Report: Innovation in Irrigation Water Management for Sustainable Food Security Seminar, January 19-26, 2013, Pakistan



The Asian Productivity Organization (APO) based in Tokyo, Japan has sponsored a five-day international seminar on innovation in irrigation water management for sustainable food security in Islamabad, Pakistan to discuss issues related to managing irrigation water for sustainable use.

The said seminar will gather various experts from thirteen (13) countries to share their experiences on water management related to irrigation and food security. The event is a major breakthrough in food security and will hopefully turn the collaborative knowledge of various stakeholders into action, thereby leaving a visible impact on the economy of participating countries.

Currently not only Pakistan, but other Asian countries are experiencing the shrinking water resources. This is the reason why this issue will be discussed along with innovative approaches. Such approaches can help address the challenges of irrigated agriculture, which has the potential to produce more food with existing water resources, and prevent the deterioration of water quality through contamination by soil surface runoff, nutrients and agro-chemicals.

This international gathering comes with realization that achieving food security in the face of additional food demand could be possible through raising the productivity of existing irrigated farmlands, upgrading rain fed ecosystems and increasing international trade in food for overcoming food security issues in the future.

In view of the untapped food production potential of irrigated agriculture in the participating countries, raising productivity of this sector is the key consideration in producing additional food needed to feed the increasing human population. Hence, this international seminar.


At the end of this 5-day seminar, the participants shall be able to:

1.   Learn new ideas, new technologies, approaches and strategies on the use of irrigation water management for sustainable food security;

2.  Identify common issues and impediments among the country participants in improving the performance of irrigation systems;

3.   Formulate action plans to address the common issues and concerns with the participants;

4.   Promote knowledge and experience sharing with the participants and establish partnership and future collaborations.


A total of nineteen (19) participants attended the said five (5) day international seminar.  The participants came from the Philippines (1), Republic of China (2). Islamic Republic of Iran (2), Malaysia (1), Nepal (1), Pakistan (3), Sri Lanka (3), Thailand (2), Mongolia (1), Vietnam (1), Turkey (1) and South Korea (1). Of the total, fifteen (15) were connected with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Offices while four (4) were  University Professors, specializing  on irrigation management. Most are holding supervisory and managerial positions.


This 5-day seminar was organized by APO in collaboration with the Pakistan based National Productivity Organization (NPO), the United States-Department of Agriculture (USDA), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and UK based World Confederation of Productivity Science (WCPS). The Ministry of Food Security and Research of Pakistan was also a major organizer of the said event.

The participants were required to present and discuss current issues that could lead towards the formation of innovative strategies for investments in irrigation water management, infrastructure development, institutional reforms and capability building.

Field visits to some successful irrigation projects and interaction with the water user group and small scale irrigators associations in Pakistan was an exciting and unforgettable experience. Simply because of the best agricultural practices adopted by the local farmers in managing their water resources that largely contributed to their increased in food production and increased income.

Group exercises were also conducted by dividing the 19 participants, into two teams.


From the earliest civilizations to the present, all walks of life have depended on water for survival.  However, the current high water demand coupled with widespread pollution, the destruction of water resources, and global climate change, collectively espoused by the participants, now threaten this very precious resource.

This can only mean that clean water will become an increasingly scarce and expensive commodity, and this will surely impact the poor much more than the rich.

Most of the countries have pursued economic growth on which their growth depended. Since water is becoming an increasingly limited resource, it is imperative that irrigation water resources are well managed.  How does the users group manage water in a way that is consistent with sustainable development?    How the farmers continue to utilize irrigation water for farming but ensure that public consumers will still have enough safe water for their own various needs?  Our response cannot be purely technical, but must include our lifestyle, laws and governance, as well as a paradigm shift regarding our wise consumption of water.

We need to transition quickly from outdated water paradigm-including its social, political and legal structures – to a sustainable irrigation water management paradigm.  A sustainable irrigation water management paradigm should include a comprehensive assessment of water consumption and impact, and empower our irrigation associations, who are usually those most directly affected.  In order to do this, we need to consider the following:

  • We cannot separate irrigation water issues from social, ethical, cultural, economic, political, and health issues.  For example, the destruction of watershed in a protected area almost always affects local population.  Mining activities in most of the countries, often lead to destruction of the groundwater and pollution of the surface water, resulting in economic and health impacts on the local communities as well as our farmers who depend on water for farming.  Many natural bodies of water as irrigation source have cultural significance, and destruction of the water resource is a threat to one’s culture.  Water and society are inseparable.
  • Because water pervades almost all aspects of life, the approach to the management of irrigation water must be multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary.
  • We need to adequately account for the largely under-appreciated environmental services and natural resources that natural waters provide.  Is the material wealth that will be generated from exploitation worth the cost of the destruction of the resource?  Who will profit from this development?  How will it affect the farmers group?
  • We need to recognize that the irrigation water consumption of our farmers goes beyond the water that we consume directly, but includes the energy, products and services that we use.  Thus, a campaign to conserve water must also include a reduction in our use of energy, the consumption of food and other product s that are less water demanding.  Each of these products should be assigned a water impact value.  We must also reduce our waste because all waste eventually impacts the quality of our water.
  • We need to deliberately consider the impact of pollution and destruction of watersheds on water resources by activities, such as mining.  While the contribution to the economy of such activities is acknowledged, the loss of water and other natural resources and the accompanying impacts on society are not adequately considered.  International/global policies that impact on water need to be reviewed.
  • We must strengthen the notion of water as a commons which goes beyond mere access, but includes community management and responsibility.

