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Crop per drop

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Often we forget, water cycle and life cycle are one. Thousands have lived without love but no one without water. Due to familiarity with water in our daily life, its importance has been forgetting. For any country on the globe, it is the most important resource in terms of economic, social, political, and strategic perspectives. By the year 2050, the world will need 60 percent more food supply to feed its inhabitants.
Currently, 800 million people are suffering from chronic hunger. As water is a necessity for agricultural production systems, food shortage is going to be a grim reality due to its scarcity in the future. In both the short and long run, the world must focus on this daunting challenge of water, its accessibility, governance, effectiveness, and efficiency.
Pakistan faces a multidimensional water emergency that claims a huge number of lives every year. The shortage of water has turned into a key obstacle in sustainable financial growth. The continuous widening gap between water supply and water demand is resulting in diminishing resources and an increase of clashes between shareholders. Two-fold causes are the reason for the water crisis in Pakistan: firstly, consequential because of poor policies regarding water management; secondly, structural issues due to political factors (inter-provincial and trans-boundary) and societal factors (bad water governance). There is a dire need for new technologies, techniques, and knowledge to cover the socio-political, environmental, and economic aspects of water management.
At present, the low water accessibility is one of the primary limitations in expanding per section of land yield and bringing more zones in the category of under cultivation. The per capita availability of water has lessened from 5650 m3 in 1951 to less than 1000 in 2020 against the universal standard of 1500 m3. It will diminish to 800 m3 in 2025. Besides, rivalry for water is likewise expanding with the ascent in populace, urbanization, and industrialization. Water usage in domestic and industry will increment to 15 percent by 2025 of the accessible water resource against 3 percent in 2000.
Competing non-agricultural demands are causing a decrease in the share of agriculture water resources which is the major sector and consumes around 93 percent. The efficiency of water is low in Pakistan. For example, for grain, it is 0.13 kg m-3 of water in Pakistan against 1.56 kg m-3 in the USA, 0.82 kg m-3 in China, and 0.39 kg m-3 in India. This low water profitability is because of low water utilization effectiveness because of customary water system techniques and poor agronomic practices. Under this situation, need arises to use the available water resource more wisely and efficiently alongside introducing innovative and high productivity water system frameworks.
Pakistan takes pride in its agriculture and considers it as the backbone of the economy by claiming itself as an agro-based economy. At the same time neglecting its importance for the national economy and society by saying nothing much on water management system inefficiencies, weaknesses, and demand-side focused policies. The agriculture sector is contributing around 20 percent in national Gross Domestic Production (GDP) which provides an estimated 40 percent employment of labour force and supports 65 percent of people directly or indirectly. The scarcity of water resources will impact the primary employment sector and national economy devastatingly, eventually inducing spill over effects in other sectors of the economy.
During the previous year, the government has launched national agricultural emergency programme on crops, livestock, fisheries, agriculture markets, and conserving water. Largely plans were based on increment based policies rather than innovative ones. It ought to widen the agenda by focusing on the development of technologies and knowledge-based management strategies for farming systems to enhance the productivity of per unit of water.
Major issues in the agriculture sector are aridity causing a shortage of water; fickle rainfall; climate change impacting water resources and agriculture; the high energy cost for water pumping; excessive mining of groundwater in fragile environments like Balochistan; water erosion causing degradation of watersheds, rangelands, and sedimentation of water reservoirs; significant losses in water conveyance and application causing waterlogging and salinity; and loss of rainwater as surface run-off.
The panacea of described ills lies in the furrow-bed irrigation system; centre pivot sprinkler irrigation system; drip irrigation systems for fruit, vegetables, and nurseries; optimizing watercourse conveyance efficiency through enhancing lining length, and rainwater management in cotton fields to minimize the impacts of climate change. President Dr Arif Alvi has also stressed on adoption of drip and sprinkler irrigation techniques in his starting days of office but his party did not work at par to bring change in farming techniques because of this it remains a dream. Sadly, ground realities are more or less the same even after two years in power.
A small number of farmers are using these modern techniques because of the public-private partnership between Nestle and Punjab government but a larger fraction of society is still farming with traditional methods. Similar public-private partnerships ought to be adopted by other provinces and also with other larger industries in Punjab.
For the larger benefit of the nation, Awareness needs to be created at a mass level among the farming communities on these and their capacity must be built by relevant departments to adopt these techniques based on area and crops through feasibility studies. Adopting these would contribute to increasing agricultural production, more employment opportunities in rural areas, higher incomes from farming, better living standards of the farmers, and improved environment. Resultantly, this will improve water efficiency by producing more crop per drop.