potentials in arid land
By Dr S.M. Alam & Rizwan
THE arid land constitutes about 88 per cent of the country's
total geographic area of 79.61 million hectare (mha). Out Of
this, 40.9 mha are arid including 10.5 mha of arid sandy
deserts and 29.3 mha semi-arid. The Northern Areas fall into
these two categories.
l6.65 mha has been brought under irrigated agriculture, nearly
70 mha still remains arid and semi-arid lands where arid
agriculture is practiced.
Agriculture here is dependent on scanty and erratic rainfall
with major economic activity revolving around livestock
production, over-grazing of range-lands and growing of dullard
crops. About 94 million heads of livestock out of the total
110 million are supported by these range-lands. These provide
60 to 90 per cent of feed to cattle, sheep, goats and camels,
while bovines receive half of their feed from here. The
dry-land wheat contributes 10 per cent of the total national
These areas produce 27 per cent maize; 56 per cent sorghum and
millets; 52 per cent barley; 90 per cent guar seed; 77 per
cent gram; 89 per cent pulses; 24 per cent rape and mustard;
89 per cent groundnut; 100 per cent castor bean in addition to
drought resistant vegetables and fruits.
In spite of this contribution, greater priority is given to
the irrigated agriculture as dryland is considered a high risk
enterprise. Various projects for the development of these
areas could not achieve the targets due to corruption and
Mixed and shattered national economy, debt liability of $38
billion, and an expected 208 million increase in population by
2025 should spur the policy makers to attain self sufficiency
for which all natural resources need to be exploited. We need
to develop our dry land agriculture without further delay.
Of the total 22.96 mha cropped area, 5.14 mha is rain-fed with
9.29 mha culturable wasteland which can be brought under
rain-fed till the irrigated agriculture is extended to these
lands. Almost 54 per cent cultivated area of the NWFP, 50 per
cent of FATA, 54 per cent of Sindh, 50 to 60 per cent of
Balochistan, and 94 per cent of Azad Kashmir is rain-fed with
much lower yields than their achievable potentials.
About three million people depend on range resources for
grazing their livestock which suffers from poor health,
malnutrition, poor breeding programmes and inefficient
marketing system. Such issues need immediate attention of the
The depleted range-lands need to be improved by deferred and
rotational grazing; control of undesirable species; range
reseeding; planting leaf forage trees, shrubs, grasses and
following silvi-pastoral system. Programmes to tackle these
constraints should be implemented through community
participation. These should be monitored to evaluate the
impact and an action if necessary. The four types of crop
production systems in dry land farming are rain-fed, khushkaba,
sailaba and hill torrents.
Out of the annual 180 MAF rainfall, about 50 per cent is lost
in run-off. Even if it is taken at 20 per cent, the average
loss comes to 36 MAF which is a huge loss the nation can
ill-afford. The existing water harvesting practices collect 20
to 30 per cent of rain water, while the modern ones are
capable of saving 90 per cent.
The cultivated area receives water equal to 300-500mm from the
actual 100mm rainfall. Fair yields of cereals, oilseeds,
fruits and forages are obtained from this run-off. About 50mm
of water harvested in addition to incidental rainfall helps in
increasing the yield of maize, sorghum and millet by 95, 96,
and 107 per cent, respectively.
Research indicates that the arid areas in Balochistan have
increased the yield of dry land wheat by 200 per cent through
catchment technique. There are 14 hill torrent areas with
annual conservation potential of 18.6 MAF at 1,204 sites out
of which 60 to 70 per cent can be used for the development of
The highest development potentials exist in Balochistan (7.86
MAF) followed by the NWFP (4.5 MAF), the Federally
Administered Areas ( 2.8 MAF), Punjab (2.7 MAF), and Sindh
(0.78 MAF). Presently, major part of these flows go waste.
Major areas for the development of hill torrent agriculture
are the Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir, FATA, Hazara, Kabul, and
Bannu areas, D.I. Khan, D.G. Khan, Kachi basin, Kirther range,
Karachi, Sehwan and Petaro hill torrents. Previous structures
failed as they were not based on sound engineering principles.
The surface storage is not feasible everywhere. Rain water
flows from mountain slopes to deep streams and rivers. This
can be harvested for irrigating the areas along the streams
and rivers by lifting water through power-driven turbines and
The technology developed by China is successful for crop
production on mountain and hilly areas. A single pump may lift
60-70 litres of water per second at a height of 30 meters,
besides producing 5KW of hydro power. These pumps do not
require electricity or diesel.
In uplands and low lands where such streams are not perennial,
water may be lifted and stored in tanks or ponds during rainy
or short flood seasons and used as supplemental irrigation
during the closing or post monsoon season.
Courtesy: The DAWN