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Hilal English

Charting a Path Towards Water Sustainability: Pakistan

June 2024

Encouraging industries to adopt water-efficient practices and enforcing regulations to prevent water source pollution are crucial steps. By taking proactive measures and fostering a culture of responsible water usage across all sectors, Pakistan can secure a sustainable future for generations to come.

Several countries worldwide have successfully implemented remarkable water conservation initiatives, overcoming the challenges of water scarcity and inefficiency. While Pakistan boasts its achievements on a smaller scale, a comprehensive shift in mindset is necessary to maximize water utilization. Consequently, the successful execution of water conservation hinges on inter-departmental collaboration and the clear assignment of responsibilities to enhance water productivity and efficiency.
Water conservation encompasses all measures, policies, and endeavors aimed at responsibly overseeing the natural reservoir of freshwater, safeguarding the hydrosphere, and fulfilling both present and future human needs. It involves the efficient utilization of water to minimize unnecessary consumption. According to Fresh Water Watch, water conservation is important because fresh, clean water is not only a limited resource but also a costly one.1 Factors such as population dynamics, household dimensions, growth rates, and economic prosperity collectively influence the extent of water utilization.
Water conservation needs to be intrinsic to all planning, development, and management of water resources. Pakistan Vision (2025) sets out a vision for the country to have adequate water available through conservation, development, and good governance. The National Water Conservation Strategy 2023-27 emphasizes water management through conservation and provides guidelines for effective planning to manage existing water resources.2 The strategy has four main dimensions, focusing on three major sectors, i.e., agriculture, domestic, and industrial sector. It aims to strike a balance between supply and demand in a cost-efficient manner.
Source: Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR)
The Role of Agriculture in Water Conservation
Water conservation in agriculture has become increasingly crucial for environmental health and agricultural sustainability. Farmers can optimize water usage, boost crop yields, and foster agricultural sustainability by embracing methods like drip irrigation, water capture and storage, crop rotation, conservation tillage, and organic farming.3 Farmers can attain increased yields through these techniques while reducing water usage, fertilizers, and energy. 

Water conservation encompasses all measures, policies, and endeavors aimed at responsibly overseeing the natural reservoir of freshwater, safeguarding the hydrosphere, and fulfilling both present and future human needs.

Sustainable Agricultural Practices
Recognizing the importance of water conservation in agriculture is imperative to ensure a sustainable future. Following are the most beneficial methods of water conservation in agriculture:
▪Drip irrigation enables accurate and targeted distribution of resources, minimizing wastage and optimizing the effectiveness of water and nutrient utilization in agriculture. 
▪Water harvesting and reuse systems are designed to collect and store runoff and stormwater for later use. This contributes to sustainable water management by utilizing stored water, decreasing reliance on freshwater resources, and promoting water conservation. 
▪Irrigation system managers rely on irrigation schedules to ascertain the suitable frequency and duration of watering. Water management considers the irrigation method alongside factors such as the quantity, timing, and frequency of water application.
▪Drought-resistant crops can reduce the risk of crop failure during water scarcity. By cultivating crops adapted to the local climate and requiring less water, farmers can optimize water use, mitigate risks associated with drought, and promote long-term sustainability in agriculture.
▪Dry farming is a technique of crop production that does not rely on irrigation during dry seasons but instead utilizes moisture stored in the soil from the previous rainy season. It maximizes the soil's natural moisture and adapts crop management practices to suit the local climate, with the aim of achieving sustainable crop production with minimal water use.
▪Rotational grazing entails systematically moving livestock across fields to stimulate pasture regeneration. Effective grazing management practices bolster the fields' capacity to absorb water and reduce runoff, fostering the development of more drought-resistant pastures. This method yields water-saving advantages by elevating soil organic content and enhancing fodder distribution, thereby augmenting water retention in the soil.
▪The combined use of compost and mulch conserves water by enriching the soil with organic matter and nutrients through compost incorporation before planting and applying mulch after establishment, which helps conserve moisture by reducing evaporation, suppressing weed growth, and moderating soil temperature.

