Reviving the dying tradition of dug wells in Potohar
23 Jan 2017

By Ali Kamran and Masooma Hassan

Dug wells have been the only source of water for many areas in the Potohar region for ages. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for most communities, and it is dependent on rainwater. When rainwater is insufficient to support the crops, these dug wells are the only hope of these vulnerable farming communities. The irrigation of crops through these dug wells is labour-intensive, animal-driven, and time-consuming. Though still operational at a few places, they are now being considered old-fashioned and out-dated options, because pumping water through them is uneconomical. Earlier, farmers used them for irrigation of their crops and domestic needs, but now they have almost abandoned this system.

Traditional dug well with animal-driven Persian Wheel-these traditional systems are disappearing in the midst of the technlogical revolution that the country has seen over the past decade. PC: Tariq Mustafa
In Pakistan, farmers are using the traditional animal-driven, Persian-wheel system for their dug wells. This is slow and inefficient. Exposure of the younger generation in the farming community to the advances in technology has convinced them to look for other options. Young farmers feel embarrassed and are reluctant to pull water via animals. Modernization of this traditional system has come out as a major response to their need.

As an adaptation option, farmers had been going for electrical/diesel pumping systems for these dug wells. But, due to electricity shortages for electric pumps and high operational costs of diesel pumps, alternate options needed to be explored.

Another aggravating factor is climate change (changing rainfall patterns, droughts, etc.) that has caused lowering of groundwater, affecting the recharge rate and yield of these wells. This ultimately affects farmers’ livelihoods by decreasing farm productivity. But efficient use of this limited water resource along with high-value off-season crops is a promising solution of these problems.

Realizing the high water potential of dug wells in the Potohar region and the cultural heritage associated with these wells
Under the HI-AWARE project, the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) had taken the initiative to demonstrate improved agricultural productivity and enhance farmers’ resilience by introducing a number of climate-smart interventions on a 4-acre farm owned by farmer Mr Ayub, in Saroba-Chakri.

The farm has a traditional dug well, and the idea was to replace the animal-driven Persian wheel with a solar pumping system for irrigation.

HI-AWARE researchers testing the solar pump at teh dug well-rigorous testing is necessary for any adaptation technology before it can be termed a climate-sart technology. PC: Tariq Mustafa
The solar pumping system enables the use of irrigation systems, such as drip irrigation, bubblers, and micro sprinklers, to irrigate crops with better field application efficiency. This kind of conjunctive use of energy efficient pumping and high-efficiency irrigation system will not only reduce energy costs and improve productivity, but will also conserve water.

Mr Ayub, farmer in village Saroba near Chakri, is seen using water from the solar pump installed on his dug-well by HI-AWARE – He reported a marked increase in his farm productivity after having the required water avaialble for his crops. PC: Thomas Pilston
The initial results have turned out to be very fruitful for Mr Ayub and his dependents, because the use of this technology is helping him save money and thus improve his livelihood. Originally, mono-cropping patterns of agriculture were followed in the rain-fed areas and wheat was usually the only crop grown. With facilitation from the project team, Mr Ayub has now managed to grow a variety of high-value off-season fruits and vegetables.

This diversification in agriculture has appeared to come as an effective adaptation against climate change threats.  Some vegetables and fruits worth mentioning that are being grown are potato, spinach, garlic, ginger, eureka, lemons, and Mexican lime.

Mr Ayub’s wife is happy and satisfied to help her husband in different agricultural activities. The increased farm productivity has strengthened her belief in the success of their farm. The availability of the solar water pump on this dug-well enables them to utilize their land potential completely for diverse products including a variety of high value off-season fruits and vegetables. PC: Thomas Pilston

Site in-charge for HI-AWARE pilots in Soan Basin, Engr. Ali Kamran, checks the flow of water from a solar pump. The reduced rains in the past few months have made these dug wells extremely signifcant for the farmers. PC: Thomas Pilston

As HI-AWARE’s prime objective is to enhance on-farm productivity and improve the livelihood of the farmers in this area, PARC is planning to develop Mr Ayub’s farm as a HI-AWARE demonstration and training centre for farmers of the Soan basin as well as for practitioners, professionals, and students. This initiative will assist the farming community in the Potohar region to use the potential of these dug-wells intelligently and efficiently for better agricultural productivity.

PARC aims to out-scale this climate-smart intervention in the entire Potohar region, so that other farming communities may share in the fruits of this research.