New dams for agriculture

Level basin flood irrigation on wheat

Image via Wikipedia


Water onservation

Pakistan needs a revamped water policy before it’s too late

By Tahir Ali

The prevalent drought has more forcefully reminded the policy makers in Pakistan what has been earlier established by this July’s devastating floods: that the country should build more water reservoirs to accommodate the rain/floods water sooner rather than later.

It has also underscored the need for utilising the waste-water resources for irrigation purposes to guard against the danger of having rain-fed areas without crops in case of drought as is being witnessed.

The devastating flash floods have inflicted huge losses of about $10bn to the national economy. But if we learn from this calamity and become vigilant to volatile climate hazards by taking some measures, the calamity will be turned into an opportunity for development and prosperity.

The situation is even dismal for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where non-irrigated land accounts for over 50 percent of wheat acreage. The irrigated wheat area there is usually is around 0.8 million acres and the rain-fed area is over 1 MA.

With only a few days left in wheat sowing season, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is likely to miss its wheat sowing target of around 1.8mn acres this year.

Gul Nawaz Khatak, the chief planning officer of ministry of agriculture in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said most of the wheat-specific southern districts like Laki Marwat, Tank, Bannu and Dera Ismail waited for rains, saying the rain-fed areas could have been cultivated had there been rain.

“Even if it rains till 20th of December, it will make sowing possible. Otherwise the area will be left without wheat this year. As of now only those areas in non-irrigated lands have gone under wheat cultivation that had some moisture in it. If there is no rain, wheat target will be affected by about 10 to 12 per cent,” he said.

This inability to sow wheat due to lack of water at the provincial and national level, means farmers’ poverty, debt cycle for them, food inflation and food security problems. But it will also have serious financial repercussions for the cash-strapped provincial and national kitties.

A loss of one million tons of wheat cost a whooping Rs24bn of exchequer. The province is expected to lose around 0.5 million tonnes and its woes would be further increased by this loss. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has already sustained a loss of around Rs200bn for floods and another Rs300bn for militancy shocks.

Secretary irrigation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Muhammad Ashfaq Khan said the irrigation sector has suffered a loss of Rs11bn in floods. “As international donors and the federal government has not provided us the funds for reconstruction so far, we have decided to suspend our annual development programme and diverted funds to reconstruction efforts,” he says.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for lack of infrastructure, is unable to utilise 3.28MAF of its share of water as per the 1991 accord. This is why new dams and canals are required in the province,” he adds.

An official said due to droughts the provincial seeds industry could sell only three of the target of six thousand tonnes seeds to farmers. “The situation is indeed very dismal this year. You know wheat can be sown till January but delay from December onward brings per hectare yield down considerably. The per hectare yield in the province already lower than rest of the country, it is not a good omen for the food deficient province,” he said.

He says the government would give around 1600 metric tonnes of the left over seeds to farmers free of cost now. The cost will be borne by a Kuwait based NGO.


“By giving this residue of seeds to farmers, not only the farmers will get relief but if utilised, its expected production will be around 42000 metric tonnes. This will help reduce the gap between the wheat target and actual acreage,” the official says.

The land under wheat cultivation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is 1/5th of the 2.75 million hectare total cultivable land in the province. This needs to be increased.

“The government must increase per acre yield, bring more land under cultivation and ensure mechanised farming and bigger land-holdings,” Shah says.

“This is why province badly needs the construction of promised but delayed/denied Chashma right bank canal’s lift scheme. This will irrigate 0.3MA of land. This will make the province food sufficient but it will also be in a position to export wheat,” Shah argues.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is dependent for 3/4th of its annual wheat requirements of 3.73 million tonnes on Pasco, Punjab’s government or imports.

Ghulam hussain, a farmer said first they faced shortage of seeds at the beginning of the sowing season and also DAP went out of the market. Later prices of fertilizers surged. How can we achieve the target when each and every input is scarce or costly,” he says.

“The climate change scenario was an established phenomenon for which the researchers and the government should try to introduce air/drought/ high temperature and excessive rainfall-resistant varieties that could resist the vagaries of the weather and yielded more grain,” Shah says. “The yield per hectare has reached to over 5000kg in China, but we still have about 2400kg per hectare in the country and still lower in the province,” he adds.


The provincial government has prepared detailed designs, feasibility study, pre-feasibility report of around 100 new small dams. The federal government should finance these and the Kurram Tangi dam, Munda dam and some other dams and rivers advocated by the provincial irrigation department. Reservoirs for rainwater should also be built. This is vital for Khyber pakhtunkhwa as 49% of cultivated area is rain-fed.

About Tahir Ali Khan (Official)
I am an academic, columnist, and a social worker.

One Response to New dams for agriculture

  1. Numan says:



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