The National Water Conservation Strategy 2023-27 emphasizes water management through conservation and provides guidelines for effective planning to manage existing water resources.

▪Conservation tillage is a collection of agriculture methodologies that creates a protective layer on the soil surface, retaining moisture and preventing erosion. This, in turn, benefits regions with limited water availability or frequent drought conditions.
▪Cover crops conserve water by shielding bare soil from erosion, water loss, and compaction through the provision of a protective layer. This mitigates the impact of wind and water erosion, competes with weeds for water and nutrients, potentially reduces the necessity for herbicides and other chemical inputs, and ultimately enhances water preservation and soil health as a form of carbon farming practice planted between primary crop cycles.

The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) is advancing Pakistan's agricultural sector towards modernization through the Green Pakistan Initiative (GPI). Precision agriculture methods are being implemented to enhance crop yields by leveraging advanced technology, minimizing labor requirements, and optimizing fertilizer and irrigation practices. 

Agriculture is very important to Pakistan's economy and people. It is the largest sector, employing over 42 percent of the workforce and contributing around 24 percent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP).4 The sector provides food for the population and raw materials for industries such as textiles. Provincial agriculture and irrigation departments and provincial water commissions are the major regulatory bodies for water conservation in agriculture.

By cultivating crops adapted to the local climate and requiring less water, farmers can optimize water use, mitigate risks associated with drought, and promote long-term sustainability in agriculture.


Source: Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR)

SIFC: Revitalizing Pakistan's Agriculture Sector on Modern Lines
Pakistan’s agriculture sector faces numerous challenges, including water scarcity, outdated farming techniques, lack of modern technology and machinery, and dependence on erratic weather patterns. However, with the government's recent initiatives to modernize the sector, there is an optimistic outlook for the future of agriculture in Pakistan. The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) is advancing Pakistan's agricultural sector towards modernization through the Green Pakistan Initiative (GPI). Precision agriculture methods are being implemented to enhance crop yields by leveraging advanced technology, minimizing labor requirements, and optimizing fertilizer and irrigation practices. The overarching goal of the GPI is to address malnutrition, decrease reliance on food imports, and bolster export capabilities.5
The GPI aims to reclaim unused government land, particularly in the Cholistan region, to boost agricultural productivity through private sector and domestic and foreign investor involvement. With approximately 24 million acres of cultivated land and 91 million acres of vacant land in Pakistan, the GPI seeks to utilize these resources to enhance agricultural output. Progress has been notable in South Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh, with provincial governments actively supporting the initiative. By integrating modern agricultural technology and sustainable farming practices, the GPI aims to create a framework for increased productivity and job creation while promoting large-scale corporate farming in alignment with global standards. 
Pakistan aims to attract investments ranging from USD 30-50 billion within the next 4 to 5 years to revolutionize its agricultural sector as part of a strategic initiative aimed at economic transformation. The government is committed to harnessing the agriculture sector's complete potential through the SIFC, established last year, to incentivize foreign investments and drive the country's economic advancement. The SIFC has approved 28 projects valued at billions of dollars, targeting potential investment from Gulf countries. These projects span crucial sectors such as agriculture, livestock, mining, minerals, Information Technology (IT), and energy.6 The government's initiatives to improve irrigation systems, promote modern farming techniques, and provide farmers with access to credit are expected to boost the agriculture sector's growth.
Pakistan's agriculture sector demonstrates resilience and adaptability amidst challenges, poised for sustainable growth and increased economic contribution with continued government support and modernization investments. Pakistan Business Forum suggested a potential USD 3 billion contribution to the national economy by the sector in 2023-24, with expectations of achieving 3.5 percent growth, notably through increased production of major crops like cotton and rice. According to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, positive momentum in livestock and the production of cotton, rice, and minor crops further augments growth prospects, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach from the new government to fully unlock the sector's potential.
According to the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) president, the government has introduced the Agriculture Development Authority Act to facilitate corporate farming. According to the president, the act has been welcomed by business leaders. Through corporate farming, Pakistan can potentially cultivate around 22 million acres.7 Strategically expanding the cultivated area through corporate farming holds the potential to significantly boost oilseed production in Pakistan, thereby saving a substantial amount of foreign exchange. 
While corporate farming offers advantages, establishing agro-industries in Pakistan via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) holds even greater promise. Recent media reports underscore the growing significance of the agriculture sector as a prime target for FDI8, with continued opportunities for investment, particularly in corporate farming, highlighting its viability as an investment avenue. The planning ministry has further emphasized the promotion of technology to reduce post-harvest losses, value addition for grain, fruits, and vegetables, productivity enhancement of major crops, engagement of women and young people in agripreneurship and agribusiness, and promotion and support of agricultural research.
Pakistan is an agricultural economy but faces mounting water scarcity and inefficient usage challenges. Hence, prioritizing water conservation has become imperative. Implementing comprehensive strategies is essential to address this pressing issue, which includes raising public awareness about the importance of water conservation through educational campaigns and community engagement. Moreover, investing in modern irrigation technologies, such as drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting systems, can significantly reduce water wastage in agriculture. 
Farmers should continuously monitor weather forecasts, soil moisture levels, and plant conditions to tailor their irrigation schedules, mitigating risks of under and overwatering. This proactive strategy facilitates optimal water utilization, ensuring crops receive precise amounts at appropriate times for maximal growth while mitigating water wastage and potential adverse effects on plant health and yield.
Encouraging industries to adopt water-efficient practices and enforcing regulations to prevent water source pollution are crucial steps. Moreover, promoting sustainable urban planning and infrastructure development, such as constructing water-efficient buildings and establishing green spaces, can further contribute to water conservation efforts. By taking proactive measures and fostering a culture of responsible water usage across all sectors, Pakistan can secure a sustainable water future for generations to come.

