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With water scarce, Pakistan helps farmers grow more with less

  • With water scarce, Pakistan helps farmers grow more with less
    Obaid ur Rehman picks red chili peppers at his farm near the village of Mari in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, Aug. 21, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Imran Mukhtar
  • By Imran Mukhtar.
  • Government-subsidised drip irrigation systems are helping farmers in dry areas get a crop despite erratic rainfall linked to climate change.

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Thomson Reuters Foundation
Our global editorial team of 46 journalists and 150 freelancers covers the world’s under-reported stories at the heart of aid, development, women’s rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change.
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Obaid ur Rehman hoped to grow water-hungry cucumbers and capsicum peppers on land he'd bought in an arid area of eastern Pakistan - but the available water wasn't sufficient for traditional irrigation.

So the 56-year-old farmer tried something new: A drip irrigation system, supported by a government initiative.

The system delivers small amounts of water only where needed, and has has helped him get higher yields on his farm near Mari, in Punjab province, than on flood-irrigated land he owns elsewhere in the province.

The switch, besides allowing him to farm with 60% less water, has cut the fertiliser he needs in half as less is washed away and wasted, Rehman said.

"Drip irrigation has come as a divine help to me in this arid area," he said, sitting in a shed on his farm.

Rehman is among a growing number of Pakistani farmers who are turning to water-saving drip irrigation and sprinklers, which agricultural experts say can support yields in regions where seasonal rains are no longer a reliable source of water.

Pakistan uses 90% of its water for agriculture, mainly as farmers flood their fields to irrigate their crops, said Pervaiz Amir, director of the Pakistan Water Partnership (PWP), a non-governmental organisation.

A nine-year government effort to cut water waste, launched in 2012-2013, has so far helped 7,000 small-scale farmers make the move to water-efficient irrigation, said Malik Muhammad Akram, head of the Punjab Agriculture Department's water management programme.

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