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WATER LOGGING AND SALINITY

Water logging, salinity, and non-agricultural uses are squeezing Pakistan's


precious arable lands and posing serious threat to the agriculture sector and
nation's food security. They estimate that everyday approximately 500 acres (1
acre = 4,840 square yards) of farmland is taken out of agriculture by the
expansion of settlements, roads, factories and many other non-agricultural
activities in the country

Water requirements and area under different crops. CROP WATER REQUIREMENT PER ACRE
PER YEAR 33 cm 65 cm 90 cm 133 cm 35 cm PER CENT OF TOTAL CROPPED AREA 40 % 13 %
11 % 4% 4%

Wheat Cotton Rice Sugarcane Maize

They predict that if this trend continues then after every decade approximately a
million acre or more of crop land would be taken out of agriculture in our country
which is far more than other countries of the region. They say that arable land is
a basic and major resource for the production of human food. But it seems that the
expansion of human population and human activities are reducing the availability
of land, suitable for food production at an alarming rate. Expanding population
demands more food on one side and devours agricultural land on the other side,
which is a matter of great concern for everyone. They say that out of total lands
area, 80 million hectares, 21 million hectares is cultivable. On the one hand, the
nation needs more food to fulfill the demands of its increasing population while
on the other hand, each year the cultivable commanded area (CCA) is decreasing due
to this twin menace of water logging and salinity. According to the estimates made
by Soil Survey of Pakistan, the total extent of salt affected soils in the Indus
Plain is more than 15 million acres out of which 7.8 million acres exist within
the cultivable area. This problem has destroyed millions of acres of farmland in
the country. Water logging and deposition of whitish crust of salts are changing
farmland into unproductive land and many areas; the crop fields are reduces
considerably.
Soil scientists say that during every five minutes, one acre fertile farmland is
taken out from agriculture, because of this problem. Over the years, about 40 per
cent of the irrigated cropping land in Pakistan, which produces around 90 per cent
of the total agricultural output of the country, has come under water logging.
This makes the land non-cultivable and poses a serious threat to the agriculture
sector and to the country, as agriculture is the bloodline of Pakistan's economy.
These maladies have overlapped over more than 6 million hectares in the country.
These two problems are inter-linked and co-exist at most of the places. Experts'
reports say that the impact of water logging on crop yields is startling. A
decrease in the depth of water level within five feet inhibits root growth and
causes yields of all major crops to decline rapidly. The impact of salinity on
agriculture productivity is similarly severe, robbing Pakistan of about 25 per
cent of its potential production of major crops. It may be added that farming is
Pakistan's largest economic activity. Agriculture and small-scale forestry and
fishing contributed 25 percent of GDP and employed 40 percent of the labor force.
Agricultural products, especially cotton yarn, cotton cloth, raw cotton, and rice,
are important exports. Although there is agricultural activity in all areas of
Pakistan, most crops are grown in the Indus River plain in Punjab and Sindh.
Considerable development and expansion of output has occurred since the early
1960s; however, the country is still far from realizing the large potential yield
that the well-irrigated and fertile soil from the Indus irrigation system could
produce About 48 million hectares, or 60 percent, is often classified as unusable
for forestry or agriculture consists mostly of deserts, mountain slopes, and urban
settlements. Thus, estimates of grazing land vary widely-between 10 percent and 70
percent of the total area. Some scientists categorize almost all of arid
Baluchistan as range land for foraging livestock. Around 70 percent of the cropped
area is in Punjab, followed by perhaps 20 percent in Sindh, less than 10 percent
in the North West Frontier Province, and only 1 percent in Baluchistan. They say
that considering that 80 per cent of Pakistan's cultivated area of about 17
million hectares is irrigated network, the Indus River irrigation system, and the
threat to agriculture is not just serious, it is grim and could result in emptying
the country's food basket. Implications of water logging and salinity can be
described in one word: "disastrous."

CAUSES OF WATER LOGGING AND SALINITY AND ITS CONTROL


Water logging and salinization are major impediment to the sustainability of
irrigated lands and livelihoods of the farmers, especially the smallholders, in
the affected areas of the Indus Basin. These problems are the result of a
multitude of factors, including seepage from unlined earthen canals system,
inadequate provision of surface and subsurface drainage, poor water management
practices, insufficient water supplies and use of poor quality groundwater for
irrigation. About 6.3 million ha are affected by different levels and types of
salinity, out of which nearly half are under irrigated agriculture. Since the
early 1960s, several efforts have been made to improve the management of salt-
affected and water-logged soils. These include lowering groundwater levels through
deep tube wells, leaching of salts by excess irrigation, application of chemical
amendments (e.g. gypsum, acids, organic matter), and the use of biological and
physical methods. However, in spite of huge investments, the results have in
general been disappointing and the problems of water logging and salinity persist.
This paper reviews sources, causes and extent of salinity and water logging
problems in the Indus Basin. Measures taken to overcome these problems over the
last four decades are also discussed. The results reveal that the installed
drainage systems were initially successful in lowering groundwater table and
reducing salinity in affected areas. However, poor operation and maintenance of
these systems and provision of inadequate facilities for the disposal of saline
drainage effluent resulted in limited overall success. The paper suggests that to
ensure the sustainability of irrigated agriculture in the Indus Basin, technical
and financial support is needed and enhanced institutional arrangements including
coordination among different federal and provincial government agencies to resolve
inter-provincial water allocation and water related issues is required.

MALIK FARRUKH NOUMAN 0300-9791506 FARRUKH.NOUMAN@LIVE.COM