Enhancing food security, combating environmental degradation | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, October 30, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, October 30, 2009

Small Irrigation

Enhancing food security, combating environmental degradation

THE government (ministry of agriculture) has programme for national food security where the main sub-sectors/components of agriculture are covered. One important component is how to increase food production by small/minor irrigation in suitable topography and soils. This involves construction of small dams and reservoirs, excavation of canals, drainage of swamps for agricultural use, constructing embakments, tanks and ponds on river beds or abandoned rivers or dry areas for rainwater harvesting for use in lean period for irrigation as well as water supply in the water-hungry, parched lands particularly in SW and NW regions. Apart from food production, the projects will help combat drought and desertification and climate change impacts and create congenial environment with numerous water bodies formed by the projects.

Nigerian experience
In Nigeria, the Federal ministry of agriculture in cooperation with UN/FAO and the Govt. of China in South-South Cooperation ran a five year programme for national food security. The ministry provided funds, lands, local manpower, logistics etc. FAO with its irrigation engineer and two consultants (one was the writer) and a Chinese engineer designed, supervised construction, administered and managed the projects. Nigerian officers helped in survey and supervised construction, administered and managed by FAO. FOA also provided advisers and visiting experts, and transports. Chinese government provided apex level experts (about 10) in Abuja and technicians (500) posted in the 31 states and 480 local government areas (LGAs, like our upzillas with similar population) in different agricultural disciplines.
The programme (water resources) was to execute about 500 projects in 31 states and 480 LGAS with small dams in suitable topography and soils with copious water availability and other small projects.

National food security programme
The writer knows there is nation-wide intensive activities by the government to help farmers produce boro and other crops in national food security programme undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture (production) and the Ministry of Food and of Disaster Management (procurement, storage and distribution).
The writer expects implementation of a project, may be called BNFSP (Bangladesh National Food Security Programme), like Nigeria's NSPFS (Nigerian National Special Programme for Food Security) which was undertaken in cooperation with FAO and China.
The Bangladesh programme will harness natural river water, water from reservoirs of the small dams, excavate tanks and ponds in dry river beds for rain water harvesting for use in dry reason, dams in Chittagong and CHT and on border rivers in Mymensingh and Sylhet districts. The projects will add to national food security and be helpful in combating drought and desertification and climate change, creating congenial environment in the regions. Use of low lift pumps should be undertaken in large and flowing rivers, natural reservoirs, pond and haors.

Suggested project areas
NW region: The entire Rajshahi division is dry and hot with mostly small, moribund and ephemeral rivers and streams. Water-scarce barind area falls in this region. The region often records lowest rainfall. The area adjoining the Ganges has also been severely affected due to Farakka. We need irrigation with small dams where topography is suitable and water can be stored during the monsoon in tanks and ponds, also holding water in the lows of rivers, using shallow and deep tubewells in good aquifers as well as low lift pumps along the rivers. Rain water may be harvested in dry channels and ponds and used during lean period. 150 such projects may be undertaken, which will help resolve 'monga' related problems. The projects will combat drought and desertification and climate change and will rejuvenate the degraded and polluted environment.
SW region: SW region is ravaged by upland water crisis and saline water intrusion from the sea as a result of withdrawal of Ganges water at Farakka. Khulna, Kushtia and Jessore are severely affected as the Gorai and other distributaries have been depleted. Saline water has invaded Khulna and Satkhira seriously. Jessore with virtually no upland flow, its southern part is affected by saline water intrusion from the sea and the upper part with drought. Climate change is visibly discernible in this region. Average temperature except only short winter months, is almost as high as in Rajshahi, hovering around 40ºC.
We need in this region small irrigation by dam reservoir tanks, shallow and deep tubewells, rain water harvesting particularly in abandoned dry river stretches and ponds, low lift pumps along the banks of the Padma and Gorai and other distributaries. We may build 150 small projects for the purposes.
N Central region: Though the area is bounded by large rivers like the Brahmaputra, Jamuna, Padma and Meghna, most of the interior, particularly the Mymensingh central and north, remains dry in the lean season. Tubewells may be installed in suitable areas. There could be small dams in the fringe of the north, low lift pumps by Brahmaputra, Padma, Meghna and distributaries like Kaliganga, Dhaleswari and Old Brahmaputra and Meghna, in some stretches of natural reservoirs, and haors in Netrokona and Kishoreganj and rivers in Faridpur. Some 100 small projects need to be undertaken.
NE region: The whole region is relatively water-rich, comparatively cooler around the year with adequate flow of water in rivers, watercourses and haors and low natural reservoirs. Small scale irrigation may be practised by utilizing surface water from rivers and haors and the Meghna, Surma and Kushiyara rivers. Sylhet is ideal for growing boro rice. Low lift pumps may be used along rivers and around haors. In hilly border areas in suitable topography there may exist potential for siting small earthen dams. Projects envisaged to be 100 in number.
SE region: Chars here may be used for small dams and reservoirs and excavation of tanks etc, so also shallow and deep tubewells and low lift pumps in some rivers like Karnafuli and Sangu and around Kaptai lake, Meghna, Gumti and Padma estuaries. 50 projects may be undertaken in this area.
S Central region: Low lift pumps may be used in a large number of rivers for irrigation. Barisal has a maze of tidal rivers and rivulets, perhaps mostly free from salinity except in the area bordering the sea. 50 small projects are envisaged in this area.

Long term plans
We may undertake a 10-year plan to be executed in two phases, 600 projects under each phase. Each year 120 projects may be taken up, each covering 10 to 40 ha with an average of 25 ha. The coverage for each phase will be 15,000 ha with a total of 30,000 ha on completion of the second phase. One may calculate the total annual cost; it is expected that the benefit will outweigh the cost, making the project economically feasible and financially viable. Internal rate or return is expected to be high and acceptable. For a long term plan of 25 years, the area that will be covered under irrigation will be about 75,000ha with 3000 projects.

Executing orgaizations
BADC of the Ministry of Agriculture has nationwide infrastructure, staff and logistics. They have experience of executing small projects like low lift pumps and tubewells. With necessary increase in manpower and enhanced finance and logistics, BADC may be considered as the executing agency, for Bangladesh National Food Security Programme's water resources components/sub sector for small scale irrigation for food production. Ministry of LGRD (LGED) may also be considered as an alternative. Even a separate agency may be created as deemed necessary by the government.

Concluding remarks
It is expected that an important component such as small irrigation by water resources development with construction of small dams and reservoirs, excavation of tanks/ponds in the abandoned dry rivers, or parched lands, use of depressions, canals, embankments, drainage of swampy lows, rainwater harvesting etc. should be included in the national food security programme.
Government's comprehensive plan of capital dredging of rivers and the proposed Ganges barrage, when implemented, will greatly restore and improve the severely affected economy and seriously degraded environment of SW and NW, in particular and of the country in general.
While the contribution of the small irritation is manifest with substantial increase in food production which will help strengthen the country's national food security programme, it will combat drought, desertification, climate change and create congenial environment with cool microclimate all over the country in general and SW and NW regions, in particular.

The writer, a water/river specialist, is professor of civil engineering at World University of Bangladesh, Dhaka.

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