Small Scale Irrigation: Large Scale Benefits for Balochistan

June 16, 2014


Water coming from Khushab Karez near village Khushab District, Pishin. Balochistan is water scarce with a largely arid climate. Irrigation systems are a necessity for agriculture.

World Bank

  • Despite being water scarce, agriculture and livestock remain the major sources of income for majority of the population in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and most sparsely-populated province.
  • Over-pumping of groundwater in the past resulted in the depletion of fresh water resources at the annual rate of three meters.
  • The Government of Balochistan, with the World Bank’s support improved and restored 15 independent Karez systems in collaboration with Farmer Organizations, helping increase productivity, crop yields, and farmers’ incomes.

Constituting almost 44% of the country’s total land mass, Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan, with a population of nine million people. Despite being water scarce, agriculture and livestock remain the major sources of income for majority of the highly dispersed population.

The average annual rainfall varies from less than 50 mm in the southwest to about 400 mm in the northeast of Balochistan. With a largely arid climate, surface water and ground water sources can only be replenished by scarce rainfall. Very high evaporation rates make irrigation systems a necessity for agriculture.

During the drought period between 1998 till 2002 in Pishin Lora Basin, located in northwest Balochistan, the number of tube wells swelled. The problem became more acute because of continued over-pumping of groundwater resulting in the depletion of fresh water resources at an annual rate of three meters.

Considering such tough conditions, the World Bank, at the request of the Government of Balochistan (GoB) initiated Small Scale Irrigation Schemes (SSIS) under the umbrella of Balochistan Small Scale Irrigation Project (BSSIP) to improve the management of scarce water resources. The idea was to increase surface water availability and reduce groundwater depletion while strengthening local capacity through participation of farmers in implementing these schemes and formulating plans for sustainable water resources development and watershed management.

Karezes, are the main source of irrigation and drinking water needs in Balochistan. These are underground galleries that tap groundwater from aquifers of the alluvial fans. Underground tunnels with gentle slopes carry water from its source to settled areas. These are small in cross-section but may be many kilometers in length. Karez water is used for irrigation and for drinking water supply. This is a reliable source of water supply given the climatic conditions of the province and is a relatively economical method of tapping groundwater for irrigation, environmentally safe and powered by gravity. 

Under the SSIS, the Government of Balochistan, with the help of the World Bank improved and restored 15 independent Karez systems in collaboration with the Farmer Organizations in Pishin Lora Basin. The water conveyance channels from the source to the farms were mostly made of earth, causing almost half the water to be lost to seepage.

According to Farooq Ahmed, Procurement Engineer of Irrigation Department, GoB, “The SSIS did not only focus on improving the existing Karezes and lining irrigation channels but also on providing flood protection and associated structures such as small storage tanks and flow division. Farmers have been trained on how they can take full control of and maintain these systems.” About the sustainability and longevity of the project, Farooq added, “the farmers’ participation is the key to sustainability of the project and their ownership and commitment ensures smooth operation and maintenance. Additionally we are introducing them to efficient water usage through modern irrigation technology and practices such as bubble irrigation under the On Farm Water Management project that is also supported by the World Bank.” Since 2008, when the project began, productivity in the 15 targeted SSIS has increased by 40% and crop intensity and crop yields by 25%.


Haji Muhammad Azam, a farmer in Village Tora Khla sits by his wheat field. He supports 20 people in his family. With this project, he's able to grow more crops including tomatoes, onions, peas, apples, and apricots.

World Bank

" Now I’m growing tomatoes, onions, peas and wheat along with apples and apricots. I can now produce crops throughout the year which was unthinkable before. "

Haji Muhammad Azam

Farmer, General Secretary Farmer Organization, Village Torakhla


Abdul Qadeem walks through his apple orchard in village Torakhla Tehsil Khanozai District, Pishin. His orchard benefitted as availability of water has improved.

World Bank

Haji Muhammad Azam, a farmer from Torakhla, District Pishin has a substantial, but dry piece of land and a family of 20 members to support. According to him, “The apricot and apple orchard was cultivated on just one acre of land but since the cleaning of Karez and lining of the irrigation channel, I am able to cultivate four more acres of land. Now I’m growing tomatoes, onions, peas and wheat along with apples and apricots. I can now produce crops throughout the year which was unthinkable before.”

The project emphasized community mobilization so that the communities become more confident and are able to continue these irrigation activities even after the project is completed in their respective areas.

Abdul Qadeem, Chairman FO, Torakhla says, “There is a 50% increase in cultivated land. Wheat cultivation was not possible because of drought in the region but since the channel leveling under the project, our farmers are for the first time growing enough wheat for their household needs.”

On the skills acquired during the SSIS implementation phase, Azam added, “As a part of our training by the Government of Balochistan, we participated in cleaning and maintenance work of Karez of Torakhla and also in the skill of channel leveling. Through this process we are able to do this work on our own in the future and can also extend it to our lands which are still waiting to be cultivated.”

Azam is also the General Secretary of his FO in Torakhla. “The FO helps resolving partner disputes mostly intensified on the schedule and share of water distribution,” he says.

Senior Design Engineer, Kalb-e-Abbas of Technical Assistant Team, District Pishin, Irrigation Department, GoB reflects on the changes. “There was a severe water problem, for drinking as well as for irrigation, throughout the province. It was impossible to make anything of this scarce resource but today, because of this project, farmers are cultivating more land and reaping more through better managed water,” he says “It is one of the most innovative utilization of resources. Since there is no perennial flow as such, we made storage tanks here for saving Karez water, and made water courses for the swift and efficient distribution of water to the dry patches which are otherwise very fertile.” On the future prospects of the project, Abbas believes, “with BSSIP, Balochistan is regaining its ‘fruit basket of Pakistan’ status and cultivation of food crops is helping to meet food needs of the province.”