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ISLAMABAD: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Friday approved the Jalalpur Irrigation Project, with a loan of $275 million, that will enhance the Kharif crop’s growth by 50 per cent, besides improving crop yield and reduce land degradation, directly benefitting over 200,000 rural people along the right bank of River Jhelum.

The project approved by the ADB board of directors, will help build surface irrigation system to increase agricultural production and improve food security in the Jhelum-Khushab districts.

The construction of over 200km new irrigation canals will create new non-perennial irrigation services for enhanced agricultural production of about 80,000 hectares in Pind Daden Khan and Khushab districts. “Having a sufficient and effective irrigation system is fundamental in the development of Pakistan’s agriculture sector - a significant driver of the country’s economy,” said Ryutaro Takaku, Principal Water Resources Specialist at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department. “ADB’s support will help increase agricultural production and improve food security in Pakistan.”

The project will construct a diversion structure, a 117km main canal, 97km secondary and tertiary canals, and 485 watercourses. It will also assist in forming 485 water user associations (WUAs) and involve them in planning, designing, and constructing watercourses.

The WUAs and the farmers will be trained to improve their agriculture and water management capacity. Advanced technologies like laser land leveling and high-efficiency irrigation systems will be introduced by the project.

About 660 agricultural demonstration plots will be established, and 6,000 farm households will learn climate-smart agriculture practices and more profitable farm management.

Agriculture remains a crucial component of Pakistan’s economy, contributing 20pc of gross domestic product and employing 42pc of the total labour force in FY2015, with Punjab contributing more than 80pc of agricultural output.

Because of the country’s semi-arid climate, more than 90pc of agricultural output depends on irrigation. Pakistan’s advantage is the Indus Basin Irrigation System, which draws water from the Indus River.

However, about 20pc of the country’s cultivable area including the project area is outside the Indus Basin Irrigation System.

Farming in most of these areas is rain fed, resulting in low agricultural productivity. Some of the country’s poorest people live in these areas and depend on agriculture for their income.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2017