Solar Revolution in Agriculture: Plan beyond Present

Pakistan entirely depends on groundwater to sustain its agricultural production and to guarantee food health. However, it is feared that the ongoing wasteful groundwater abstractions may have significant implications for the sustainability of Pakistan’s agrarian economy.

Amid the green movement of the 1960s, irrigation use of groundwater has been gradually growing in Pakistan. The total share of groundwater in irrigation water sources increased from nearly 8% to over 60pc between 1960 and 2010.

Over the last few decades, the significant increase in groundwater usage has been a result of open access to groundwater through large-scale tube-well growth. The implementation of tube-well technology in Pakistan was largely encouraged by government assistance and support policies but without any regulatory frameworks being exercised to date.

The number of tube-wells has risen in the country by more than 1.3 million and we have yet to establish an overall cohesive groundwater regulatory framework and clear strategy for maintaining and utilizing our groundwater resources. Our existing water policy is lopsided, vague and without a clearly specified timetable to attain any groundwater management goals set out in the water policy.

Under the business-as – usual scenario that is supposed to be met mainly by groundwater extraction, Pakistan’s irrigation water demand is projected to go beyond 110km3 by 2025. Groundwater actually contributes about 65km3 to the total water requirements for irrigation. Farmers rely mostly on tube-wells powered by diesel or electricity with typical capacities ranging from 5 to 25 horsepower. There are currently 1.06 m diesel-operated tube-wells, while 0.325 m are linked to the national power grid requiring an operating total electricity charge of 4.097 megawatts.

The government pays billions for these tube-wells in terms of subsidies, but at the other hand, the rate of recovery from those tube-wells remains very small. For example, Pakistan Electric Power Company registered only 34pc recovery during May 2019 by receiving Rs3.2bn out of the month’s total Rs9.4bn assessment.

Converting electricity operated tube-wells to solar-powered tube-wells can help save at least Rs100bn which the government spends each year in terms of giving subsidies while saving more than 4,000MWs of electricity. The Federal Government has provided Rs90 m to conduct a consultancy to determine the feasibility of replacing the thirty thousand electric tube-wells in Baluchistan with solar-powered tube-wells. Likewise, the government is also mulling over more solar-powered tube-wells being constructed in various areas of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

As per the State Bank of Pakistan’s Department of Agricultural Credit and Microfinance, the banks lent some Rs131.2 m for tube-well projects, including solar powered ones. Between 2015 and 2017, the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited disbursed Rs25.65 m in support of solar-powered tube-wells primarily in Balochistan.

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