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February 17, 2019

Alternative irrigation system benefits crops drip by drip


February 17, 2019

HYDERABAD: Growers in Sindh are increasingly leaning towards installing alternative irrigation systems, especially drip irrigation, to avoid uncertainty due to water scarcity and extreme shortage, which has been affecting agricultural activities and the dependent population.

Sindh houses a huge irrigation system with 14 main canals and 47,000 watercourses. However, the shortage of water and its consistent impact on cultivation, crop patterns, and output in 2018, has forced the farmers to look for alternative means for sustainability, as a majority of the livelihoods depend on agriculture.

A group of farmers, led by Zulfiqar Jatoi and Muhammad Azam, hailing from different villages of Dadu district visited Gadap town in Karachi to see a drip irrigation system, which feeds a 25-acre fruit and vegetable farm.

The visiting farmers reached convenient spots near Gadap Gateway along the Super Highway, where officials of On-Farm Water Management, Agriculture Department of Sindh, led them to a farm, where drip irrigation has been introduced successfully.

The On-Farm Water Management, called Sindh Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project, is World Bank-funded. It started in 2015, and is working in almost all the districts of the province.

The purpose of the visit was to exchange experiences with the farmer community of the areas, who have adopted the drip irrigation system to conserve water to cope with future challenges.

The government’s On-farm Water Management officials briefed visiting farmers about the working agreement between private companies, which installed the drip irrigation system.

Rafique Ahmed Laghari, officer, On-farm Water Management, shared his experience of working with farmers in Gadap town. He said they were implementing a subsidised project, in which the government bears 60 percent of the cost, while farmers have to pay 40 percent cost to install the drip irrigation system.

The original cost of the drip irrigation system depended on the profile of the land, farmers’ capacity, and the crops.

Traditionally, farmers in Gadap produce fruits and vegetables through the rainy waterways. The reason for growing fruits and vegetables is that Gadap has easy and faster access to the main market in Karachi.

Also, since farmers from Gadap reach early, they get better rates for their produce compared to farmers who reach the market later in the season.

As per the drip irrigation project launched quite recently, the farmers have to pay Rs35,000 to Rs40,000 (40 percent cost) for the system. The farmers seem comfortable with the system after installation, as it allows them to access an alternative source for getting water.

The government’s On-farm Water Management officials motivate farmers to install irrigation system, and farmers, who posses three to 25 acres of land can apply for the scheme. Once they are registered with the programme, the officials of different districts guide them about the process.

Presently, the Sindh government, under the on farm water management project has facilitated farmers having 600 acre land only in Gadap town jurisdiction. Farmers have to build water tank to store water to feed the land weekly or fortnightly, depending on the need of water for the particular crop. This project presently benefits only fruits and vegetable farmers.

The farmers, who visited the Gadap area, included many who work on sustainable agricultural practices, water management, action-based research, preserving indigenous seed varieties, and minimising use of chemical input.

Under the project, there are fixed control valves that turn the water on and off to individual circuits or areas to feed plants. Besides plain land, this system can be operated in arid zones, on mountains, and in areas where an irrigation system does not exist.

The officials encouraged visiting farmers to adapt this system to save water and earn more.

They said that since Sindh was experiencing water uncertainty, which impacts badly on crop cultivation schedule and per acre yield, this new alternative system might help farmers improve production.

According to the officials, the drip irrigation system was one of the best alternative irrigation systems to conserve water resources, as it helped in consuming less water. It supplies water to plants drip by drip. It has a control mechanism, which allowed optimal use of the available resource, the officials said, sharing some success stories.

The officials and farmers, who have already adapted to the system, responded to the queries of the visiting farmers about functioning, achievements, and hurdles that they faced.

The installed pipes for the irrigation system come with a guarantee of 25 years; however, the wear and tear also depended on the care of farmers.

Gadap town is the hub of fruit and vegetable products. Land is quite fertile and produces almost all the seasonal vegetables and fruits. The farmers do not have any irrigation system. Traditionally, they depended on rain, and used to receive water through the rainy waterways.

However, when the weather pattern changed, and there was persistent disruption in the rainfall patterns, they installed tube wells to get irrigation water to produce crops.

This alternative of tube wells also turned out to be less sustainable, as the underground water table started falling drastically, leaving farmers with no option but to look for other methods.

The project supports efficient management of the scarce water resources at field level, where water losses are the highest. It is a high efficiency irrigation system with improved irrigation agronomy.

The farmers visited water pond, pipes and overall systems to see how drip by drip water feeds the plants’ roots. Visiting farmers asked questions to learn the process of installation and benefits for the crops.

Farmer leader of Dadu, Zulfiqar Jatoi said most of the visiting farmers have pieces of lands in the catchment area of the river Indus. In the past, they received water through the river’s natural streams for agriculture.

But now, due to the uncertainty within the river system, they have installed tube wells to continue cultivation.

He was convinced that the drip irrigation system would help face future challenges in water availability, management, and sustainability.

Officials of the project claimed to have reduced the expenses of water and other inputs for the farmers. They also said that targeted supply of water to the plants had yielded better results in productivity.

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