ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (APP): The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has authorised a $200 million loan to help Punjab province create an irrigation system that would help raise agricultural output and food security.

The project loan, which is in Japanese yen, will be used to fund the building of the Greater Thal Canal irrigation scheme’s second branch, or Choubara system.

The project would offer reliable irrigation water to 704,000 hectares of land in the districts of Bhakkar, Jhang, Khushab, Layyah, and Muzaffargarh, allowing them to become more agriculturally productive.

The Pakistani government had already built the Main Canal and the first branch, known as the Mankera system.

“Given Pakistan’s susceptibility to climate change, building irrigation infrastructure for climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture is crucial,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Yevgeniy Zhukov.

“The ADB’s financing would help enhance local product supply and promote food security while boosting economic growth,” Zhukov noted.

Punjab produces a substantial amount of the country’s wheat, rice, sugarcane, and maize, making it the primary source of food for Pakistan’s increasing population.

Agriculture in Pakistan is heavily reliant on irrigation due to the country’s semi-arid environment. Despite this, irrigation efficiency remains low owing to water scarcity, soil degradation, and poor water resource management.

ADB will assist with the construction of the Choubara branch system, which includes a 72-kilometer branch canal, 11 secondary canals totalling 251 kilometres, and 11 tertiary canals totaling 127 kilometres.

In addition, the ADB will assist in the development of on-farm agricultural command zones, the piloting of water saving technologies such as land levelling and high-efficiency irrigation systems, and the training of farmers in water management and climate-resilient agricultural practises.

Around 49,000 farmer families live in the Main Canal and Mankera branch sections, while roughly 38,000 live in the Choubara branch areas. The majority of these families have fewer than five hectares of land.

“This project directly assists smallholder farmers to manage their limited resources more efficiently and maximise the advantages of irrigated agriculture by combining infrastructural and agricultural interventions,” said ADB Principal Portfolio Management Specialist Natsuko Totsuka.

“The initiative will assist local governments increase their capacity to manage these irrigation systems, encourage rural economic growth, and help the province eliminate poverty,” Totsuka added.

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