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27 Dec 2019 | Indus Basin Initiative

When water flows up: How the hydro ram pump can potentially increase arable land size in Gilgit-Baltistan

Ajaz Ali

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Water-lifting technology using hydro-ram pumps, uphill water tanks, and gravity-fed drip irrigation system (Source Renewable World)

Farmers in Gilgit-Baltistan have the odds stacked against them. The local economy lags behind other provinces in Pakistan because despite people’s considerable dependence on agriculture, conditions are not conducive: limited arable land and arid landscapes; small landholdings (<0.73 ha on average per landowner) dominated by subsistence agriculture; dwindling irrigation supplies; and seasonal shifts due to climate change. Under these circumstances, agricultural productivity is neither enough to feed the rapidly growing population nor sufficient to meet market demands. For mountain communities in Gilgit-Baltistan to ensure their food security and enhance their livelihoods, the arable land area needs to be expanded through innovative and efficient water resource management technologies and improved farming practices. Hydro ram pumps could be the solution to allay farming woes in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Inefficient on-farm water management techniques aggravate the situation by causing water losses and lower yields. Local farmers have also not received institutional support to incorporate innovative solutions for improved agriculture, water use, and food and energy management. The dire agriculture situation is compounded by labour shortages as a result of high out-migration among men (41%), insufficient research and development, and lack of agricultural extension services.

River water lifting has therefore become inevitable in the wake of water scarcity and climate change. The hydro ram pump is a self-actuating river water-lifting pump that lifts water from a position near the water source to a higher location. It is particularly suited to Gilgit-Baltistan, where swathes of land are left unirrigated precisely because water sources are downhill. Hydro ram pumps do not require any source of energy or fuel other than the kinetic energy of the water itself, need minimal annual maintenance, and also work in streams with higher sediment or salt concentrations.

To help mountain communities in Gilgit-Baltistan use innovative water resource management technologies and practices, ICIMOD joined hands with the World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF-Pakistan) in 2015 to identify and pilot some innovative technologies. To this end, a local-level partners’ consortium led by WWF-Pakistan was established, harnessing the experiences and expertise of the following member organizations: Pakistan Council of Research on Water Resources (PCRWR), Mountain Agricultural Research Centre (MARC), Karakoram International University (KIU), and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH). The consortium piloted many technologies and practices, including solar pump for water lifting, community-based flood early warning system, alley cropping, mulching, and high-efficiency drip irrigation system. Among such technologies, the hydro ram pump has been very well received by farming communities in Pakistan.

Barren land converted into agricultural land through the water lifting technology in Gilgit-Baltistan (Photo Ajaz AliICIMOD)
Barren land converted into agricultural land through the water lifting technology in Gilgit-Baltistan (Photo Ajaz AliICIMOD)

 

The ICIMOD-led partners’ consortium piloted the hydro ram pump in Khyber, Gojal, in Hunza in 2018. The Khyber community governs 33,198 hectares of land, out of which only 217 hectares is under cultivation and irrigated by glacier melt. To expand the area under cultivation, the community identified a 2.5-acre abandoned patch of land situated about 50–60 feet higher than the Karimabad water channel, to be irrigated via the hydro ram pump. The pump is installed at the bank of the Khunjerab River to lift water about 170 feet to a 4,000-litre water tank. The water is dispersed through gravity-fed drip irrigation to an apple orchard and vegetable farm, cultivated using alley cropping.

The community has handed over ownership of the pilot site to the Khyber Women’s Organization, a women farmers’ group. Returns from the apple orchard will take time, but the vegetables will soon contribute to household consumption and generate income from sale in nearby markets.

Hajat Baigum, President of the Khyber Women’s Organization, recognizes the impact of the piloted technology: “The hydro ram pump functions day and night, lifting water uphill. It has been so beneficial to us that we have bought an additional pump from our own resources. Our organization has planted 500 Fuji apple plants, and we are growing vegetables using lifted water distributed through drip irrigation for the first time. The income will be distributed among all women evenly.”

The hydro ram pump clearly has huge potential to be out-scaled throughout Gilgit-Baltistan. The Federal Ministry of National Food Security and Research has accordingly designed the PKR 219 million “National programme for enhancing command area of small and mini dams in Barani areas of Pakistan”, which integrates lessons from pilot interventions for upscaling throughout Gilgit-Baltistan. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has also funded WWF-Pakistan to outscale these technologies in six additional districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. There are many other development organizations that have shown interest in these technologies, including The Asia Foundation and the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Economic Transformation Initiative.

The impact of a relatively simple technology on the livelihoods of mountain communities is resounding. Lessons from the pilot intervention can be integrated in and outscaled through governmental and non-governmental development programmes. The government can also align relevant polices and strategies to promote contemporary innovative technologies and practices for the efficient use of the available natural resources, thereby enhancing the well-being of mountain communities and improving the health of mountain ecosystems.