Curt Swift, Ph.D.
Grand Junction Free Press Gardening Columnist

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April 18, 2013
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SWIFT: Helping farmers and irrigators a world away

Arriving at the airport in Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 13 was a totally different experience from earlier this year when I landed at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Even though they are neighboring countries, Kabul's air was full of dust and smoke making breathing difficult while Islamabad's air is clear of particulates.

The difference in air quality is partly due to the 30 years of war Afghanistan is attempting to recover from and the desertification of the area surrounding Kabul. The blowing dust in the Afghan capital coats the roads where it is kicked back up into the air along with the oil-burning cars crowding the streets. Street sweepers like those that prowl the streets of Grand Junction would be a fantastically useful gift for Kabul.

Islamabad lacks the overcrowded roads and daily storms of grit and sand common in Kabul. The hills outside Kabul are devoid of all vegetation and crowded to their tops with mud brick huts while the hills surrounding Islamabad are covered with vegetation. In both cases, the reason for entering these countries was and is to conduct training that should be helpful in reducing agricultural water use. Both countries are suffering from water shortages.

Pakistan's available water has dropped significantly since 1992 and is expected to be only half that amount in 2020 creating a "water scarce" environment. The rains are monsoonal arriving in certain months leaving the remainder of the year dry. As a result of lack of sufficient water-holding facilities, the country needs to use every method available to capture and store water. The demonstration farm we visited on Tuesday had incorporated every one of the technologies we had taught in previous training activities in Afghanistan, which were also attended by several Pakistani professionals.

Micro basin and eyebrow water capture methods, drip irrigation, sprinkler and furrow irrigation techniques designed to conserve water had already been implemented on this demonstration farm. Solar power as well as gravity-fed irrigation is being used to supplement irrigation, and a bubbler system using these technologies will be installed in the near future in their young citrus orchard to enhance natural rainfall. An ET gage will be added to the current tensiometers to track evapotranspiration requirements of the various crops being grown on the demonstration site.

The Pakistan workshops are designed to train Pakistani agricultural researchers and extension professionals on how to evaluate, train and incorporate individuals (service providers) who provide farmers machinery, irrigation supplies, soil preparation and bed-forming services, and maintenance into extension educational activities, research projects and demonstrations in rural Pakistan. As with Colorado, Pakistan lacks sufficient funds and extension staff to reach all the farmers with new water-saving technologies, and incorporating the service providers into their efforts is critical to ensuring Pakistan is a food secure country. This will also help provide jobs for the unemployed youth by increasing job opportunities in the private sector.

By the time Dr. Ajay Jha and I leave Pakistan, the participants from the various institutions attending this workshop will have a plan to provide service providers the additional skills needed to promote water conservation and a plan to incorporate them in their research and demonstration projects.

This project is just one of the many USDA-funded projects Dr. Jha has taken on during the last few years. A great deal more information on this US - Pakistan - Afghanistan project can be found at

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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The Post Independent Updated Apr 18, 2013 12:11PM Published Apr 18, 2013 12:10PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.