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Water conservation strategies     

Water is an essential factor for life and nothing can stay alive without it. Plants can not grow without water. When plenty of water was available, more and more barren lands were brought under cultivation. Even sand dunes were converted into green fields. The availability of reasonable quantity of water confined us not to learn proper usage of water and we have not paid attention to use water according to the soil and crop requirements.
 Water conservation strategies
At present, when water is becoming a scarce commodity, we are continuing the same old methodologies of water use. Even, we remain unable to improve and manage properly the water distribution system particularly in areas where under ground water is brackish. The water conveyance losses in Pakistan, under exiting canal distribution system, are more than 50%. Our negligence in making proper policies has created drought like situation in the country. As a result of global warming, intensity of precipitation from sky is decreasing every year.

The majority of cropland area of the country is irrigated through canals and rightly called as "Irrigated Agriculture". In fact, it is a reliable area which supports and fulfills the needs for food, fiber and raw materials in Pakistan. While other areas are at the mercy of rains and called as "Rain-fed Agriculture". The contribution of this area is minor or negligible compared to the irrigated area.

Our irrigated area is also facing drought like situation for the last 10 years due to less availability of water in canals and through precipitation. It is estimated that our farmers have to face up to 50 per cent or even more shortage of water if there are no rains in the coming months. At present, expected good crop of cotton in South Punjab has already suffered from shortage of canal water. This alarming situation compels us to think a well before time about sowing of coming wheat crop. South of Punjab falls under arid climate where at least 2 acre inches of water per week during the growing season is required to produce maximum yield.

To deal with the issue of declining water and greater demand, we should take into account the following without further delay:

1) Immediate erection of new dams 2) Adoption of water management strategies 3) Implementation of water conservation and saving technologies.

Erection of new dams is need of the hour. Currently the biggest dams, Mangla and Terbella can not meet the demand of water. Dams have specific life and addition of silt gradually decreases their water storage capacity. Therefore, immediate implementation of projects regarding construction of new dams would be helpful to meet the future demand of water.

The significance of small dams and reservoirs can not be denied. In the coming future, farmers have to build their own reservoirs to store and properly manage water. The current governmental decision to built small reservoirs in Balochistan would meet this demand to an extent in the province.

Adoption of modern techniques for proper management of presently available water could help us to overcome the shortage of water. It could be used judicially and according to the crop and soil evapotranspiration requirements. The existing wara bandi system of water distribution is out dated now; we have to bring changes in it by adoption of modern techniques i.e. GIS, Remote Screening etc. In addition, scientifically approved agronomic practices of water savage like sowing of crops on ridges/ beds, should be adopted by the farmers to best utilize the available water.

The government should encourage installation of tube wells where quality of underground water is good. The canal water must be supplied more to those areas which have poor quality of tube well water to minimize the deleterious effects of brackish water. We could also practice technologies which conserve water in soil and reduce seepage and leaching looses.

At present, developed world is adopting water conservation and saving technologies. The major source of their research is the Universities. The role of agriculture universities in the developed world in agriculture policy making is far greater than in Pakistan. Some time universities guide to maintain or cut down the flow of water in canals in certain areas by keeping in view crop and climate conditions.

The University of Agriculture, Faisalabad is considered the biggest Agriculture University in Asia and has remained a major source of research in the Subcontinent. Presently, researchers at the University have suggested that the use of Nitrogel increases the amount and duration of available moisture in the root zone, thus implying longer intervals between irrigations.

Nitrogel has characteristics to conserve the water and nutrients in the soil. It can be applied to crops with irrigation water at nakka. It settles down in the subsoil/root zone and entraps the soil water, which other wise loses through seepage, and supplies this reserve slowly to plants. It contains 40% nitrogen and holds the nutrients due to its anionic nature. Nitrogel is prepared from nitrogenous compound and water in the presence of catalyst that allows several molecules to join together to make a long chain, very much like that of starch and proteins. . When properly applied, gel reduced watering frequency by:

20-50% for most irrigated field crops and orchids.

40-60% in potted plants at homes, nurseries, gardens and hotels.

20-35% on lawns, landscaped area, golf courses, roadside & Motorways greenbelts.

This product is developed by a team of researchers at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad in collaboration with Ail Chemical Industries, Faisalabad. This product is also made cost effective to be used at large scale in the fields by utilizing the indigenous compounds. Agriculture is the back boon of our economy and needs attention more than before. Research at agriculture universities is limited to green houses only.

There is a need to take the research in the fields to get better crops and savage of water. There is no doubt that our scientists have the capacity and expertise not only to deliver to Pakistan but also to the World, only recognition and support is required. 

By Dr Muhammad Yaseen 
The Author is currently working as Assistant Professor, Institute of
soil and environmental sciences, University of Agriculture,
Faisalabad.
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