Pakistan is one of those countries which have been honored with countless blessing of nature. The country has a lot of accumulations of natural resources; while on the other hand, it has a variety of four seasons which help the population to enjoy all the tastes of natural lifestyle. The most beautiful gift of nature for this part of land is its fertile fields which are irrigated through a colossal network of irrigation. This contiguous network is helping to fulfill the water needs of agriculture and livestock in full swing even after more than hundred years after its inception.
The idea to develop irrigation system in the subcontinent was to provide water for the purpose of agriculture in cultivated lands as well as to make the barren lands fertile. For this purpose, local cultivators were provided the pieces of land on lease in different areas with the condition that they will be bound to develop the infertile lands within a set period of time.
The irrigation system in Punjab has been set up under a well thought-out plan to provide water for agronomy. This system has been highly efficient for decades but unfortunately, with the passage of time, it has become insufficient to fulfill the foodstuff needs of growing population in Pakistan. One of the primary reasons of system’s inefficiency has been considered the lack of resources. Keeping in view the ground realities, the experts decided to include the stakeholder of irrigation system in its management. The government considered the matter as its priority and the then Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif in 1997 decided to make the farming community an integral part of irrigation management. It was a milestone to strengthen the concept of public private partnership in the rural areas of Pakistan. Muhammad Sahahbaz Sahrif got the Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority Act 1997 passed through Assembly and founded a new organization named Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA). The participation of beneficiaries in water management is not the new occurrence in Pakistan this experience has proved its results in many countries of the world. The Turkish, Egyptian, Mexican and Japanese models of participatory irrigation management are some of the successful examples in this regard. It would not be out of question to state that any program cannot produce desired result without the inception of its beneficiaries. The governmental decision of participatory irrigation management was highly eulogized by the farming community of Punjab with the declaration to prove the government trust bestowed upon it.
Under the spirit of irrigation sector reforms program in Punjab, PIDA established Pilot Area Water Board at Lower Chenab Canal (East) Circle Faisalabad where 85 Farmer Organizations were established in 2005 at distributary canal level equipped with required capacity. These organizations were also provided with institutional support in technical, management and revenue collection aspects of irrigation mechanism. These organizations showed remarkable results in curtailing water theft and the dispute resolutions of farmers at their doorsteps. Similarly, the government also got rid of huge administrative expenditures on the maintenance of these water channels. It resulted because the farmer organizations were also given the mandate to collect water charges from water users and maintain their canals on self-help basis. The pilot farmer organizations completed their three years tenure successfully and later on new farmer organizations were elected for another term of three years and performed their functions as per rules and regulations.
The PIDA authorities regularly monitor the functioning of farmer organizations which helps in framing the further policy regarding participatory irrigation management model as well as to enhance their professional capacity.
After the experiences of pilot area water board, the government decided to enhance the irrigation sector reforms program and established 67 farmer organizations in Lower Chenab Canal (West) Area Water Board Faisalabad, 69 in Bahawalnagar Area Water Board and 52 in Lower Bari Doab Canal Area Water Board, Sahiwal. Similarly, government especially focused on the southern areas of Punjab and given participation to farmers in irrigation management by establishing 120 organizations in the area water board of Dera Jaat Canal Circle, Dera Ghazi Khan. These organizations are responsible for the maintenance of their canals, equitable distribution of water, collection of water charges and dispute resolutions. The farmer organizations have ushered in a new revolution in the rural areas; they have developed a sense of ownership and pride among the stakeholders with the realization that the irrigation system had been set up in the interest of farming community which is serving to meet the food needs of the whole of Pakistan. Various policy makers have termed the Chief Minister Shahbaz Shirif’s role as pivotal in ensuring farmers’ participation in irrigation management and observed that the Punjab government has done a marvelous job by organizing the rural community through the platform of farmer organizations. It helped in reconstruction and rehabilitation of canal infrastructure. Government reforms have also made necessary capacity building of the rural population.
It is pertinent to mention here that government is well aware to enhance and maintain the efficiency of irrigation network according to changing needs of time. In this regard, Lower Chenab Canal Rehabilitation Project has recently been completed with the cost of Rs. 17000 millions. Under this project, lining work of main and branch canals in selective areas has also been completed. Similarly, Punjab Irrigation System Improvement Project (PISIP) is fast underway in collaboration with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to improve the distributary canals in the selective areas of Faisalabad, Bahawalnagar and Dera Ghazi Khan Canal Zones. This project also has helped to train the local human resource involved in the betterment of irrigation infrastructure and the introduction of modern water saving techniques. An amount of Rs. 6000 million will be incurred under this project. On the other hand, Punjab has the oldest irrigation system known as Lower Bari Doab Canal which is being improved and rehabilitated with the financial cooperation of Rs. 17000 million from Asian Development Bank. The government is of the view that after the completion of these mega projects, the irrigation system of Punjab will be able to produce desired results in the supply of water up to tail ends of distributaries and the agro production will also be enhanced manifold.
It is expected that irrigation sector reforms program will contribute a lot in fulfilling the food needs of the whole population of the country and the dream of food autarky will be fulfilled.