IMPROVING GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT TO ENHANCE AGRICULTURE AND FARMING LIVELIHOODS IN PAKISTAN

The Government of Australia in collaboration with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has launched the “Australian Water Programme for Pakistan” under which several initiatives are underway. One such initiative is the project titled "Improving ground water management to enhance agriculture and farming livelihoods in Pakistan.” The core of this project is collaboration through partnerships to address the complexity of achieving effective and fair groundwater management for social, economic and environmental benefits.

Electricity subsidisation, inefficient irrigation practices and lack of regulation creates a situation throughout Pakistan where water use efficiency is a low priority and groundwater extraction is pursued unregulated in order to maximise profits. Lack of reputable and extensive data and information, lack of awareness about groundwater management at all levels and socio-political and institutional constraints compound the challenge to maintain productive and sustainable groundwater use.
The complexity and size of the challenge requires an integrated approach towards sustainable management of groundwater to enhance productivity and thereby farmers livelihoods. Integrated management also requires more participatory governance arrangements to enable groundwater users and other relevant stakeholder communities to more effectively engage in the knowledge gathering and decision making processes determining sustainable and fair use of groundwater (Mitchell et al., 2012).

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The aim of this project is to build the capacity of researchers, farmers, farming communities and relevant government and non-government agencies to improve groundwater management in ways that enhance farming family livelihoods in Pakistan.
Building capacity means building skills, knowledge and confidence, and the provision of tools and processes. Enhancing farming livelihoods includes ensuring long-term sustainability of agriculture and fairness of consideration across the socio-political spectrum.

The specific project objectives are to:

  1. Develop and articulate a shared understanding of sustainable groundwater use for agriculture and the need for improved management in Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh provinces.
  2. Develop, with collaborating stakeholders in each case study, groundwater management tools and options that have the potential to enhance livelihoods of farming families.
  3. Enhance capacity and institutional arrangements for post project adoption of tools and options developed in Objective 2 by collaborating stakeholder organisations.

Electricity subsidisation, inefficient irrigation practices and lack of regulation creates a situation throughout Pakistan where water use efficiency is a low priority and groundwater extraction is pursued unregulated in order to maximise profits. Lack of reputable and extensive data and information, lack of awareness about groundwater management at all levels and socio-political and institutional constraints compound the challenge to maintain productive and sustainable groundwater use.
The complexity and size of the challenge requires an integrated approach towards sustainable management of groundwater to enhance productivity and thereby farmers livelihoods. Integrated management also requires more participatory governance arrangements to enable groundwater users and other relevant stakeholder communities to more effectively engage in the knowledge gathering and decision making processes determining sustainable and fair use of groundwater (Mitchell et al., 2012).

Research Strategy and Partnerships

The project will use a case study approach to enable in-depth understanding of particular groundwater systems and associated socio-political contexts, and to engage and build capacity of groundwater managers and users in each case study context through collaboration. The three provinces selected for the case study investigations represent a diversity of groundwater use and conditions due to their different hydrogeological settings, but they provide similar opportunities to enhance agriculture and livelihood outcomes through improved groundwater management. This case study approach will necessarily rely on maximising participation of Pakistani-based researchers and agency staff, including an extended number of partners and other collaborating stakeholder organisations in each case study location.

A crucial aspect to the case study approach is to enable collaborating stakeholders to develop shared ownership of how the research is defined and delivered in each case study context. This requires an initial period where the research strategy prioritises learning by the research team about the case study contexts and associated information exchange. During the first six to twelve months of the project, we will use selected established participatory appraisal methods to engage stakeholders and research end users in explaining the case study context, defining the case study problems to address, and guiding how the research activities will be delivered.

The project also builds on the knowledge base of two other ACIAR initiatives in Pakistan: (1) improved learning approaches to facilitate farmer irrigation skills in Pakistan (LWR/2014/074); and (2) modernising water management institutions to achieve water security and poverty reduction (ADP/2014/045). Together these represent a combined initiative to enhance sustainable water productivity and rural livelihoods by improving knowledge and skills of farmers and institutions in Pakistan. The project also complements the DFAT project on surface water modelling in the Indus Basin. The focus on groundwater and farmer livelihoods in this project fills an important strategic gap.

Intended Outputs and Outcomes

The main outputs of this project will be a suite of groundwater modelling, monitoring and reporting tools, improved cropping and water management options, as well as research reports, research papers, databases, and policy briefs to guide the development of more sustainable groundwater management practices. Networks and forums for exchanging information and skills will form an additional output.

