want modern farming techniques to get better per acre yield and save water especially when water scarcity is a serious issue for the province. During Kharif season water shortage jeopardises sowing of cash crops like cotton and sugarcane.
Commenting on withdrawal of subsidy on drip and sprinkler systems, Mehmood Nawaz Shah says: “Perhaps, the government treated failure of demonstration on farms as the failure of these technologies themselves”. The government’s decision to install these projects and choices made may not have been well-advised.