Background

Initiation of the OFWM Project was preceded by more than twenty years of research on various aspects of irrigated agriculture in Pakistan. The research conducted by Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) at the Mona Experimental Station in Punjab with assistance of Colorado State University, showed alarming extent of water losses from deteriorated watercourses and inefficient irrigation practices on the farm for the first time. These early studies resulted in diagnosing huge water conveyance losses in the watercourses which on an average are 40-50% of water delivered at the outlet (i.e. about half of the flow at the mogha did not reach the fields). Huge water wastage from the watercourse commands, diagnosed by these research studies, highlighted the urgent need to overcome this acute problem. Moreover, through experiments at Mona, new methods were developed and tested to improve watercourses through properly designed channels, partial concrete lining and installation of concrete turn out structures called nuccas to eliminate cutting of watercourse banks.

Constraints

After facing the following constraints, it was enormously realized that a strategy should be designed for Water Management at farm level:

Flood Irrigation

Flooding is the most common irrigation method practiced by the farmers and its efficiency is not more than 50 percent. Such low irrigation efficiencies at farm level are major constraints in attaining potential production from otherwise highly productive agricultural lands. In addition, more than 40 percent of canal water is lost between mogha outlet and farmers’ fields due to poor condition of tertiary conveyance system (watercourses). The crop water requirements are not met timely because of supply based irrigation water delivery, which negatively affects the overall agricultural production.

   

Uneven Fields

A significant (20 to 25%) amount of irrigation water is lost during its application due to uneven fields and poor farm designing. This leads to excessive application to low-lying areas and under-irrigation of higher spots. Over-irrigation not only leaches soluble nutrients from the crop root zone thus making the soil less productive but it also degrades groundwater quality. Whereas under-irrigation of elevated parts of the fields results in accumulation of salts in patches besides causing water stress and injurious effects of the applied fertilizer.

   

Irrigation Inefficiency

The total surface water allocation for the Punjab as per Water Accord 1991 is 41.82 million hectare meters (55.54 MAF). There are, however, huge water losses in the distribution network comprising of main/branch canals, distributaries, minors, and tertiary conveyance systems comprising of more than 58,000 watercourses. In addition, there are also substantial water losses (30-35%) at the farm level. The surface water available at the farm gate is only 16-19 million hectare meters (22-25 MAF) that is highly insufficient for sustainable irrigated agriculture.

The groundwater abstraction is about 22-26 million hectare meters (30-35 MAF) to makeup shortage of the surface supplies. The water budget of the Punjab irrigation system is shown below. It has, therefore, become imperative to devise holistic on farm water management (OFWM) approach for utilizing the scarcely available water more effectively and efficiently at the farm level.

Punjab Water Budget

First Project 

 

In October 1976, the first On Farm Water Management (OFWM) Project was launched as a five year pilot program with assistance of United States Assistance for International Development (USAID) for farm level participatory conservation of irrigation water through improvements in conveyance & application efficiencies and water productivity. The major objective of the project was to increase overall irrigation efficiency through improvement of community watercourses, precision land levelling of farmers' fields, and adoption of advanced irrigation agronomic techniques. Its ultimate goal was to foster "increased agricultural production and improved income for the low income farmers in Pakistan.

This scheme was completed during 1979-80, which was followed by various OFWM” projects in the entire province with the financial assistance of international donor agencies viz-a-viz World Bank, IDA, IFAD, OECF, Japan, ADB, and FAO. Because of its limited scope and duration the project was not intended to achieve a significant increase in national food production in its own right. It was rather to serve as a demonstration in selected areas for increased food production and income from improved water management. An important sub-goal of the project was the achievement of appreciation from Government of Pakistan of the value of OFWM as a concept in its agricultural planning, evidence of which would be inclusion of OFWM in national planning, increased budgetary support and subsequent replication of the project.