Initiative of Drip Irrigation is Ray of Hope for Enhancing Livelihood of Mountain Communities

Peer Muhammad

Like many other villagers, a Solar Pump Lift Irrigation System is a ray of hope for Durdana, a widow and mother of three school going kids for enhancing her livelihood to feed her children.  Durdana’s husband has died some seven years back and she is the sole bread earner in her family, who pins hope with a new initiative to bring a piece of a barren land under cultivation by lifting of water from a deep gushing Hunza River through solar system. This is a community initiative with the help of certain development organizations in the Gojal valley in the Upper Indus Basin of GIlgit-Baltistan alongside of the historical Silk Route—- now the Karakarum Highway (KKH).

“My husband has died and it is me to support my school going kids by selling dairy products and dry-fruit. This new initiative to cultivate more barren lands through solar drip system will help me in enhancing my income in coming years”, hopes Durdana

She said that the community has allotted a two-kanal piece of land with 72 trees, where she has also grown grass to use as fodder to her animal. Crossing a narrow hanging bridge, Durdana goes to the other side of the river daily to water the orchard.”This will help me to generate income to meet the school expenditure of my kids”, the apparently optimistic woman said. Durdana said that she has already a small piece of family inherited land and has grown some apricot trees there, which is a small source of her income.  Under the initiative, each household in the village is allotted an equal portion of land and trees with distribution of work.

Under the pilot project in the villages of Upper Gojal — two six-acre orchards using drip irrigation, one a cherry and apple orchard in Passu village and the other an apple orchard in Morkhun village is underway. Under this project, the locals are also being trained to install the technology in the region to broaden the activities to far off areas.

Under the project, apple and cherry parks will be established there with least 8,000 best quality apple plants from Japan to be imported to introduce in these areas.

“We will introduce high valued crop and fruit and not the traditional one to increase the community income by 40 to 50 percent”, said ICIMOD country director Abdul Wahid Jasra

He said that the solar pumping system to irrigate the newly developed orchards along the Hunza River using drip irrigation in Upper Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the first attempt to pilot solar water pumping and micro-irrigation in the arid region under project ‘Agricultural Water, Energy and Hazard Management in the Upper Indus Basin for Improved Livelihood. Following this pilot project, the provincial government in support with development agencies, will replicate many more barren lands on both sides of the rivers under cultivation through lift irrigation, he added.

“This is climate smart and eco-friendly project not only increase their income but also protect the environment alike”, said Jisra

According to the ICIMOD officials, the solar water pumping and micro-irrigation systems used in this project are low cost and reliable and will enhance the local livelihoods through high-value orchard production.

The pilot project is launched jointly by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in collaboration with Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR), World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and local communities.

Due the mountainous areas, there is very small landholding with the community and they are now shifting from traditional farming to commercial farming to increase their income.

Jasra added that following the pilot project, a proposal will be submitted to the Gilgit-Baltistan government offering technical and other related support for bringing all the barren lands in the area under cultivation through lift irrigation system, which have been left abandoned due to unavailability of water. “The river water will be lifted to irrigate these lands where crops, vegetable and fruit will be grown to enhance the livelihoods of the local communities”, he maintained.

Dr Babar Khan, Program Manager of WWF, Gilgit-Baltistan is also optimistic of the initiative, terming it a hallmark steps towards enhancing livelihoods and improve the local environment through plantation . He said that such steps have also been successful in the past through the platforms of other development agencies like Aga Khan Rural Development Program.

Earlier, Chief  Minister Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman also expressed his desire to make long term planning for bringing all the uncultivated lands in the area into cultivation to enhance the production of wheat and other products aim at making the area self-sufficient in the grains.