Home' Partners : Partners February 2010 Contents In Pakistan's arid climate irrigation is a lifeline for agriculture, but the
Punjab irrigation system---one of the largest in the world---is struggling
to cope with present-day demands, resulting in water overuse and
The Punjab network is colossal: five major rivers and their tributaries
feed the 37,000-kilometre lattice of barrages, canals, drains and tube-
wells that irrigate an area exceeding 8.4 million hectares.
However the system, which accounts for 80% of the country's
agricultural production, cannot withstand recent developments including
an average 130% increase in cropping intensity, population growth, and
changes in sociological and rural practices that have rendered its design
obsolete. Excess seepage and wastage in the system, and inflexible canal
water rights, have aggravated the problem.
The Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA), set up by
the Pakistani Government to operate and maintain the network, has
attributed poor water-use efficiency of 35--40% to system constraints and
Analyses have shown that water volume and quality decline the
farther water travels in the Pakistan irrigation system. The inequitable
supply of surface water to tail-end users is closely correlated to
diminishing crop yields and escalating salinity, while groundwater
accessible to tail-end farmers is salty, with serious socioeconomic and
environmental implications. Studies have confirmed that salinity alone is
robbing Pakistan of about 33% of its agricultural production.
The Pakistani Government's 2025 vision for adequate, equitable, reliable
irrigation supplies and enhanced agricultural productivity stipulates the
need for investment in rehabilitation and system improvement. This outlook
has underpinned policy reforms guided by PIDA, including conversion of
irrigation infrastructure management into a multi-tier system involving
farmer participation at provincial, canal command and distributary levels.
PIDA has also acknowledged the need for changes on the ground,
citing a substantial gap in scientific information to help farmers
conjunctively use surface water and groundwater.
In response, ACIAR launched a project in 2008 that aims to improve
canal water and groundwater distribution to optimise crop production
and manage salinity in irrigated landscapes. Due for completion in 2012,
the $1-million project is being led by Charles Sturt University (CSU) in
Australia, in collaboration with Pakistan's University of Agriculture in
Faisalabad, and the PIDA. The project is working closely with farmer
organisations in the command area of Lower Chenab Canal (LCC), which is
located in the food bowl of Punjab.
Project leader Associate Professor Mohsin Hafeez, who heads CSU's
International Centre of Water for Food Security, says researchers have
assessed LCC system operations and are producing modelling tools
capable of analysing hydrological and economic water management
"The project team will use the results to develop conjunctive canal
(surface) and groundwater management options which it will help to
implement," Associate Professor Hafeez says. "The scientific insights of
this project will empower PIDA and farmer organisations to manage and
use water resources more rationally."
Associate Professor Hafeez anticipates the project will result
in reallocation of more surface water to tail-end areas affected by
saline groundwater. "There is huge potential to improve agricultural
productivity and food security in Pakistan, with favourable economic,
social and environmental impacts," he says.
"By coupling remote-sensing tools and hydrological data with
socioeconomic data we will also be able to measure surface and
groundwater supply and demand at various spatial scales to tailor
adaptations to climate change, which could exacerbate the current situation."
ACIAR research program manager Dr Mirko Stauffacher says the
project will drive greater adoption of on-farm water-saving technologies
such as raised beds, drip irrigation, laser levelling and zero-till planting.
" I t 's about improving water-use efficiency and building capacity both
upstream and downstream," Dr Stauffacher says. "The challenge is to find
practices that are culturally, socially and economically acceptable."
MELISSA BRANAGH McCONACHY
NOVEMBER 2009 FEBRUARY 2010 PARTNERS
is required to explore this opportunity.
The project has also provided the basis
for improved water-cycle management to
address downstream environmental impacts of
watershed development programs.
"There will be trade-offs, but our assumption
is that water-infrastructure costs to transfer
water from other catchments to replace
reduced flows would outweigh the benefits of
such programs," Professor Malano says.
He says extensive stakeholder engagement
is largely responsible for the shift to a whole-of-
basin modelling approach, which he describes
as "unprecedented in terms of combining
hydrology and economics" to inform solutions.
while minimising impacts on agriculture,
improving system efficiency and introducing
sustainable water-management practices
in cities, such as harvesting rainwater and
reusing wastewater. This approach would cost
Indian society 6% less in net present value
terms than appropriating water from the
But scientists acknowledge that, as cities
within the Krishna River Basin grow, more
water allocations will have to be shifted from
agriculture. This would increase the shortfall in
cropping upstream and place more areas under
irrigation downstream, where wastewater from
the city could be utilised. Further investigation
Modelling efforts are now focusing on
sub-catchment, sub-basin and whole-of-basin
scales. The next phase, which begins in March,
will apply the models to various scenarios
to evaluate different options for real climate
change adaptation based on predictions that
by the end of the century, India will experience
a 3--5 °C temperature increase, more frequent
droughts and extreme flooding.
"Water reform takes many years, but we can
expect economic progress will accelerate that
process over the next decade in India," Professor
Malano says. "We hope what we are doing
will have an impact on allocated water shares
determined by the Krishna Basin Tribunal." n
PROJECT: LWR/2005/144: Optimising canal and
groundwater management to assist water user
associations in maximising crop production and
CONTACT: Dr Mirko Stauffacher, ACIAR RPM,
firstname.lastname@example.org; Associate Professor
Mohsin Hafeez (pictured left), email@example.com
Improving canal and groundwater distribution in Pakistan
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