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Ensuring better crop per water drop




  • THE water wing is readying to provide momentum to its recently launched ‘Punjab Irrigated-agriculture Productivity Improvement Project.’

    Estimated to cost Rs36 billion over six years (2011-17), according to official documents, the project would benefit around 132,000 acres, with different streams, which include drip and sprinkle irrigation), laser leveling of soil, rehabilitating and  improving water courses.

    The project is designed to cut huge water losses in the irrigation system that result in lower water productivity. As per project document, 40 per cent of canal water is lost between mogha (outlet) to field due to poor tertiary conveyance system.

    Around 20 to 25 per cent water is lost during application in un-even fields. The crop water requirements are not met on time because of inefficient supply delivery. Combined effects of all these factors seriously constrain potential yield from otherwise highly-productive land. It is, therefore, imperative to follow holistic on-farm water management approach for ‘more crop per drop.’

    While spending about Rs18.516 billion on water productivity, the project has earmarked Rs13.716 billion for installing high efficiency irrigation systems (HIESs) on around 120,000 acres throughout Punjab.

    The government would bear 60 per cent of the cost, the rest by the farmer. Similarly, 3,000 laser levelers would be subsidised (Rs225,000 each) at a cost of Rs4.8 billion. Conveyance improvement would be carried out at a cost of Rs12.36 billion. Some
    5,500 water courses would be improved at a cost of Rs9.76 billion. Another Rs1.6 billion would be spent on water courses which were being improved but had been facing funds problems. Third component is adoption and promotion of technologies at a cost of another Rs770 million.

    Drawing heavily on the Chinese experience, the Punjab government tried to assess benefit to crops like potato, wheat, citrus and gram. This was done by technical committees headed by Director (Research)of particular crops, with representatives from Economic Research Institute, Crop Reporting and Planning and Evaluation Cell of the Agriculture Department.

    According to the crop wise ‘economic benefit’, analysis of drip irrigation, sugarcane yield would increase 39 per cent; 72 per
    cent additional land can be brought under the crop because of water saving; some 57 per cent water could be saved, or Rs8,500 per acre.

    It would also result in 60 per cent reduction in labour for irrigation and saving on fertiliser would be 53 per cent and 28 per cent. The sucrose recovery would increase to 11.2 per cent against current 9.18 per cent because of efficient and uniform fertiliser application.

    Similarly, citrus orchards would benefit by planting 47 more plants per acre and plant mortality rate would drop by 100 per cent. While saving in irrigation cost by 72 per cent, the yield is expected to go up by 105 per cent; juice content would rise by 30 per cent, fruit size would increase from current 45mm to 67mm, which would push up price by 76 per cent.

    The fruit would only be bigger and juicy, but also more uniform in shape, size and even better in colour.

    Various agencies, which studied impact of water courses improvement, have come up with some astonishing statistics. They calculated 123 acre feet water saving per watercourse per year. Such saving could increase irrigated area by 21 per cent. For individual crops, the benefits could be immense; wheat (10.8 per cent), rice (5.9 per cent) cotton (12.4 per cent) and maize (15.4 per cent). Improved watercourses would allow cropping intensity to go up by 4.37 per cent and reduce salinity by about 87 per cent.

    In addition, there would also average reduction of about 33 per cent in conveyance losses, improvement in delivery efficiency to the tune of 38.5 per cent, increase in cropping intensity by nearly 20 per cent and overall increase in crop yields by around 24 per cent.

    A number of benefits also accrue from watercourse improvements including reduction in time to fill reaches of a watercourse, leading to increased time for field application. This is often perceived as the greatest benefit by the farmers. They would reduce waterlogging, particularly adjacent to watercourses and lessen the drudgery of irrigation operation to a great extent.

    The impact of laser leveling is no less important because it minimises the cost of operation, ensures better degree of accuracy in much lesser time, saves irrigation water, ascertains uniform seed germination, increases fertiliser use efficiency, and resulting in higher crop yields.

    An impact assessment study was carried out by the Planning and Evaluation Cell of Agriculture Department during 2008, which revealed: saving in irrigation time from 25.1 to 32.1 per cent, increase in irrigated area by 34.5 to 42.0 per cent, improvement in crop yields from 10.7 to 12.9 per cent and drop farm culturable waste land by 2.10 per cent.

    Some of the experts from Punjab believed that benefits of the project would have been multiplied if it was bracketed with a few more factors.

    Instead of its area of operation being the entire Punjab, which inevitably would bring political pressure on the management, it should have been restricted to three desert areas (Thal, Cholistan and Rohi), where subsoil water is brackish, and areas are located at the tale-end of the irrigation system.

    Similarly, the Pothohar area could have been included, where small dams could make drip and sprinkle cheap because of gravity flow of water.

    Another factor could be renewable energy, where manageable, to lower energy cost.

    And last, but not the least, the entire project could be attached to horticulture and orchards. It is there where its benefit would be much higher than cotton and wheat grown on drip or sprinkler irrigation.—Ahmad Fraz Khan

    Courtesy Dawn News

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