Tending Orchard In Thar With 70 Percent Less Water

Tending Orchard In Thar With 70 Percent Less Water

A farmer is using clay pitchers to irrigate his orchard and crops, using 70 per cent less water than conventional methods.

Tending Orchard In Thar With 70 Percent Less Water

Most of the inhabitants of the Thar desert can grow crops only after a downpour has transformed the arid land into lush greenery. But Allahrakhio Khoso, a 60-year-old farmer, does not need to wait for rain.

In the city of Nagarparkar, in the shadow of the Karoonjhar mountains, Khoso has made an orchard in the desert a reality by using matkas or pitchers — an everyday object more commonly found in the home than in the field.

After eight years, Khoso has 400 berry trees, 70 lemon trees, three mango trees and four pomegranate trees. He grows vegetables such as okra, bitter melon, onions, chilies and tinda (a type of squash), as well as watermelon, on his land in the district of Tharparkar.

In pitcher irrigation, a large clay pot with a wide bottom and narrow top is buried in the ground and filled with water. The water is slowly released into the surrounding soil and absorbed by the roots of nearby plants, minimising the amount of precious liquid lost to evaporation.

Water in the desert

Rich in coal but poor in water, Thar is the largest desert zone in the province of Sindh. Its residents depend on rainfall; most people fetch their daily water from wells and store rainwater in water tanks. In summer, many wells run dry and groundwater becomes brackish.

To this day, some wells are dug without modern machinery. Recently four workers dieddigging a well when the walls fell in on them.

Water is so important a commodity that it even features in marriage negotiations; before a proposal is accepted, the parents of a bride will ask the groom’s family how close the nearest well is. In greetings, people also ask about sweet water wells.

Nevertheless, living in the desert does not mean thirst and poverty are inevitable.

How does pitcher irrigation work?

“Many years back, one of my friends came to visit our village and he discussed pitcher irrigation,” said Khoso. “I got the idea and started working on it. In the beginning, it was quite hard but now it looks very simple. I thought that if I could make my farm green without rainwater, then I should go for it.”

To install a new pitcher, Khoso first makes a small hole in the bottom of a pitcher. He puts a rope through the hole, then buries the pitcher, packing mud and sand tightly around it. This leaves only the mouth of the pitcher exposed, which Khoso fills with water. The water seeps through the porous clay and soaks through the rope into the sand, where it is absorbed by the roots of the crops he has planted close by. As well as natural fertilisers, Khoso uses mud from Virawah, a city near Nagarparkar where there is an ancient lake.

Each pitcher is two to three feet wide and holds 10 litres of water, which will irrigate the soil for 15 to 20 days. New pitchers are better for irrigation because they are more porous and, once in place, will last three years. Khoso fetches water roughly every 10 days — there is a well on his farm, and another nearby.

For trees, Khoso uses one pitcher per plant; sometimes two pitchers for mango trees, planting trees 25 feet (7.6 metres) apart. The amount of water needed depends on the crop, with trees requiring more pitchers. Khoso now has 400 pitchers irrigating his orchard.

Khoso believes this is a more effective method than drip irrigation, where pipes release a certain amount of water and fertiliser per minute directly to the roots of each plant. He said that while drip irrigation is suitable for vegetables, for orchard pitcher irrigation can deliver water more efficiently to the plant.

He calculated that 280 litres was enough for his 400 berry trees for 10 days.

The efficiency of this system is now accepted. One study that compared melon yields found that pitcher irrigation used two cubic centimetres (cc) of water and yielded 25 tonnes of melon per hectare, while the flood irrigation system used 26 cc of water and yielded 33 tonnes per hectare.

“We do not have any canal or [conventional irrigation] so it’s our duty to save water as much as we can,” said Khoso. “I have tried to make the desert green and I have been earning my bread and butter through this orchard. In the last season, I earned PKR 130,000 from onions and almost PKR 600,000 from red chilies. I am preaching for the usage of pitcher technology… those who want to try this should start from their homes on a small scale.”

Local trade

Khoso buys his pitchers from Hussain Kumbher, a potter. “This is my forefather’s profession; I earn a good income by selling the pitchers to Allahrakhio,” said Kumbher. “I have sold more than 1,000 pitchers since he has been working on his orchard. People in the Thar desert still use pitchers to store drinking water, but harvesting through pitchers is beneficial for our business — I get PKR 100-150 per pitcher.”

SOURCE AND FULL ATICLE AT TECHNOLOGY TIMES PAKISTAN