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Dr. Altaf Ali Siyal

Fresh water resources play a vital role in global crop production and thus ensure food
security for feeding the increasing world population. Presently, about 70% of the fresh
water resources are being used for the agricultural production while the rest for drinking,
municipal, industrial uses etc. The increasing demand for food and fiber production calls
for the new areas to be brought under cultivation for more crop production. For which
supply of fresh water needs to be increased either by reducing seepage from canals,
distributaries and watercourses (conveyance losses) or by reducing farm water losses
using water use efficient irrigation techniques such as sprinkler, bubbler, drip etc. So far
due to seepage from waterways and inefficient irrigation practices our productive lands
on one hand have changed into unproductive saline and waterlogged soils, while on the
other hand we are facing water scarcity in the country. This twin menace is a great threat
for the sustainability of agriculture in the country. It is estimated that out of total 60
percent water losses, 20 to 30 percent are farm water losses due to use of flood irrigation
system``. Under such conditions, the efficient use of fresh water resources with optimum
agricultural outputs is essential for sustainable crop production in Pakistan. The growing
demand for water in the country emphasizes the need to develop and introduce simple,
economical and easily installed and maintained water saving technologies in the country
especially in semi-arid and arid regions.

Subsurface irrigation can be used to improve irrigation uniformity and water use
efficiency in a number of different cropping systems by supplying a low volume of water
from below the soil surface to crop. This method of irrigation can help conserve water by
reducing evaporative and deep percolation water losses at farm level. It is practiced most
commonly by burying pots, pitchers, porous pipes, leaky pipes and drip lines beneath the
soil surface. This irrigation method has been practiced in various forms since ancient
times. The development of plastic micro-irrigation technology in the last century led to
increased use of subsurface irrigation. Today, subsurface drip irrigation is being used
throughout the world to irrigate field crops, vegetables, and orchards. However,
installation and maintenance of subsurface drip system is expensive and also it requires
skilled labor for continuous monitoring and maintenance. Some times plastic drip tubing
and emitters clog when used in clay soil or if muddy water is used. Therefore, there is
great need to introduce and promote traditional irrigation methods, such as pitcher and
clay pipe for irrigation and water conservation in water scares areas of Pakistan like Thar
and Kohistan.

The porous clay pipe is a traditional method of subsurface irrigation in which pours clay
pipes are buried in the soil at regular intervals and water is supplied continuously to these
pipes from a source. Water seeps out of the porous wall of the pipe and moves radially
outwards from the pipe which creates a wetting front along the length of the lateral. The

geometry of wetted zone around a pipe in the soil depends on many factors such as
permeability of pipe, potential surface evaporation, applied volume of water, applied
pressure in the system, and the soil type. In this system both conveyance and seepage of
the water can be done instantaneously by the same pipe. This method of irrigation has
been used in many arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Subsurface irrigation offers
several advantages in soils not having drainage or water table problems. Proper control of
application rate can eliminate deep percolation and soil saturation problems. This method
has been found suitable for row crops grown in beds, such as vegetable crops. Okra and
tomato were grown successfully using this method of irrigation

How deep?” and “How far apart?’ the porous pipes should be buried are the main
questions for the success of the system. Shallower installation may result in water losses
due to evaporation from the soil surface and also increase risk of breakage of clay pipes
during to tillage practices. While deeper installation reduce the potential for soil
evaporation and also allow for a wider range of tillage practices. However, under such
condition the wetting front may not reach the root zone so root development may be
affected and be limited due to lack of appropriate moisture. Therefore, optimum
installation depth should be determined for particular soil texture before installation. If
lateral spacing between two adjacent pipelines is less than the optimum distance, it may
cause high moisture content at the midpoint between the pipelines. This will increase soil
surface evaporation, weed grow between the adjacent laterals, and deep percolation of the
water. Lateral spacing varies considerably from 0.25 to 5.0 m, with narrow spacing
suitable for turf grass and wide spacing often used for row crops iclusing vegetables and

To determine the water use efficiency and adoptability of subsurface clay pipe irrigation
for soils and climatic conditions of Pakistan, the system was installed on a half of acre
land at Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam. The soil texture was sandy loam. Baked
clay pipes, a key component of the system, were got prepared from the local potter. The
potter knew how to alter the porosity and permeability of the pipes by mixing donkey
dung or rice husks with the clay. Thus, required number of pieces of clay pipe, each of
length 1.2f ft and 6 inch diameter with saturated hydraulic conductivity of 0.05 cm per
day were prepared by the potter. For burying clay pipes, small trenches of depth 45 cm
and 1.0 meter apart were excavated in the ground. Distance between the trenches and
depth of installation actually depends on the type of crop, texture and properties of the
soil and climatic conditions.

Initially four pipe pieces were joined together with cement on soil surface then these units
were placed in excavated trench and joined together to form a clay pipe lateral line. The
lateral lines were buried with soil obtained due to excavation. To avoid any clogging of
clay pipe pores, a thin lay of coarse sand (hill sand) was applied to each pipe before
burying. The laterals were installed at slopes of less than 1.2%. The upper surface of pipe
lateral line was thus 30 cm below the surface. The first pipe of each lateral had opening
of 2 inch to facilitate their joining with main line via rubber pipe while the last pipe of
lateral had one closed end. The groundwater, pumped to an overhead water tank, was
continuously supplied to the mainline made of steel and thereafter to the clay pipe

laterals. A water meter installed at the beginning of mainline was used for measuring
volume of water. A fertigation tank was also installed/attached with the main line after
water meter.

Before sowing, water was applied continuously to all the laterals for three days as a
soaking doze. After three days, when soil surface above the laterals became sufficiently
moist, turnip seed was sown above the lateral lines. Required amount of fertigation was
also given to the crop through pipe laterals. After 50 days to sowing turnip was ready for
harvesting. The water used for the growth of turnip was compared with water needed by
turnip when irrigated with flood irrigation and was found that the clay pipe method saved
about 90 per cent of water in sandy loam soil. The turnip production obtained was 11
tones per hectare which is 20% more than that of obtained with conventional flood



The Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan is gratefully acknowledged for

funding the project “Use of subsurface irrigation system to meet the water crisis in the
country” under the National Research Program for Universities (NRPU).