Research by a PhD student from UWA's School of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Institute of Agriculture could help achieve greater efficiency in the farming of cotton, Pakistan's most important agricultural commodity.
The production of cotton, which accounts for 46 per cent of all of Pakistan's exports, requires excessive water use. In many regions of Pakistan the water tables are rapidly dropping due to excessive pumping of groundwater for irrigation. Arif Watto, who earned his Master's with Honours in Agricultural Extension from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF), conducted his research across 172 cotton growers in the Punjab province.
"The goal was to estimate the level of technical efficiency of groundwater-irrigated cotton farms and to examine the factors which affected that technical efficiency," Mr Watto said. "Research efforts aim to improve efficiency and productivity while making efficient use of the shrinking water resources."
Most of the irrigation water is pumped from groundwater mainly through tube-wells operated by electricity or by diesel. Tube-wells are costly to install where water tables are deep, and the costs are likely to increase as the water tables become lower.
Cotton farmers without tube-wells - typically tenants or smallholders - engage in groundwater trading. However, since the agreements are informal, water buyers have equity concerns.
"Results of the data obtained from 92 growers who owned tube-wells and 80 who bought water indicate considerable technical inefficiencies, although generally the tube-well owners do better in this regard," Mr Watto said.
"This may be because tube-well owners have more access to agricultural extension services and other information sources such as the radio, television and newspapers. Farmers who perceive the dangers of extracting too much groundwater are usually more efficient."
His study proposes that, on average, tube-well owners could increase cotton production by 19 per cent and water buyers by 28 per cent, without increasing their water use.
This could be accomplished by using improved seed for new cotton varieties, having access to better extension services regarding production technology, receiving education about the actual crop water requirements and being made aware of the status of the water tables.
"A key policy implication of this study is that water access and entitlements matter in production agriculture, especially in dryland regions like Pakistan," Assistant Professor Amin Mugera, of UWA's School of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Institute of Agriculture, said. "Policies that ensure equity in water access can bridge the difference in technical efficiency among tube-well owners and water buyers."
Mr Watto is supported by joint scholarship between UWA and University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), Pakistan. UWA and UAF have an existing MoU and have been collaborating on research and postgraduate training since 2009. Upon completion of his PhD Mr Watto will return to UAF to take up his Faculty position.
Arif Watto (School of Agricultural and Resource Economics/UWA Institute of Agriculture)(+61 8) 6488 4633 / (+61 4) 25 572 555
David Stacey (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716