Nevertheless, in the face of the many challenges that confront us, there are many sources of hope.  Many local communities or indigenous peoples in the world have shown how, through proper management and communal spirit, they can bring degraded water bodies back to life.


The rise of the agricultural society hinged on the availability of water for irrigation, and the most prosperous civilizations were those that were able to harness water to grow food. Indeed, there is a reason to hope.

Below are the general recommendations and key actions for consideration:

General Recommendations


Key Actions

Equity in water rights allocation, efficiency in production, and sustainable use of irrigation waterAttainment of water security, long-term conservation or sustainability
  • Establish an environmental water Reserve for habitat conservation, Recharge, and water quality considerations;
  • Meet the basic needs of farming communities;
  • Implement raw water pricing, cost recovery norms, and recycling measures;
  • Reduce non-revenue water and irrigation inefficiencies;
  • Rationalize the tariff structure and provide cross-subsidies;
  • Develop and use market-based instruments;
  • Define future priority irrigation water requirements, and develop new sources of supply.
Groundwater management and aquifer protection
  • Assess aquifer vulnerability;
  • Establish restricted groundwater zones and abstraction limits in the production zones;
  • Maintain or improve groundwater recharge;
  • Control pollution sources and prevent aquifer contamination
Provision of safe, clean, and affordable irrigation water supply and sanitation services
  • Determine cost-sharing schemes for water projects in poor locales;
  • Set proper water standards and guidelines;
  • Raise farmers priority for irrigation water supply and sanitations;
  • Improve service quality and coverage of small-medium utilities;
  • Mobilize investments for irrigation water supply and sewerage and sanitation services.
Watershed conservation and protection of vital ecosystems (forests, mangroves, wetlands,  rivers, lakes, aquifer), and the restoration of the health of stressed water bodies.
  • Integrate the management of land, water (upstream, downstream, groundwater, surface water) and coastal resources;
  • Promote coordinated development and management of the land, water, and related resources within the watershed;
  • Mitigate the environmental impacts of development activities; and
  • Incorporate sustainable water management plans in development master plans.
Mitigation of climate change risks
  • Map the geo-hazardous and vulnerable areas;
  • Develop flood and drought forecasting and cyclone-warning capacities; and
  • Integrate both mitigation and adaptation measures in development plans.

In conclusion, this report moves to the level of policy because it sets limits on what can and cannot be done.  The seeds of hope that have sprouted or have begun to grow can be prevented from blossoming fully by the wrong policy or the lack of a supportive policy framework.  Even if a particular country has not had a good track record in implementing existing laws and policies, policies that are conducive to local actions would enable pressure from organized actors on the ground to ensure their implementation.

The following principles and policy directions can guide initiatives at both the country’s local and national level (judicial decisions, legislation, executive programs/ policies):

  • declare water as a public/social good that is essential for both human revival and environmental conservation, or the provision of a local community and environment water reserve (beyond the object of beneficial use);
  • allocate water on the basis of an updated inventory assessment of groundwater and surface water supply, and through the terms, conditions, and tenure period of a permit system that promotes resource efficiency and sustainability;
  • apply economic instruments in particular phases of the water supply cycle, i.e., permit fee, abstraction charge, tariffs(subsidies), groundwater fee, irrigation fee, waste water, sewerage/sanitation fee, pollution/effluent charge, watershed (catchment) management charge, environmental risk insurance based on the economic values within the water supply cycle; and reverting these generated funds back to the water and water-related sectors to maintain and sustain the water supply cycle rather than the country’s General Fund;
  • define the strategic importance of irrigation water (relative to other resources like soil nutrients, metallic ores, etc.) in the country’s economic social (development) priorities, or in terms of promoting sustainable development; and addressing the unmitigated resource environmental impacts and uncompensated costs of natural resource extractive activities; and
  • reflect the strategic importance of irrigation water in both the legal policy framework and governance structure and resolve contradictions, particularly between the Mining Act on one hand, and the country’s Local Government Code, the National Protected Area Law, and Indigenous Peoples Rights Law on the other and recognize the central role of the President/Head of State in the highest water governance structure,(e.g., Water Council).


Executive Director
Bureau of Soils and Water Management
Department of Agriculture


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