LAHORE          -          Speakers at a conference on ‘Water Productivity in Agriculture – the role of Technology and Private Sector’ emphasised the importance of leveraging appropriate technology in achieving more crops per drop and to save water per unit of production. They said that Pakistan does not lack talent and research. But the uptake of available knowledge by the commercial sector is weak because they do not see an incentive to save water in their production process.

Pakistan is a water economy with 80% of the country’s exports depending on water. The government manages a huge irrigation system with 107,000 watercourses stretching to 1.6 million kilometres irrigating about 35 million acres of land with 44 canal systems and water reservoirs providing water at farmers’ doorsteps. Despite so much cost investment and dependence of revenues on water, water is a free good for its users in Pakistan. Even the cost of maintenance of the state-owned water management system is not recovered, the speakers observed.

The Conference held here on Tuesday was organized by Helvetas Swiss Inter-cooperation. Several eminent water experts, researchers, commercial agro-based companies and experts, farmers and students joined the conference while Mohsin Laghari, Provincial Minister for Irrigation and Drainage was the chief guest.

Speakers further observed that agriculture is the largest user of water in the country (about 90%) is water subsidized. There are several companies whose business depends on agro-based products. Experts say that per unit productivity of water in agriculture is very low in Pakistan compared to other countries. For instance, ‘we grew 0.13 kg of cereal per cubic meter of water (m³) compared to 1.56 kg/m³ in the USA, 0.82 kg/m³ in China and 0.39 kg/m³ in India. Rice, Pakistan’s 2nd most important economic crop after cotton has the 4th highest rate of water-use in the world. It simply means that the m³ of water used per unit of GDP – is the world’s fourth-highest. This shows that Pakistan’s economy is highly water-intensive,’ they said.

Despite this liberal use (or overuse of water), Pakistan’s economy is not doing better than countries which have less water availability from nature. Pakistan stands 35th in the world in term of total renewable water resources (KM3). It means that only 34 countries are better than Pakistan out of a total of 171 countries. The countries located much lower in the ladder include Turkey (41), France (42), Sweden (46), Spain (62), Netherlands (72), Portugal (79) Israel (153) just to name few. All these economies are far better than Pakistan’s and are largely dependent on agriculture and livestock. The same countries are analysed for their per-capita access to freshwater: Pakistan as of today stands around 1000m³ per capita when compared to Turkey (549), France (512), Sweden (286), Spain (730), Netherlands (642), Portugal (817), and Israel (282). Thus, lack of water is not an acceptable argument as an excuse to lack of progress in the agricultural economy.

Speakers called for changing this attitude by showing the public and private sector that water efficiency has a business case for the companies, farmers, and government. The experts emphasised on the role of the private sector in achieving water efficiency by investing in technology and helping corporate farmers to apply technology. This is not because the private sector is obliged to do due to environmental or welfare argument. It is because their business will not sustain in the long run if water runs out due to lack of their responsible behaviour. This is a business sustainability argument. The government, on the other hand, needs to recognize the private sector (and commercial farmers) as a partner in achieving water-efficient agriculture. If this is not done at the earliest, the pressure on existing water supply systems will only rise and the supply-demands deficit will further widen resulting in the decline of revenues.

The Punjab Minister for Irrigation in his remarks appreciated the theme of the conference and emphasised the need for promoting public-private partnership in agriculture. He shared that his government is committed to improving ease of doing businesses and promoting the role of the private sector in agriculture. He appreciated Helvetas’ consistent effort since 2015 in highlighting the topic of water efficiency in commercial agriculture and encouraging collaboration among multiple actors.