Changing Lives: A Community Watercourse for Farmers’ Prosperity

Ishtiaq Amin

It is an established fact that colossal loss (more than 40 %) of irrigation water takes place in century old watercourses due to poor maintenance and aging which results in severe shortage of irrigation water at the farm level particularly in tail reaches that is compelling the farmers to use groundwater for irrigation purpose. As a matter of fact, the groundwater is not fit for irrigating crops in most areas of the province including Faisalabad district and causing degradation of productive/ fertile soils.
Such a century old watercourse was providing water for irrigation to the farmers of Chak No. 19/JB, tehsil Jhumra, district Faisalabad having command area of about 400 acres. The shareholders of the watercourse were facing the problem of huge water loss due to seepage, side leakage and spillage since long and experiencing acute water shortage at their farms as they were unable to use groundwater due to its extremely poor quality for irrigation. The problem was aggravated due to elevated position of the watercourse requiring intensive monitoring of water flow with higher labor cost for irrigation. The farmers learnt about government facility for watercourse improvement and approached OFWM staff for rescue. The OFWM staff suggested the farmers to construct an elevated (8-12 feet high) watercourse for smooth flow of water to all the fields in entire command. All the shareholders agreed to afford all the expenses other than the cost of construction materials being provided by the Punjab government.
The shareholder of the watercourse and Numberdar of the village, Mr. Niaz Ahmed shared the benefits of improved elevated watercourse as “before the improvement of watercourse, only two (2) acres out of twenty five (25) acres were irrigated but now eight (8) to twelve (12) acres can be irrigated easily with same quantity of water”. He added that “conflicts/disputes have also been reduced significantly. Major conflicts among the farmers were due to overtopping and side leakage of the water which used to damage the crops of other farmers having lands along the watercourse”.
Niaz Ahmed shared excitedly that “majority of the farmers of this village used to irrigate their lands with groundwater and they had to spend a lot of money to pump the groundwater with tubewells. Now more than 70 % tubewell expenses have been reduced”.He also shared that about 30 shareholders of the watercourse contributed for skilled and unskilled labor for improvement works as well as collected Rs. 2,20,0000 for back earth filling of structures and lined sections to maintain 8-12 feet high sides for total length of 7392 meters of the watercourse.
Another beneficiary, Mr. Ghulam Mustafa, Farm Manager at Sandhu Zarai Model Farm told that “elevated improved watercourse enabled us to irrigate about 50 % more land with same quantity of water. It also helped us to save labor expenses as 10-15 workers were required for irrigation before improvement of watercourse. Now one worker is enough for the purpose”. He further shared that “another major benefit is to have better crops with canal water as groundwater is not fit for the growth of crops and causes lower yields”.
Moving against the Tide: Traditional to High Value Crops
M. Sharif, (Chak 95 Fateh), tehsil Chishtian, District Bahwalnagar
Majority of the farmers of Punjab are used to grow traditional crops like wheat, rice, cotton etc. and most of the times they have to face market problems due to excessive production and less export opportunities. Owing to these problems, some innovators (farmers who adopt technology earlier) have started to grow high value crops with latest available technology instead of traditional crops.
M. Sharif is one of those innovators who decided to grow cucumbers, cabbage and tobacco on drip irrigation system during 2015-16 on cost sharing basis under technical guidance of OFWM staff. He is resident of Chak 95 Fateh, tehsil Chishtian, District Bahwalnagar. He shares his experience as “I converted six (6) acres out of eleven (11) acres of my land on drip irrigation and adopted tunnel farming technique for growing off-season vegetables to get more profit and cultivated cucumbers on 20 kanals land under tunnel-drip irrigation system. This experience was remained so successful that I recovered all expenses made on drip system installation from income of the first crop.
Now I have also experienced to grow cabbage (10 kanals), tobacco (10 kannals) and onions (6 kanals) on my farm and all these crops are growing healthy and vigorous. While sharing his experience about the benefits of drip irrigation, he told that, “drip irrigation enabled me to save 70-80% of water as growing high value crops with drip irrigation require less water as compared to traditional crops with flood irrigation. Similarly, fertigation with drip helped me to save about 50-60% fertilizer, as it provides more output with less and efficient use of fertilizer. The Farm Manager “Ghulam Sabir” told that employment opportunities have also been created for the local people at the farm. Presently thirteen (13) women and seven (7) men are working at the farm for various farm operations.
M. Sharif further stated that “moving from traditional to high value crops has enabled me to save some money to send my children to a better standard school located in the city (Chishtian) about 20 km away from my home (Chak 95 Fateh)”.
At the end he stated, “I have a pleasant experience and now planning to install drip irrigation on the remaining land and grow high value crops on large scale in the upcoming years so that I can earn more and provide better livelihood to my family”.
DRIP IRRIGATION: A PATHWAY TO PRECISION AGRICULTURE Rao Saqib Sohail, a progressive farmer from Okara, having degree in Chemical Engineering possesses good knowledge about innovations including efficient and climate smart irrigation methods to meet the water/ nutrients requirements of crops for better yields. When he came to know about the benefits of drip irrigation system from one of his friends, he was motivated immediately and contacted OFWM staff for installation of drip irrigation system on his 15 acres land under government’s subsidy scheme during 2013-14. While sharing his experience he stated that “I have grown potatoes, cucumbers and different vegetables with drip irrigation and found drip irrigation method far better than the traditional flood irrigation as it helps to practice precision agriculture and provides more economic returns”.
He added that “Drip irrigation not only provides benefits in terms of savings in water, labor, fertilizer etc. but it also motivates and facilitates farmers to adopt agriculture as profitable business”.
Mr. Saqib shared excitedly, “I have also experimented to apply animal dung to the plants through drip fertigation technique found it very useful for enhancing soil organic matter and better nutrition for plants.”
He further shared that “Growing potatoes and vegetables under tunnel with drip irrigation has created more employment opportunities for the labor especially women on my farm. Currently, about 25 women and 15 men are working on my farm for different farm operations. About half of the females work with their husbands and their children go to school. These workers are very hopeful to have better living in near future. I always motivate them for better socioeconomic status in the society through higher income and education of their children”. At the end, he proposed to develop various farm implements specifically for cultivation of different crops under drip irrigation and provide on subsidized cost to facilitate the farmers.

—The writer is Director of Agriculture Information at Agriculture Department, Government of Punjab.

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