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Pitcher irrigation brings vegetables to Pakistani desert

Author: Zainab Reza
Published Date: 16 August 2012

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio

Farmers in the arid district of Sanghar in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province regard the vegetables growing in the sandy ground outside their thatched homes as little short of a miracle.

First introduced to the area in 2008, pitcher irrigation - in which buried clay pots release water into the soil - has expanded to 14 villages. It has provided a fresh source of income for more than 200 families who previously thought it impossible to farm vegetables on these dry lands.

“It is amazing to cultivate vegetables with less water and labour,” says Soomar, who has installed 20 pitchers on the land outside his hut in Rano Junejo village, near Chotiari freshwater reservoir.

Farmers have been unable to take advantage of the reservoir as there is no canal network to distribute water for irrigation. And even if there were, it would likely prove ineffective, as the water would simply be soaked up by the sand before reaching its destination.

“All we did was plant pitchers (in the soil) and sow different vegetable seeds, and it feels as if the vegetables are growing on their own,” adds the exultant 34-year-old.

Ibrahim Mangrio of Padhrio village grows a range of vegetables, including cucumbers, okra and eggplant. Some go to feed his family and the rest are sold at the local market in Sanghar, a bustling town some 260 km northeast of Karachi.

The 45-year-old’s main source of income is cattle farming, but diversifying into vegetables has generated extra money and better economic conditions for his household.

Around 400 families in Padhrio and other villages scattered nearby rear livestock for a living. But their pastures turn into dry lands and rain-filled ponds evaporate during the scorching summer days from May to July, causing livestock deaths and hiking poverty in the area.

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