Innovating irrigation for food security

Going by the records maintained by the agriculture ministry, farmers in most parts of the country still face acute shortage of irrigation canals despite numerous irrigation schemes the government initiated.

A survey conducted by local experts in 2016 for Asian Development Bank study found that about 29 percent of the existing irrigation canals have a shortage or inadequate water supply.

Records available with the Department of Agriculture (DoA) show that there are 962 irrigation canals providing water for more than 61,747 acres paddy fields in the country. On an average, an irrigation scheme covers 60 acres today.

An engineer with the DoA’s irrigation division, Kelzang Tenzin, said that the ministry is switching to modern irrigation methods from the conventional wooden flumes and earthen canals.

“We’re trying to completely replace the earthen irrigation canals with pressurised or conduit irrigation,” he said. “Earthen irrigation canal has adverse environmental impacts and is not efficient.”

He said land development is critical for effective use of irrigation.

“Today, the fields are fragmented in small pockets far from the water sources, making irrigation expensive and difficult,” the engineer said.

He said that the agriculture department has been trying sprinkler and drip irrigation schemes to improve the efficiency of the schemes.

Kelzang Tenzin, however, said given the temporal and spatial variation of rainfall building water reservoirs would not be feasible as the returns will be low.

He said that the country receives most rainfall between May and September so the reservoirs will be useless most of the time.

Citing numerous constraints, Kelzang Tenzin presented how irrigation water is important for food security at the ongoing national water symposium yesterday.

Water resources professionals and officials from the agencies with water resources mandates have gathered to have better coordination and efficient management, and identify priority areas of cooperation of water resources management and development in the 12th Plan.

The government had a target of 108 major schemes to be implemented by the ministry with an estimated budget of Nu 2 billion. Only about Nu 600 million has been mobilised so far.

Four major irrigation schemes were implemented through the World Bank’s Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme last year.

The ministry has allotted Nu 25 million government of India (GoI) aid to micro irrigation schemes such drip irrigation, and sprinklers for 300 hectares.

The division has received and spent Nu 174 million GoI grant as of December last year.

During the mid-term review in 2015, agriculture ministry proposed for reduction of the target of increased paddy field area under improved irrigation system from 79,040 acres to 61,447 acres. It also floated an option to pre-finance some of the projects.

Kelzang Tenzin said mountainous terrain, insufficient suitable land for agriculture development, most agriculture lands are located at a higher elevation than the water source and porous soil in most areas pose challenges.

Tshering Palden

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