PCRWR organized an international hybrid event together with UPSIGN, SAWIE, and UKRI Partners to address the climate change crisis affecting the availability of water to our food systems. The event was centered around the theme of how to meet the growing demand for Food, Water, and Energy through a Nexus thinking approach. How to maximize the effective utilization of a single water drop of water for food production. Water is a limiting factor for food, fiber, and energy production. Pakistan is alarmed as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change by the UN and other international organizations. Agriculture consumes more than 92% of the freshwater. Pakistan’s agriculture sector is dominated by one poorly productive system of flood irrigation where water productivity is less than 40%. Dr Hifza Rasheed DG, PCRWR elaborated on the need for conserving water and developing a circular economy model to treat wastewater. Only 41% of the drinking water is meeting international water quality and the rest has a risk of contamination either from sewage or nitrates and heavy metals, etc.

Dr Muhammad Imran, project lead from UKRI project at Aston University said, there is a need for developing a Sustainable Irrigation System to conserve water and energy. The renewable energy resources of solar and wind have the potential to meet the energy requirements of pumping groundwater and distributing water on the farm. Under this project, they aim to develop a prototype to test the efficacy of the system and its economic feasibility for smallholder farmers growing food and fiber crops for national importance.

There is a need to take ownership of the water challenge at all levels, we need to develop policy, reforms, and governance (Provincial Groundwater Governance Frameworks; Implement national policies), Increase agricultural efficiency (more crop per drop).

Replace monitoring with digitalization, Water metering/pricing (Public-private partnership)

Recycling of wastewater (4R’s Principle: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse & Recover), Watershed management at catchments, Productive research (Industry & Academia linkages), and the need for behavior change through awareness raising.

Eng. Bareerah Fatima highlighted the need to save water on the farm by improving water productivity and reducing losses of ground and surface water. PCRWR has started developing an Irrigation Advisory Services model through support from NASA and Washington state university, it has already been tested by over 20,000 farmers based on the evapotranspiration (ET) index and soil moisture. The council has a network of research centers equipped with sensors across Pakistan to confirm ground data and link with satellite data. The council believes in a Public-private partnership and has initiated a pilot project with SAWIE to provide Irrigation Advisory Services to smallholder farmers initially in seven districts.

Dr Khalid Mahmood from SAWIE highlighted the need to develop a comprehensive plan to educate and train our farmers, especially smallholders, which are about 9 million in Pakistan, about Climate Smart Agriculture practices. This includes protecting soil health, choosing appropriate sowing methods and crops, use of appropriate methods for irrigation, crop protection, harvesting, and storage of the crops to increase their income. Digital advisory services play a critical role in achieving this.

Food, Energy, and Water nexus is an important way to consider thinking of access to water and using water said Dr Wakil Shahzad from Northumbria University/ Vice Chair UPSIGN. There is a need to develop low-tech solutions to improve water quality and efficient usage in agriculture food and human consumption. Dr. Shahzad also highlighted how UPSIGN is contributing in various projects in Pakistan through expertise from the UK. UPSIGN provides an excellent platform for collaboration opportunities between UK and Pakistan academia and research.

Dr. Zafar Ali Khan from the Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST) emphasized the importance of the use of advanced forecasting and automation techniques and tools in the farming industry to ensure sustainable farming. Dr. Muhammad Sultan from Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU) discussed the need to develop a mathematical model to estimate the water requirement for selected cash and food crops, enabling more efficient and effective water usage in agriculture. The water requirement estimation will allow sizing of the water pumping system and energy module to power the pumping system.

The chairman of PCRWR, Dr. Muhammad Ashraf, thanked the speakers for their valuable talks and emphasized the need to develop research and innovation to deliver benefits to society to access quality water and affordable quality food and fiber. The event attracted early-career researchers, industry representatives, and farmers. The event had about 30 online participants from Pakistan and around the world.

The event has participation from UK & Pakistani universities and industry partners including Aston University Birmingham, Mirpur University of Science and Technology, Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU)Multan, Effitech, e-works & SAWIE. These partners are part of a consortium leading on UKRI funded project “Hybrid Energy Powered Smart Irrigation System for Smallholder Farmers”.