Farmer turns Pakistan’s sand dunes green

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One farmer has pioneered drip irrigation to grow to be wasteland right into a fruit orchard in Punjab – however at a value few can reflect. For so long as Hasan Abdullah can take into accout the 50-acre sandy dune on his 400-acre farmland in Sadiqabad, Pakistan’s Punjab province, was an irritant – nothing grew on it.

His farmland lies beside the vast Cholistan desert in a canal irrigated area east of the Indus River in Rahim Yar Khan district. Abdullah inherited it in 2005, when his father kicked the bucket. Until then he were running in data technology.

“The mindset change from the farmers has been slow and despite all out efforts we have been unable to push this water-saving technology,”

Hasan Abdullah 

In 2015, after a lot research, Abdullah took a “calculated risk” of cultivating the “barren” dune using the drip irrigation system. The government’s announcement of a 60% subsidy on drip irrigation was once “a big incentive,” he stated. Agriculture, via wasteful flood irrigation, accounts for over 80% water utilization in a country dealing with critical water shortages.

Today, Abdullah’s dune is a sight to behold: fruit orchards have flourished within the sand. He admitted that without drip irrigation the “dune would never have produced anything.”

Water combined with fertilizer is performed via pipes with heads known as drippers, explained Abdullah, which liberate a certain amount of water according to minute directly to the roots of each plant across the orchard.

And because watering is actual, there’s no evaporation, no run off, and no wastage.

These new water saving techniques can be key to the future survival of Pakistan’s farmers, who face rising water shortages. Pakistan’s in line with capita water availability is very low, but the rural sector is deeply inefficient in its water use and its productiveness is low. Farmers in Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, develop water in depth plants equivalent to cotton and wheat the use of flood irrigation. Their challenges will most effective grow with climate exchange. The water go with the flow of the Indus River – which the farmers rely on for their water supply – is expected with the speedy retreat of the Himalayan glaciers.

The power of the drip

Using drip irrigation, farmers can save up to 95% of water and cut back fertiliser use, compared to floor irrigation, in keeping with Malik Mohammad Akram, director general of the On Farm Water Management (OFWM) wing in the Punjab government’s agriculture division. In flood irrigation – the traditional method of agriculture within the region – a farmer uses 412,000 litres in keeping with acre, whilst using drip irrigation the similar land can also be irrigated with just 232,000 litres of water, he explained.

The water on Abdullah’s dune is pumped from a canal – which is part of the Indus Basin irrigation device – right into a reservoir constructed at the land. “Being at the tail end [of the canal system], we needed to be assured the availability of water at all times and thus we had to construct a reservoir,” mentioned Abdullah. For years now, farmers on the head of the canals have been “stealing” water causing much misery for farmers downstream.

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Costly savings

But drip irrigation is expensive. Out of Abdullah’s 40 acres of orchards on drip irrigation, 30 acres are on sand dunes and ten acres are on land adjoining to the dune, locally referred to as “tibba” – a small sand dune surrounded by agricultural land. On the 30 acre-dune patch, Abdullah grows oranges on 18, feutral (another number of orange) on some other six acres, lemons on five acres and on one acre he has experimented with rising olives, which bore fruit this year.

“If we were doing traditional farming, our costs would have been much higher. We would need a tractor, six to eight labourers and a lot more water,”

Hasan Abdullah 

In took three years of “micromanaging the orchards” earlier than the orange and olive bushes started fruiting final 12 months. “We hope to break even this year and next year we should be in profit,” he stated. It will take every other four years to recoup all his investment, he calculated.

Abdullah was the first farmer to experiment with this new method. Among many demanding situations that got here his means was to get his farmhands to know the new method of watering.

Akram has had a equivalent enjoy, “It is difficult for a traditional farmer to come to terms with it. Unless he sees the soaked soil with his eyes, he cannot believe the plant has been well watered.”

Solar provides respite

While Abdullah used to be saving water, the price of diesel for operating water pump was proving astronomical. Abdullah would possibly not had been ready to hold on farming with drip irrigation had the government now not introduced an 80% subsidy on solar energy plantsfor farmers in 2018. He promptly took it up.

“Solar has been a life saver for us,” he mentioned. Not most effective did the running prices lower significantly, the sun machine paid for itself in just one year, leaving best the prices of labour, fertilisers and chemical compounds.

Cultivating using drip irrigation is also now not labour in depth. Abdullah’s 40-acres are tended to by means of simply four labourers, who no longer most effective look after the orchards and watering device, but manage the solar plant too. “If we were doing traditional farming, our costs would have been much higher. We would need a tractor, six to eight labourers and a lot more water,” he stated

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For his orchards, the drip irrigation runs for roughly seven hours each day. “If it were running on diesel, we would be consuming 35 litres of diesel a day at the cost of PKR 4,270 (USD 30) per day,” Abdullah estimated.

Furthermore because it’s precision watering to the roots, weed growth is minimal.

Trendsetting

Since he set up his drip machine, Abdullah has gained a path of tourists. A Young farmer from neighbouring Bahawalpur who visited the dune in 2015 was so impressed he arrange the drip irrigation over 700 acres of land he used to be taking a look after for an ex-army officer.

“Ours is the only farm in Pakistan that has set up a drip irrigation system over such a huge tract – and in the desert too,” said Asif Riaz Taj, who manages Infiniti Agro and Livestock Farm. Now in their fourth year, the orchards have began fruiting over 70 acres. But it will now not be prior to its sixth 12 months, Taj said, that they are going to “break even”. The drip irrigation and solar plant was put in at a value of PKR 25 million (USD 174,000), and the per 30 days running value of this farm is almost PKR 4 million (USD 28,000).

Infiniti’s orchards get water from each groundwater the usage of turbines as well as from the canal. “We have installed a 150 kilowatts solar plant for extracting water,” stated Taj. The space isn’t totally sandy, such as the dune on Abdullah’s land, but it is still arid, and advantages massively from drip irrigation.

Abdullah acknowledged that the drip system required an enormous preliminary investment and warned that “unless one had strong financial backing”, it might be difficult.

“Our upfront cost was PKR 3.5 million (USD 25,000), but our running costs [of farming on the dune and tibba] went up to PKR 10 million (USD 70,621),” he defined. He used to be fortunate he had income coming from his other just about 400 acres of land the place he grows sugar cane, cotton and wheat.

Drip irrigation fails to fly

Despite any such resounding good fortune at Abdullah’s farm, saving on water and the horny executive subsidies, few farmers are taking to drip irrigation, stated OFWM’s Akram. Nevertheless since 2012, his department has installed 50,000 techniques on five,000 sites (with an average dimension of 10 acres). It should have been much more.

“The mindset change from the farmers has been slow and despite all out efforts we have been unable to push this water-saving technology,” he admitted.

The installation costs are prohibitively prime despite the 60% subsidy, Akram mentioned. Farmers also say drip irrigation is not appropriate for a wide variety of irrigation, particularly no longer for row farming like wheat, maize and rice.

Farmers complain that the agricultural department and the company don’t provide correct after sales products and services. The untrained and uneducated farmers have to find answers themselves or are left to the mercy of the drip machine supplier. Corroborating this, Abdullah stated: “That is one of the biggest causes of failures.”

Akram vehemently denied this, pronouncing that the each corporate selling the drip irrigation system and the agriculture division handhold farmers, coaching them to resolve system faults coming their means.

Abdullah, on the other hand, is likely one of the converts. He plans to extend the drip irrigation additional for olives and mango orchards as soon as income are up.

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