Coping with irrigation water shortfall

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Saleem Shaikh – Monday, 12 Apr, 2010

FARMERS are worried about Irsa’s projected four million acre feet water shortfall for Sindh during the current Kharif season. However, the provincial irrigation officials say the shortfall can be managed by efficient use of water. Both the farmers and officials of the agriculture department need to focus on checking waste in the irrigation network and at the farm level and the government needs to step up lining of canal and water courses.

On March 31, Irsa’s technical committee said that 29.9 million acre feet (MAF) water would be available for Sindh during current Kharif season (April-September) instead of 33.4 MAF as envisaged in 1991 Water Accord.

Experts believe that Sindh would not get its projected water share and the actual flow would remain much lower due to water theft and illegal diversion from the River Indus by influential farmers in Punjab’s lower riparian areas.

Officials in the agriculture department admit that water shortage would actually increase to around 10-12 MAF in view of average 6-7 MAF water losses in the province for various reasons.

Around 30-35 per cent of water is lost in distribution network as a result of evaporation, wasteful use by farmers and non-lining of most of the canals, tributaries, minors and watercourses. Unchecked cutting of trees on either side of the riverbanks, canal and tributaries is also the major cause of water losses.

“Trees planted all along the irrigation water channels are helpful in controlling water evaporation, and reinforcement of banks of water channels. But, their unchecked cutting by local timber mafia has increased irrigation water losses further,” stated officials in Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (Sida).

According to officially approved crop calendar, the Kharif season sets off from April 1 in lower Sindh and gains momentum weeks after in upper Sindh.

But, no land has been brought under cultivation because of non-availability of water in canals, tributaries and watercourses as yet, according to reports obtained by growers’ leaders in Badin, Thatta, Sanghar, Nawabshah where Kharif begins from early April.

Rice, cotton, sugarcane and maize are four major Kharif crops. All of them, except cotton, posted a marked drop in their respective outputs last year. Cotton crop alone survived last year’s water shortage and showed a robust performance of 4.2 million bales against 2.80 million bales target for FY 2008-09 thanks to increased use of Bt seed in the province.

A strong performance of current Kharif crops depends on improved water availability. But outlook of Kharif crop is uncertain in view of the projected 9.9 per cent MAF water shortfall, remarked Amin Memon, chairman of Lar Abadgar Board.

Abdul Majeed Nizamani, president Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), says the projected water shortfall for the ongoing Kharif crops in Sindh is manageable, if the farming community utilises the available water efficiently.

“Optimum use of depleting irrigation water and reduction in its losses are possible only if low-delta crops are brought in and promoted in high-delta crop growing areas, growers are trained to use water efficiently, water regulating gates and gauges on canals, tributaries and minors are properly maintained for accurate measurement and distribution of water,” he believes.

Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SAB), has underlined the need for fair and transparent irrigation water distribution for bringing maximum area under Kharif crops and has urged the provincial irrigation department to make all-out efforts aimed at mitigating rising incidents of water theft and tempering of water distribution channels.

Shuja Ahmed Pasha, provincial irrigation secretary, said water shortage for Kharif would not have any adverse effect on crop cultivation.

“We would ensure that water reaches to its rightful beneficiaries. Special plans have been chalked out to reduce incidents of water theft and tampering of canals, tributaries or watercourses for illegal diversion of water,” he said and added, “Rangers would also be deployed at strategic points to check water theft, particularly at the tail-end areas.”

Irrigation experts believe that long-lasting solution to the irrigation water problem lies in promoting drip, sprinkler and similar other water conserving irrigation system and lining of canals, tributaries, minors and waterways.

Initiative is being taken to maximise water supply by employing different mechanisms, informed Murad Ali Shah, Sindh Minister for Irrigation.

He said work on lining of main canals, distributaries, minors and waterways had been speeded up to bring down losses and control seepages. Efforts were also being made to promote drip and sprinkler irrigation systems on cost-sharing basis with farmers, particularly in lower Sindh.

Hit by falling flows in the River Indus and depleting underground water, local growers, particularly smaller ones, are now increasingly switching over to other means of livelihood, an official in the agriculture department said.

According to an economic survey of Sindh, cattle breeding have now been adopted by farmers in the province as an alternative source of income, which has registered a robust growth over the years.

The survey points out that over the last three decades, agriculture’s contribution in gross provincial production has dropped by 10 per cent to 15 per cent mainly because of irrigation water problem.

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