AWARENESS about efficient use of water is growing among farmers and orchard owners in Balochistan, while the government and multilateral lending agencies are focusing on water resource development.
Farmers in Balochistan rely on several ways, in varying degrees, of getting water for their cropland and orchards. And in a few areas they have started making the most of available water supplies, officials and farmers say.
For example in low-lying districts like Lasbela and Khuzdar, some crop farmers are now using solar-power generators to extract water from open wells. Besides, one can see the water-efficient tunnel farms of vegetables now coming up a bit faster and drip water irrigation for crop fields is gaining popularity, according to officials of the provincial agriculture department.
In Pishin, Qila Saifullah and other fruit producing districts a number of orchard owners now prefer micro-irrigation system over conventional sprinkling and flood and furrow system, they claim.
In micro-irrigation only tree-lines are watered, instead of applying water on the whole body of trees or keeping a selected area of orchards (hosting tree-lines) flooded with water.
Similarly, mounted sprinklers are also being used for watering upper parts of fruit trees or the trees growing on higher elevations and, revolving sprinklers for watering nurseries. The use of traditional plastic pipe and hose in the former case and water supply through buckets or wet water-courses in the latter case is gradually squeezing.
Growing use of tubewells has reduced dependence on the Karez system of irrigation that, due to its structural flaws, is less-efficient in underground water usage and impacts negatively on the use and recharge ratios
Over-extraction of groundwater in Balochistan exceeds the rate of recharge by 22pc, according to a report submitted to the Senate late last year. Officials claim that the provincial government is only developing new reservoirs to address this issue and has also been able to control sub-soil seepages and extraction wastefulness to improve the recharge rate.
Besides, growing use of tube wells has reduced dependence on the Karez system of irrigation that, due to its structural flaws, is less-efficient in underground water usage and impacts negatively on the use and recharge ratios.
Karez irrigation now accounts for just a friction of the total use of water in agriculture, officials claim.
They say that efforts for water resource conservation are being made at two levels. On the first level rain harvesting is promoted. And on the second level, on-farm water management is being implemented through economising water uses in farms and in orchards.
In the latter case, not only the use of appropriate water sprinklers and water conveying machines are being employed, but water-efficient farming techniques and technologies like tunnel farming and micro irrigation systems are also being promoted.
The ambitious Rs40bn Quetta water supply project announced this fiscal year will not only help in providing clean drinking water to the city’s population but it will also help agricultural irrigation in and around Quetta division.
But given the magnitude of the shortage for drinking water in Quetta (about 30pc or even more) any immediate relief to the farming community facing water shortage seems a distant possibility, farmers point out.
Besides, since under the scheme, Quetta’s residents will initially be supplied additional water from Pat Feeder Canal through a pipeline, water supply from this canal to farming land might be compromised, they fear.
A ray of hope for improving water supply in agricultural areas of Balochistan is the $100m, ADB-funded, water resource development project. Under this project, not only new dams are planned to be constructed but flood irrigation or spate system of water supply would also be improved.
In addition to it, 300km of surface water channels i.e. canals, drains and Karez would be improved. The project is likely to bring 10,000 hectares of barren land under cultivation and protect 1500 hectares of watersheds.
Another $300m World Bank loan for water resource management is helping the province in water resource conservation and management in three river basins providing relief to farmers in several districts.
Way back in mid-2000s, some progress was made for arresting depletion and pollution of underground water and increasing irrigation efficiency under a joint project of the Balochistan government and the International Union for Conservation of Natural Resources.
Observers point out that construction of higher quality ‘delayed action dams’ or ‘recharge reservoirs’ coupled with improving rain harvesting methods and making them popular across the province is the real solution of water woes of Balochistan.
Officials claim that the new delayed action dams (that obstruct the flow of flood waters and store them beneath ground) being constructed in the province have, in some cases, boosted under-ground water levels by as much as 1.4 metres.
More than two dozen similar dams have been constructed in the last two years across the province, they say.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, December 26th, 2016