Developing of water resources in water-starved province, Balochistan is the key to maximize crop production and this can be done through increasing surface water supplies and conserving water using the latest technologies and protecting land and infrastructure from water logging, salinity, floods and soil erosion.
The Balochistan government led by Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch needs to focus for the solution and to overcome the scarcity of water through construction of medium and large dams and efficient utilization of irrigation water and restoring the productivity of agricultural land through control of water logging, salinity and floods while an integrated program approach for water management needs to be adopted.
Agriculture in the province with respect to source of water may be classified as canal irrigated, Karezat irrigated, tubewell irrigated and rainfed or barani agriculture. The experts are of the view that agriculture sector in Balochistan is facing many serious challenges and constraints for future growth. These challenges include reclamation of cultivable wasteland, diversification of production from the low value to high value products in response to market demand; increased farm productivity through sustainable use of natural resources and other inputs and the rising demand for agricultural products with the growth of population and incomes. The major constraints include scarcity of water, unavailability of agricultural inputs and lack of a strong agriculture research system.
The new Balochistan government must improve the management of scarce water resources. The key areas in this regard include increasing surface water availability and reducing groundwater depletion, increasing water productivity through a combination of engineering, management and agricultural measures and expanding local capacity and participation of farmers to implement similar schemes and formulate plans for sustainable water resources development and watershed management.
The former government of President Pervez Musharraf had launched on-farm water management (OFWM) projects and the program for the improvement and lining of watercourses all over the country. The program envisaged lining improvement of 87,000 watercourses at a cost of Rs66 billion within 3-4 years. The initiative was aimed at improving water supply at the farm-gate through reduction in the seepage losses.
A few years ago, the World Bank committed to provide US$25 million for Balochistan Small-Scale Irrigation Project (BSSIP), in support for the efforts for improving the management of scarce water resources in the Pishin Lora Basin in northern Balochistan by reducing the overall impact of the present water crisis. The project could contribute to strengthening provincial water management capabilities. The project had three components that include partial restoration of the water storage capacity, developing small-scale irrigation schemes in the Pishin Lora Basin and strengthening and building the capacity of the Irrigation and Power Department, water management institutions, and farmer and community organizations and implementing studies.
Balochistan is far behind other provinces in agricultural production. It covers 44 percent of the country’s total landmass. A marked improvement in agriculture can make the province self-sufficient in food. If the province’s wheat yield potential is fully and efficiently tapped, it can produce surplus food for the country. Agriculture development is the key to alleviate poverty in the province and reduce its dependence on other provinces for its vital food requirements. More than 75 percent of its population heavily rely on agricultural goods and services for their livelihood. There is need to bring about a shift from traditional to a technology based farming system in the province. This would require the use of appropriate agricultural inputs in technologically feasible and economically profitable manner.
Balochistan is a wheat-deficit province. It excessively depends on Sindh and Punjab to meet its wheat requirement. It actually faces the problem of food insecurity. It requires 900,000 metric tons of wheat annually to feed its population of 6.8 million people. Each year the provincial food department sets a procurement target of 50,000 MT from Naseerabad zone, but it hardly purchases 20,000MT to 25,000MT. The province has huge wheat yield potential with four agro-ecological zones. It has wheat varieties yield potential of 6.5MT/hectares, but it is getting only 2.4MT/hectares. The province gets 95 percent wheat from irrigated and 5 percent from rain-fed areas.
The experts identify scarcity of water and proper management of available water as the main issues related to the wheat production in the province. There is no perennial system of irrigation except Naseerabad district. Wheat is grown over an area of 408,913 hectares in the province. The main problem confronting the farmers of Balochistan is the shortage of irrigation water. The long term water management program in Balochistan will meet a long felt need of the province for adequate quantity of water for agriculture, especially the expanding acreage of fruit orchards. The province depends on rain, Karezat and tube-wells for irrigation. Over 50 percent farmers rely on only irrigated crops, which are the main enterprise. Naseerabad, the only canal irrigated district, receives water from the tail end of the Indus River system at the time of sowing cotton and paddy.
Reclamation of about 4.0 million hectares of cultivable wasteland is essential to enhance agricultural production in the province. The capacity of the Provincial Agriculture Engineering Department need to be enhanced by providing it additional machinery and bulldozers to reclaim the cultivable wasteland. The province needs bulldozers, which should be hired out to the farmers at no profit no loss basis to facilitate them in reclaiming the cultivable wasteland. Around 146,250 hectares of cultivable wasteland could be reclaimed through the use of 200 bulldozers in the province.
The government should launch a number of projects for crop maximization to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the province. The province is already reeling under higher poverty and in rural areas over 50 percent people live below the level of poverty line.
The experts are of the view that agricultural growth is key to curtailing poverty, as agriculture is the mainstay of rural economy and over 75 percent population of the province depends on this sector for earning their livings.
Government should encourage the small farmers by initiating an easy loaning policy for them to get bulldozers and tractors so that acute problem of land leveling and land development in remote areas of the province, could be resolved.