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