Potohar has become the first region of the country to send grapes to markets before the advent of the monsoon season. The fruit usually hits the market in early September. A visit to various farms in Chakwal district shows fruit-bearing grape plants spread over scores of acres fed by drip irrigation.
The Director of Barani Agricultural Research Institute in Chakwal, Dr Muhammad Tariq, was very hopeful about the region’s fruits’ yield. He estimated that grapes are now grown over 2,000 acres coupled with 2,500 acres of olive trees. The trend is gaining momentum.
The drip irrigation project has started to revolutionise Punjab’s agriculture
Four new grape varieties are under trial cultivation and will be introduced from next season. These high-yielding, early maturing and seedless varieties — Autumn Royal, Prinson, Early White and Sultanin, King Ruby (seedless) and Priest (seeded) ‑ have already hit the markets.
Dr Tariq says the climate in the region is mild, pest pressure is minimal while soil interaction is environmentally suitable. Peach from the region will hit the market in June much ahead of its Swat counterpart. The research institute is currently undertaking trials to grow high value crops of pistachio, avocado and chikoo.
Dr Tariq revealed that a rain harvesting project will be launched in Potohar region soon, for which a command area of five acres is being developed. The project will develop solar irrigation and drip irrigation using conserved rain water.
The Punjab government has decided to develop the Potohar region into an olive valley. The region grows 10pc of total wheat production of the country whereas it is also home to over 90pc production of groundnut.
Experience with the drip irrigation system has shown that it reduces input cost by 20-35pc, increases yields by 20-100pc, lowers irrigation labour up to 30pc, diversifies cropping patterns and saves up to 75pc water.
The On-Farm Water Management launched the drip irrigation project with a soft World Bank loan of $250m. According to Director-General of Punjab Agriculture Department, Raees Ahmad Raees, the World Bank has been asked to extend the project till 2021, and grant an additional loan of $200m for the project.
So far, out of the total allocation of $250m, an amount of $160m has been disbursed. The total cost of the project is $423m whereas farmers’ share is $173m.
The direct beneficiaries of project would be about 650,000 farmers’ families or about 4.5m people.
The project includes installation of high efficiency irrigation systems; strengthening of laser land levelling services in the private sector; improvement of water courses in canal and non-canal commanded areas; and adoption and promotion of modern irrigation technologies and practices.
The project’s target are: installation of drip and sprinkler irrigation systems on 120,000 acres; provision of 3,000 laser units to farmers; improvement of 5,500 unimproved canal area watercourses; and rehabilitation of 2,000 irrigation schemes outside canal commands.
The farmers carry 40pc of the cost of material, labour and equipment installation, while the government finances 60pc of such costs including administrative expenses.
A beneficiary farmer, Muhammad Niaz, who owns 6.85 acres on which he grows grapes and citrus fruits, pleaded the 40pc share of farmers in expenses be reduced to 20pc for those applying the drip irrigation technology.
The drip irrigation project is to be extended to all the 36 districts of the province. During the current fiscal year, 10,000 acres will be brought under drip irrigation. So far, half of the target has been achieved, while remaining will be completed by the end of June, Raees Ahmed said.
According to Raees, results of drip irrigation project in the four districts of Potohar — Rawalpindi, Attock, Jhelum and Chakwal — are very encouraging. The drip irrigation project has started to revolutionise agriculture in the southern part of the province. Farmers are given a subsidy of Rs50,000 for creating water reservoir per acre from the World Bank loan.
The World Bank is also considering a Potohar-specific project focusing on water storage schemes and irrigation.
Published in Dawn