HYDERABAD    -     Some local public and private organisations have introduced a new technology called sensors to measure and monitor the water flow at the barrages, canals, distributaries and watercourses.

It is for the first time that the sensors are being installed at head, middle and tail of the Mir minor, Daulatpur, Saangro and Belharo minors and distributaries of the Nara Canal system under the supervision of a designated Farmers Organization (FOs).

These devices will be used to monitor and measure the depth and flow rate in collaboration with farmer organizations, said Prof Dr Abdul Latif Qureshi, sectional head Hydraulics, Irrigation and Drainage at US-Pak Center for Advanced Studies in Water (USPCAS-W) Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) Jamshoro while discussing with farmers.

These sensors are being installed with the joint collaboration of MUET, Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA), Nara Canal Area Water Board and Research Development Foundation (RDF) with the technical support of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and The University of Utah.

He informed that the first sensor was installed at Jamrao West Branch at 30th mile with the technical support from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore.

Prof Qureshi while discussing the technology at Mir minor in Mirpurkhas district sensitised the farmers about the sensor. He said that it can be linked to the irrigation tax collection mechanism on the basis of this system to see how much water is being used by the farmers. There is negligible maintenance cost for this device, he added.

He called upon the growers and farmer organisations to adapt this facility to have update knowledge about the availability of irrigation water. He said that the world nations have transferred this technology to growers’ institutions so they may get benefit in terms of measurement, monitoring and judicious distribution of water.

Prof Qureshi leads the newly emerging research cadre comprising students from USPCAS-W at MUET, Jamshoro, who travel frequently to the remote areas to discuss with community farmers for collecting information, identify problems and design recommendations. He sees this device a better option to monitor water flow and avoid man-made water crises.

Solar-powered sensor has different functions ranging from showing data of the water level at water bodies, its quality, soil moisture, air and temperature.

During the meeting, the local growers raised questions regarding the functioning and transparency, as how and what they can measure and monitor where as there is water scarcity in the area.

They feared that certain officials and influential growers may manipulate the system, as they have already experienced it earlier. In this regard, they showed doubts about transparency of the new technology.

Prof Qureshi replied that sensor is an automated irrigation management system, which will accurately measure and transmit water level and flow of the water body. The data will be monitored through advanced computer networks. The system will collect data from automated sensor to precisely manage water level and flow. Thus, there is no question of manipulation or discrimination.

Dr Qureshi said traditional infrastructure, including manual water gates and mechanical water level measurement is a question mark in digital era and cannot provide the level of accuracy or control necessary to reduce waste and fairly distribute scarce water resources to the agriculture and maintain biodiversity as compare to technology. Mir minor has 4,070 acre command area, where farmers cultivate cotton, chilli, sugarcane and vegetables, which in some areas they could not manage because of uncertain water situation.

Traditionally, the tail-end farmers have haunting experiences of rain-flood 2011, which had devastated their lands and crops. They have lost fruit orchards, standing on hundreds of acres of land.

Muhammad Boota, a small scale tail-end farmer at Mir minor said he has cultivated cotton on only two acres of the land out of his nine-acre piece due to uncertain situation of the water distribution. He has received hardly 30 maunds of cotton from two acres, which he believes is not enough to recover expenses as he has spent Rs 24,000 on cultivation per acre. The productivity is different at head and tail-end because of water shortage. He also asked questions during the discussion about the system so he may get benefit.

However, Abid Chaudhry, an office-bearer of Mir minor Farmers Organization (FO) was quite optimistic and he is in favour of this new technology for measuring the flow in the minor. He assured his support for the smooth run of this monitor system of the irrigation water.

He believes that presently there is only 15 to 20 percent water shortfall in the entire Nara Canal system, under which about 182 channels are flowing on rotation, mostly weekly basis. In some cases farmers get their turn a little late, ranging from 10 to 15 days, which in fact causing problems for them.

Chaudhry said in fact tail-end farmers are experiencing shortfall in water for their crops for many years, the FO is working to overcome these problems. After installation of the sensors at head middle and tail of the Mir minor, the FOs will have the information through monitoring system, which they can pass on to all water users in their areas.

He said FOs were responsible for collecting irrigation tax from water users.

The collected amount will be used on maintenance of the irrigation system within its jurisdiction.

During the field visits some soil moisture sensors were installed at two different sites of Mir minor and Daulatpur distributary command area. These will be used to monitor soil moisture and the soil temperature.

Hizbullah Mangrio spokesperson of SIDA said they have adopted participatory approach to work on irrigation reforms, educating farmers with new technologies to have transparent irrigation distribution system. They work in collaboration with water users, academia, researchers and different non-governmental organizations.

He said that besides showing data of small-scale streams and soil moisture, the sensors can be used in sophisticated networks to monitor rivers to monitor flooding and show sea level and tidal actions. He said they are motivating farmers through their strong networks to adopt new technology in irrigation water system to improve crops yield.

He said earlier collecting irrigation tax was quite difficult due to many reasons. But now after formation of the farmers organisations it is responsibility of farmers to force and collect irrigation tax from members and utilise the same amount on maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure.