Drip irrigation makes
slow gains in Pakistan
By Zofeen T Ebrahim
irrigation could dramatically reduce water use in Pakistan,
but uptake of the technology is being hampered by high costs
and lack of awareness.
Liaquat Ali says he is
happier than he was five years ago.
That was when the farmer
from Hatoongo village, in the arid district of Sanghar in
Pakistan’s Sindh province, gave up using conventional
irrigation methods and switched to drip irrigation.
The technology has allowed
him to double the amount of land he cultivates. He now grows
lemons, olives and vegetables on his one-acre patch and
sells his produce in the market.
Ali’s village in Sindh
province does not have access to the country’s irrigation
The climate is arid with
sandy soil with low rainfall. “Farming on sandy soil is not
just difficult, it is a gargantuan and costly affair,” said
Ali. “We have to water every other day as the soil just
guzzles all the water.”
Drip irrigation saves water by allowing both water and
chemicals to drip slowly and directly to the roots of plants
through a network of valves and pipes.
According to Dr Pervaiz Amir, a leading environmental and
agricultural expert, drip irrigation is best for drylands
and coastal areas where there is a shortage of water.
It allows water to be applied
with precision and little wastage and water requirement can
be reduced by 35 to 40 per cent.
About five years ago, when Ali put up the drip irrigation
system on his one acre, the cost was Rs. 75,000 (US$765) per
acre, said Liaquat Panhwar, a spokesperson for the Sindh
Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation
(SAFWCO ),an NGO which has helped install the system for
small farmers over 100 acres in Sanghar district since 2007.
“We bear 80 per cent of the
expense and the farming community the remaining 20 per cent
which includes labour,” Panhwar told thethirdpole.net. He
said Sanghar was chosen because it was among the least
developed areas of the country and largely desert.
“We felt the poor farming
communities needed to increase irrigation efficiency and
water losses caused by evaporation and absorption of the
sandy soil,” he added.
Along with laying the network of pipes, SAFWCO also built
reservoirs where rain water can be stored and used for
Over the years, Panhwar has noticed the benefits of drip
irrigation for bringing sandy land under cultivation.
He says the new technology
has increased yields per acre by 40 per cent, allowed
farmers to cultivate more land using less water, and reduced
the hours needed to irrigate crops.
As for Ali, he has not only installed drip irrigation, but
also eliminated dirty diesel fuel from his life by
installing a windmill. This has further reduced the cost of
pumping water from wells.
In a nearby village of Morjo,
Mir Hasan’ s two acres of land is strewn with thin, long,
black pipes. Agreeing with Ali, he says the cost of
cultivation has reduced considerably.
“What I have noticed is that
though I still use diesel to run the motor to get water from
the tubewell, the land is watered in just 15 minutes;
earlier it would take us hours and the soil remained
parched,” he said.
But Pervaiz Amir believes the technology is too expensive to
have widespread application. “It is mainly useful for
orchards and vegetables and flowers but not very useful for
grain crops,” he said.
However, the drought currently ravaging southeast Pakistan
may increase the impetus behind drip irrigation in the
district. Last week the Sindh government declared nine
districts in the state as drought-hit, including Sanghar.
This came following the
deaths of over a hundred children amid drought in Tharparkar
due to malnutrition and lack of healthcare.
Low productivity and water wastage
According to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2012-13,
agriculture contributes 21 per cent to the country’s gross
domestic product and employs 45 per cent of the country’s
Yet the country’s agricultural productivity is the lowest in
A 2011 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO) found Pakistan’s productivity to be
behind regional as well as global yields per acre for nearly
all crops including wheat, rice, sugarcane and pulses.
Despite being among the ten major producers of wheat in the
world, Pakistan’s per hectare yield is only 2.6 tonnes
compared to India’s 2.8 tonnes and China’s 4.7 tonnes.
One reason for the low yield is shortage of water. According
to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), “Pakistan is one of the
most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from
being classified as water scarce, with less than 1,000 cubic
metres per person per year.”
A recent ADB report said that “agricultural productivity
could be doubled with appropriate reform. Improved water
management is critical to deliver sufficient water to the 80
per cent farmland in the country that is irrigated through a
There are many other ways Pakistan could save water, such as
water recycling. In Israel, for example, more than 50 per
cent of water used in agriculture comes from treated sewage.
Sadly flood irrigation still remains the popular method with
just 0.10 per cent of cultivated land irrigated through drip
irrigation. Amir doubts the drip irrigation will ever cover
more than 2 per cent of land in Pakistan. Panhwar puts this
poor response to something that can be so beneficial down to
lack of awareness and technical support.
Another big deterrent is the initial cost incurred argues
Panhwar. In Sindh province, he says, only big landlords with
hundreds of acres of land can afford to set this up. “Along
with that,” adds Amir, “pipes clog with brackish water and
need replacement after a few years.”