Wa­ter-short Pak­istani farm­ers test less thirsty way to grow rice

Enterprise - - National News -

Er­ratic mon­soon rains have made it in­creas­ingly hard for rice farmer Sar­dar Muham­mad to bring in a good har­vest.

But learn­ing how to plant seed di­rectly in his fields – rather than trans­plant­ing seedlings, as farm­ers have for cen­turies in parched Pun­jab prov­ince – is help­ing him man­age scarce wa­ter bet­ter and get a de­cent crop.

Grow­ing rice this way “re­quires less labour, less ir­ri­ga­tion”, he said. The rice seed is sown straight into moist soil and does not re­quire con­tin­u­ous sub­mer­gence.

So far 30 farm­ers have ap­plied the im­proved, wa­ter­sav­ing rice cul­ti­va­tion tech­nique on a to­tal of 48 hectares (118.6 acres) in Pun­jab prov­ince. With the tra­di­tional method, in con­trast, rice seedlings are first cul­ti­vated in nurs­eries for sev­eral weeks be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to flooded fields. About a third more wa­ter is re­quired through the grow­ing cy­cle, and the crop takes 15 to 20 days longer to ma­ture.

On av­er­age in Pak­istan, some 3,000 litres of wa­ter are used to pro­duce 1 kilo­gramme of rice, which is the main sta­ple food.

But as the coun­try’s al­ready scarce wa­ter resources dwin­dle, there is in­creas­ing pres­sure to find more wa­ter-ef­fi­cient grow­ing meth­ods. A re­cent re­port from the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan shows that, in 1951, per-capita wa­ter avail­abil­ity was 5,650 cu­bic me­tres. By 2010, that fig­ure had plunged to 1,000 cu­bic me­tres and is pro­jected to fall to 800 cu­bic me­tres by 2025, when the pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to hit 221 mil­lion.

Find­ing ways to grow more food with less wa­ter will be cru­cial in Pak­istan as cli­mate change al­ters weather pat­terns, af­fects mon­soon rain­fall and re­duces ground­wa­ter.

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