The writer is an Islamabad-based policy researcher, with an MPhil in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defence University. Currently, she is a Research Associate at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS). Her work focuses on ethnocentrism, religion-based violence, Education and Governance.
E-mail: [email protected]

1   “What is Water Conservation?”, Constellation, retrieved on May 8, 2024, https://www.constellation.com/energy-101/water-conservation-tips0.html#:~:text=Water%20conservation%20is%20the%20practice,well%20as%20a%20costly%20one. 
2   National Water Conservation Strategy for Pakistan (2023-27), Ministry of Water Resources, February 2023, https://pcrwr.gov.pk/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/National-Water-Conservation-Strategy-for-Pakistan-2023-27.pdf 
3  “10 Agricultural techniques for water conservation”, DGB Group, April 19, 2023, https://www.green.earth/blog/10-agricultural-techniques-for-water-conservation#:~:text=By%20adopting%20techniques%20such%20as,long%2Dterm%20sustainability%20in%20agriculture. 
4   “What is The Importance of Agriculture in Pakistan?”, Faisal Zari Service, published on February 15, 2023, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-importance-agriculture-pakistan-faisal-zari-service#:~:text=Agriculture%20is%20very%20important%20to,for%20industries%2C%20such%20as%20textiles.
5   “SIFC taking steps to develop Pakistan's agriculture sector on modern lines”, Radio Pakistan, March 24, 2024, https://www.radio.gov.pk/24-03-2024/sifc-taking-steps-to-develop-pakistans-agriculture-sector-on-modern-lines 
6   “Green Pakistan”, Khaleej Times, published on March 35, 2024, https://www.sifc.gov.pk/news/149 
7  Jawaid Bokhari, “Agriculture: Impetus for corporate farming”, Dawn, Published on January 29, 2024, https://www.dawn.com/news/1809409#:~:text=To%20facilitate%20corporate%20farming%2C%20the,under%20cultivation%20through%20corporate%20farming. 
8   Khalid Saeed Wattoo and Waqar Ahmad, “Using SIFC to develop agriculture sector”, Published on October 2, 2023, https://www.dawn.com/news/1778889