The tools and options are expected to optimise use of scarce groundwater resources by enhancing recharge to aquifers and better managing groundwater demand. This will reduce adverse salinity and sodicity impacts, achieve more profitable and sustainable agricultural practices, and thus benefit farming families.
Increased community awareness of the need for improved groundwater management may also assist farming families explore water distribution and access equity issues. There will also be environmental benefits from reduced land and water salinisation as groundwater use becomes better managed.
Local partner organisations and researchers will benefit through capacity building and co- learning associated with their participation, and graduate students will be provided with research opportunities.

Increased capacity, awareness and the establishment of forums will also provide a basis for catalysing further investment to enhance groundwater management in Pakistan that is beyond the scope of this project. The project team will help identify such opportunities as part of its ongoing evaluation of project outputs and outcomes.
Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society will lead the project, supported by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), International Centre for Agriculture research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA),University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), PMAS Arid Agricultural University Rawalpindi (UAAR), International Waterlogging and Salinity Research Institute (IWASRI), Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering and Management (BUITEMS), Sindh Agriculture University (SAU), NED University of Engineering and Technology, Mehran University, and the provincial irrigation departments of Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh.

A Summary of Our Activities

Entrenching shared commitment and participation (Objective 1)
Our project uses a participatory approach focused on case studies across three provinces: Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh. The project is a partnership between Pakistan and Australian people, with the Pakistani partners playing key roles in the co-ordination and on ground activities.  These activities are designed to build skills, knowledge and confidence to manage groundwater among our partners and collaborators, including the communitiesand farming families in our six case studies.
Our six case studies are:

  1. Balochistan: Malikyar and Zarghoon in the severely groundwater depleted Pishin Lora Basin, near Quetta, Balochistan.
  2. Punjab: The 1R and 11L distributaries of the Lower Bari Doab Command area, near Okara and Sahiwal respectively.
  3. Sindh: The Cheeho distributary in NaushahroFeroze district and Malwa distributary in Shaheed Benazirabad (formerly Nawabshah) district.

These case studies were identified using participatory “co-inquiry” approaches involving all our partners at provincial level making decisions together and learning together with potential case study communities. The “co-inquiry” approaches included strategies to engage women, and these gender-related “co-inquiry” activities will be ongoing for the duration of the project.
Through forums established in all our case studies, we will:

  1. Build networks, establish relationships and interact with farming families.
  2. Identify on-farm sites and activities.
  3. Implement best practice farmer education strategies and materials related to groundwater management.
  4. Engage project participants in evaluating project progress.

Developing tools, strategies and options (Objective 2) and ensuring legacy (Objective 3)
We have been working with our partners to develop various groundwater management and decision support tools. Particularly important partners are the three irrigation departments from Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh. These government departments will be responsible for project legacy, ensuring that the tools, strategies and options developed within the project will be maintained and disseminated to others.
These tools, strategies and options include:

  1. Collation, analysis, and management of data:
    1. Groundwater monitoring and field data collation.
    2. Household level socio-economic data collection using mobile devices.
  2. Compiling and demonstrating water efficient agricultural best practice techniques, and identification of specific best practice interventions to trial in case study areas.
  3. Capacity development of irrigation departments and universities in groundwater modelling and management of groundwater resources.
  4. Using models for understanding and decision making:
    1. Modelling flow and transport of groundwater at sub-regional scale.
    2. Using economic models to develop simulations of changed economic conditions resulting from potential interventions.
  5. Using models to intervene:
    1. Developing strategies to use groundwater and economicmodels for decision support related to groundwater use, quality management, soil salinity, environment and other farming family livelihood considerations.
    2. Using groundwater and economic modelstogether to develop scenarios related to implementation of interventions in case study areas.
    3. Developing aquifer stress warning mechanisms, and providing associated training to enable disseminated uptake.
  6. Developing and testing mobile and web applications to enhance use and uptake of above tools, including among farming families.
  7. Training and practice in:
    1. Using mobile devices for socio economic survey date collection.
    2. Using GIS and necessary software.

Because these tools, strategies and options are being developed with our partners, there is a major emphasis on ensuring staff of our partner organisations are well trained, and able to train others.
Depending on the interest of our partners and case study collaborators, we may also explore issues related to:

  1. Feasibility of water conservation options (such as managed aquifer recharge).
  2. Use of solar power for pumping.
  3. Groundwater markets.

All activities are being undertaken by Pakistan partners and to ensure increased capacity is in place to continue the work after the end of the project.