Another top-heavy irrigation scheme

Published: April 1, 2012

The writer is a development consultant and a PhD student at the University of Melbourne syed.ali@tribune.com.pk

Over 90 per cent of Pakistan’s fresh water resources are being used for agriculture. As water scarcity across the country increases, the requirement to attain sustainability remains a contested issue.

Government-managed irrigation and water supply services have not been able to provide effective services. Irrigation water users pay an abiana charge levied by provincial governments. However, these charges are insufficient to pay the cost of efficient operations, maintenance and replacement costs. The irrigation and drainage sector of Pakistan has thus been trapped in the cycle of inadequate funding, maintenance, supply, and recovery.

Since the 1990s, the World Bank has been trying to undertake institutional reforms in irrigation management. While promising a reform model which would ensure greater accountability to clients, the World Bank’s own assessments indicate that these reforms have failed to tackle the fundamental issues of more equitable water supply to farmers, irrespective of their level of affluence.

The World Bank has also provided our government massive loans for construction of canals and large dams over several decades, which in turn have created massive problems of waterlogging and salinity, especially in the heavily irrigated province of Punjab. To address the problem, the World Bank built drainage canals to divert agricultural run-off in the form of the Left Bank Outfall Drain and the National Drainage Program Project. But evaluations found the designs of these projects to cause contamination of drinking water supplies, damage to surrounding fields, loss of livelihoods and large-scale destruction of wetlands.

Despite this lacklustre record, the Government of Punjab has taken another loan of $250 million from the World Bank for the Punjab Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Improvement Program. This new initiative aims at maximising irrigational productivity by rehabilitation and up-gradation of existing systems to enhance water conveyance efficiency and initiating new irrigating schemes. One wonders what the exact location of these schemes will be, whose farmlands will reap their direct benefit and what will be their long-term environmental impacts.

This new project further aims to promote modern irrigation technologies to achieve greater agricultural output per unit of water used through use of drip and sprinkler irrigation systems, and provision of laser levelling equipment at subsidised rates. The elite farmer’s capture of the subsidy schemes is, however, a major problem which has repeatedly been witnessed in the past. For instance in the provision of tractors under the Green Revolution, or the ongoing government wheat procurement schemes, the beneficiaries invariably tend to be larger rather than smaller farmers. So while corporate and big farmers will have no problem procuring subsidised laser levelling equipment, whether smaller farmers enjoy the fruits of this latest World Bank-funded government beneficence remains to be seen.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2012.

Reader Comments (4)

  • Falcon
    Apr 2, 2012 - 9:05AM

    Good article. I think looking at tax exemptions, subsidies, and service based revenue collection in agricultural sector, it seems as if the sector has received a lot of incentives but those end up in pockets of feudal lords rather than small farmers. Interestingly enough, feudal lords are also over-represented in our political system. Put the two together and we realize that the national economic structure is skewed in favor of agriculture but for the benefits of the political elite, not the small farmers.

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  • avrom yarushalmi
    Apr 2, 2012 - 7:02PM

    Actually when ever it comes to any development project in Punjab to be funded by any development bank, the only thing that comes to much fertile brains of Punjab’s Babushahi is Irrigation system,They simply can’e think out of this black box.
    On a lighter note once a big babu from Punjab while presenting his case before a development institute boasted about the irrigation system of Punjab declaring it as the best in world. During the tea break, one Gora sahib asked,” if they have best system then why they are asking for funding”.
    This is not the first time money is being borrowed and wasted on best irrigation system.

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  • Maulana Tharra
    Apr 3, 2012 - 1:24AM

    @avrom yarushalmi:

    Not only Punjab but whole Pakistani “Babushi” has fertile brains indeed and they CAN count too: 20-30% of Multi Hundred Million $s in commissions and kickbacks is not bad at all!
    The other “productive” fields are Defence Procurement and “Our Atom Bomb” project; perpetual Golden Eggs laying geese!!Recommend

  • avrom yarushalmi
    Apr 3, 2012 - 4:23AM

    @Maulana Tharra
    rightly said Maulana,’golden eggs laying geese:.But I was of opinion that some elements of our babushahi are corrupt .But majority of them have another dimension independent of corruption. Most of them are simply mentally deficient, mediocre par excellence,and of low to moderate intelligence.And sonay pe suhaga,”ego egocentric” ( read, WHEN I WAS SECRETARY……WHEN I WAS DC… WHEN I WAS POSTED THERE…..)

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