Water shortage: Food crops under threat

Country must especially focus on agriculture, energy to revive economy.

Zafar Bhutta May 18, 2014
The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has projected 15% loss of water, which flows into the sea in the absence of adequate storage dams. CREATIVE COMMONS


The agriculture sector is considered the backbone of the country’s economy, contributing 21.4% to the national output and employing 45% of the labour force.

But this is one of the most neglected sectors that has not been the top priority of successive governments as well as political parties. Farmers are not provided sufficient subsidy, rather subsidised food is given to urban population by keeping support prices of crops at minimum levels to avoid an impact on inflation.

Small farmers have no access to loans due to corruption in banks and revenue departments and they are compelled to plant crops with the help of old farming practices.

The country also lacks water storages and a large quantity of water either goes into the sea or is lost due to an inefficient supply system. Though there are plans to build dams, no significant progress has been made so far.

After coming to power in mid-2013, the PML-N government started work on a new food security policy, which is yet to be completed.

According to the Farmers Associates Pakistan, growers are offered a meager Rs11 billion per annum in subsidy on feedstock gas for urea production. However, this has never trickled down to them.

Agricultural production is worth $50 billion per year and subsidies constitute less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Energy crisis and water shortage are the looming threats for the agriculture sector, which may lead to food scarcity. Lately, farmers are facing water shortage due to reduced river flow following Indian attempts to build dams on rivers flowing into Pakistan.

In the face of this, farmers depend on tube wells but to run these they need electricity which is scarce while some others depend on turbines operated by tractors but diesel is quite expensive.

Water and Power Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif told journalists last week that power crisis could not end by 2018. Then, how the farmers, who rely on tube wells, will be able to sow crops?

Indian dams

To make matters worst, Pakistan has lost cases against India in international arbitration tribunals on Baglihar Dam being built on Chenab River and Kishanganga hydropower project on Neelum Jhelum River.

By building dam on Chenab River, India has stored 164,000 acre feet of water and has got control over water flow into the river.

“Owing to this dam, we have no water in Chenab for irrigating crops,” commented an official associated with the Indus Water Commission.

He said Pakistan had also lost control over water in Neelum Jhelum River after the International Court of Arbitration allowed Delhi to build Kishanganga Dam. This will also affect 969-megawatt Neelum Jhelum hydropower project, resulting in 14% decrease in water flow.

“I believe water releases have slowed down, but we are getting enough water from the melting of snow on glaciers in the wake of climatic changes,” the official said.

Crop yields

Research conducted by the Global Change Impact Studies Centre, a climate monitoring institution, shows wheat yield in Pakistan could drop 8% to 10% and rice productivity may fall 15% to 20% by the turn of the century.

This decline could spark food shortage, which, in turn, could prove catastrophic for a country like Pakistan, where population, with a 1.9% annual growth, is expected to touch 300 million by 2050. This scenario requires the government to frame a proper policy.

The government has been targeting wheat production at around 25 million tons per year, but it was met only in 2010-11. After that, it had never been achieved because of water and power shortages.


The Indus River System Authority (Irsa) has projected 15% loss of water, which flows into the sea in the absence of adequate storage dams. “Of the available 67 million acre feet (MAF) of water for the current Kharif sowing season, 10 MAF will go to waste,” Irsa said.

Apart from this, an average 10% of water will be lost in the wake of system deficiencies – theft and leakage – during the season, which runs from April to September.

For efficient use of water, the previous governments had launched drip and sprinkle irrigation system, but that project also came to halt.

Inefficiency and corruption in civil bureaucracy and disputes among political parties have delayed several dam projects.

Kalabagh Dam became controversial and shelved as provinces could not resolve their differences. The fate of Diamer Bhasha Dam is also uncertain after Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan failed to reach consensus on royalty collection. Now, the government is paying a lot of attention to Dasu Dam.

Instead of focusing on politically motivated projects under the Public Sector Development Programme, the government should particularly work on energy and agriculture projects in the upcoming budget as the two sectors could revive the economy and avert food crisis.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2014.

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ali | 8 years ago | Reply

Although its true that our yields per acres would reduce by the percentage mentioned.However it is also to be seen that our seed varieties and subsistence farming already result in one third of normal yields as compared to worldwide benchmarks.If we use better seeds and agriculture methods we can still outgrow the fall in yields.Using more drought resistant seed varieties is important .The bulk of our fertiliser usage is Urea.its true that the gas supplied for urea is subsidised however this fertiliser reaches the farmer through chain of middle men and their profits and charges mean the core agriculture sector doesnt always get relief from this subsidy. We must diverisfy fertiser usage from urea anf DAP to ptash based fertilisers that can sustain crops at lesser irrigation water than usual

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