By Dr. Saeed Ahmad Ali
LAHORE, Jan 02 (APP):Agriculture is crucial to economic growth as it accounts for 4 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while in developing countries, it accounts for more than 25 percent of the GDP.
A healthy, inclusive, and sustainable food system is vital for achieving the rapidly growing world’s development goals. Agriculture is the main artery of Pakistan’s economy.
It produces around 35 percent of the GDP, nearly 59 percent of the total exports, employing almost 57 percent of the workforce. Around 35 million hectares of fertile land are suitable for agriculture in the country.
According to the agricultural statistics, the actual cultivated area in the country is about 20.54 million hectares, of which 5.61 million hectares are rain-fed.
However, over the last century, domestic demand for food supply has risen geometrically. According to the United Nations, at the current growth rate, the global population is expected to be doubled by 2050. By then, the food demand is projected to increase to around 59 percent to 98 percent.
It has been realized around the world that the enormous potential of the agriculture sector to deal with the dilemma is food security. Therefore, the agriculture sector has a ripple effect on the economy of nations.
Likewise, Pakistan’s agriculture sector also needs to be shaped in a way that it could meet the target of confronting the projected demand for food. Beyond this, climate change-driven issues including urbanization, water insufficiency, lack of investment, and rising production costs pose a challenge to national food security.
Traditional food production is not sufficient to meet the demand. Pakistan has become a net importer of food. Therefore, in tandem with the current grain production system, the country needs to adopt manifold productivity measures.
The substantial shortage in agriculture output can be bridged by transforming our barren lands into fertile lands. Drawbacks in the tail-ending irrigation system, deforestation, drought, and intensive traditional farming methods are turning an area half the size of Britain into a desert every year.
According to the United Nations (UN) recent report, by 2030, around 135 million people could lose their shelters and livelihood means to desertification.
Pakistan, being an agricultural country has enormous agricultural potential. Nearly two third of its population is dependent on agriculture-related earnings and activities.
Former chairman of Indus River System Authority (IRSA), Punjab Irrigation Chief Engineer Rao Irshad Ali Khan told APP that the process of stealing water by influential persons through planting devices, pipes, and tubes has been going on for the last many years.
The only solution to end the woes of tail cultivators and other affected growers of the area is to take strict measures against water theft, resulting in severe water shortfall by ordering appropriate, timely, and spot against those involved in it.
Inam Khan, a leading grower, and landlord at BRB canal said that cultivators and farmers were looking after the supply of water to the tail-end fields in the area. He alleged that feudal lords in collusion with irrigation departments and influential political figures were engaged in water theft.
He alleged that when an honest officer, on a complaint, visits the area, some irrigation department staffers and their companion Baildars immediately inform the corrupt powerful quarters involved in water theft.
Sajid Bashir, Deputy Collector Revenue in Punjab Irrigation Department said that water theft through some illegal out-lets was also destroying the crops of tail-end cultivators while the land is becoming barren.
From time to time, cases in the tail-end areas of Punjab have been reported that the small growers were being forced to sell their land at a cheaper rate to influential landlords, Bashir informed.
Arshad Shah Assistant Director of Punjab Khal Panchayat Authority (PKPA) told the news agency that the Punjab irrigation department had implemented a plan earlier to update its communication and measurement systems by installing sensors to monitor real-time water flow in the channels (Khals) under its command.
The project started with financial and technical assistance from the World Bank in recent years envisages installing sensors across the barrages, distributaries, canals, and channels to monitor real-time flow with the prime target of curbing canal water theft.
To a query, he said that the Eastern Sadiqi canal system in Punjab Bahawalnagar district has been selected as a pilot project for the purpose. He said that this canal system has been selected for a far-flung area that is notorious for water theft.
About the project, he informed us that the gradual and phase-wise implementation would help gauge the acceptance of the system by growers who were the real beneficiaries of the project.