Surface water for irrigation the best solution to drought
The use of surface water has become the ultimate solution for irrigating croplands across the country as depleting underground reserves amid lesser rainfall and higher fuel costs have left farmers with little option.
The government increased the price of diesel to Tk 114 from Tk 80 on August 5, making it more expensive to use fuel-powered pumps for drawing water from underground sources.
Besides, frequent power cuts in rural areas are also preventing the sustained use of such agricultural machinery.
With this backdrop, an irrigation system that uses surface has proven to be the perfect solution.
According to farmers in different districts, including Dinajpur, Rangpur, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat, they were facing severe setbacks in irrigating their lands after a drought hit these regions in mid-July.
However, many of them in various areas were able to withstand the drought by using surface water for irrigation.
Through this irrigation system that distributes surface water over the soil using gravity, farmers from the Gangachara and Kaunia upazilas of Rangpur, Chirirbandar and Parbatipur upazilas of Dinajpur, and parts of Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat, have been able to transform barren lands into arable fields.
There are around 84 lakh hectares of arable land in the country that produce paddy, wheat and other crops, as per data from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
The irrigation of around 75 per cent of the country's arable land is dependent on underground water sources while the remainder uses surface water for the same purpose, the data shows.
The Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) and other public and private entities collectively irrigated around 55.87 lakhs hectares of land across the country in fiscal 2018-19.
Of the total acreage, around 40.83 lakh hectares was irrigated with underground water while the rest was irrigated with surface water.
The government has taken various initiatives over the past 12 years in order to encourage the use of surface water for irrigation as experts noticed that large quantities of extracted groundwater are ultimately wasted.
It was found that about 2,500 litres of water are needed to produce a single kilogramme of rice but farmers used up to 3,500 litres and this waste ultimately increased the production cost.
"So, the government took steps to prevent water wastage in irrigation that are being implemented across the country," said AHM Mizanur Rahman, executive engineer of the BADC office in Rangpur.
The BADC has installed 100 low lift pumps as well as 50 solar-powered pumps in various areas of the Rangpur and Nilphamari districts.
Each low lift pump can irrigate about 12 hectares of land while solar-powered pumps can irrigate six hectares.
"We provide support to thousands of farmers in Rangpur, Nilphamari and other areas, where the electricity supply is still inaccessible," Rahman said.
Farmers in the supported areas were previously dependent on groundwater for irrigation but now, they are fulfilling the same task using surface water.
"In addition, the amount of water wasted is less while crop productivity has increased," he added.
Other than Rangpur and Nilphamari, the Bangladesh Water Development Board (WBD) is implementing similar projects in Rajshahi and Dinajpur that have increased crop productivity in supported areas.
Farmers in these regions get water for irrigation through a 68-kilometre long canal that they have to pay about Tk 480 per acre to use.
Azahar Ali, a farmer of Gangachara upazila, said farmers of in supported areas used to face problems in irrigating their lands during the dry season.
"We were entirely dependent on rainwater but the Teesta irrigation canal solved our problem," he said.
It would previously cost about Tk 10,000 to irrigate a single acre of land but farmers are now getting the same service for only Tk 480.
"Besides, there was groundwater crisis in the area," Ali added.
Mahbubur Rahman, deputy director of the Rangpur DAE, said around 15 lakh farmers under the greater Rangpur region, namely the Rangpur, Nilphamari, Kurigram, Lalmonirhat and Gaibandha districts, are getting irrigation support from surface water through different organisations, including BADC, WDB and BMDA.
Farmers in many places of the Dinajpur area have easy access to river water ever since the government took an initiative to install rubber dams in many places of the district and its adjacent areas.
There are four large rubber dams in Dinajpur with the largest one being on the Atrai river.