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Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings
Volume (2), No (13), 2010
Productivity of Mini Dams in Pothwar
Plateau: A Diagnostic Analysis
Sidra Majeed1, Irfan Ali2, Sumia Bint Zaman3 and Dr. Shahid Ahmad4

May 2010

Scientific Officer Incharge Integrated Natural Resource Management Cell, NRD, PARC
Scientific Officer/Deputy Director, Water Resources NRD, PARC
Research Internee INRM Cell, Natural Resources Division PARC.
Member Incharge, Natural Resources Division, PARC

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

Productivity of Mini Dams in Pothwar Plateau:

A Diagnostic Analysis
Sidra Majeed, Irfan Ali, Sumia Bint Zaman, and Dr. Shahid Ahmad


Water resources development and management in Pothwar plateau is somewhat different from rest of the
country. The rainfall, runoff and ground water are the three major sources of water. Water stored in small and
mini dams is used for irrigation, domestic and stockwater needs. Mini dam can be very successful intervention
if managed properly. Mere provision of mini dams infrastructure does not resolve the issues related to
irrigated agriculture in the Pothwar plateau, as shift from Barani to irrigated environment is not automatic. It
requires the immense attention of the policy makers and the development planners to address the issues of
future planning for the construction of new mini dams. Currently, in the projects, the investment is solely for the
construction of the mini dam and the utilization of water for irrigated agriculture is left for farmer. Even the
technical knowledge regarding land farming, irrigation system design and layout, and productivity of irrigated
agriculture are not being provided to the owners of the mini dams. Farmers have been working in best of their
knowledge and resources to utilize the stored water. Furthermore, the research institutions also never assigned
any priority for the conduct of research related to the impacts of the mini dams in improving farmers income.
This study is the first effort to look into the issues related to the impacts of mini dams on the improved
productivity and income of farmers in the Pothwar plateau. The study also identified potential options for
improving productivity and sustainability of min dams in the region.


Background Information


Geography and Hydrology of Pothwar Plateau

Pothwar plateau lies parallel to the outer Himalayas and between the rivers Jhelum and Indus. It includes whole
of the Attock and Rawalpindi districts and parts of the Murree zone are included, besides 75% of Chakwal
district, 15% of Jhelum district and 20% of Mianwali district. It is about 250 km long and 100 km wide with
elevations ranging from 200 m along
River Indus to about 900 m in the
hills north of Islamabad with an
average elevation of 457 m. The
climate of Pothwar is arid in the
south-west to humid in the north-east.
Two seasonal Rivers Haro and Soan
flow from east to the west and after
crossing the region in the north and in
the middle respectively, fall in the
Indus. River Kanshi traverses the
eastern part of the plateau from north
to south and drains into the River

Figure 1. Map of Pothwar Plateau

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

These rivers and other hill torrents have cut deep valleys and are of little use for irrigation. Agriculture is thus
almost entirely dependent on rainfall and stored runoff in small and mini dams built across the streams (Munir
There is a spatial variability in mean annual rainfall which is around 250-1500 mm, also there is temporal
variability in mean seasonal rainfall, and during Rabi rainfall in Islamabad varies from 125-650 mm. Rainfall
during Kharif season is 60% of annual rainfall in July to September (Ahmad 1993; 2008a).
The Pothwar tract comprises mainly of a wide plateau, generally lying at 300-450 masl5 and a high mountainous
belt in the northeast and west, rising up to 2,200 masl, having ridges and narrow intervening valleys. The
mountains have steep to moderately steep slopes, while the plateau has level to undulating topography, with
isolated gullies here and there. The area is subject to active water erosion and, at places; streams have cut very
deep gullies and gorges through the land and rock strata.


Farming System

The soils of Pothwar tract have developed over the years from wind and water laid deposits and sedimentary
rocks. Soils developed by wind deposited materials are dark brown to dark yellowish brown in color, having
medium to fine textures and are very deep. Most of them have well developed profiles containing lime
concretions at varying depth. Some are subject to considerable erosion by water from the upland areas and from
local runoff. Water laid deposits contains variety of soils, the characteristics of which are primarily dependent
on the age and origin of the materials and their mode of deposition. The soils of the piedmonts have weakly
developed profiles and consist of very deep, well-drained and brownish soils of varying textures. The area is
predominantly used for dry farming at subsistence level. The texture of these agricultural soils mostly varies
from sandy to silt loam and clay loam comprising from poor to fertile lands. The plateau has a flat to gently
undulating surface broken by gullies and low hill ranges (Nizami 2004). About 60 percent of the land area
has been highly eroded leaving the rest as a flat land which constitutes the main cultivated area.
The major crops grown under Barani farming in the Pothwar are wheat, chickpea, groundnut, millets, sorghum,
oilseeds and fodders. Maize and sunflower are grown on higher rainfall areas. Vegetables and orchards are
grown where access to cities and irrigation water from dams and tubewells are available. Very little of natural
vegetation remains except at a few protected and inaccessible areas which have remnants of over thorn thicket
savanna, while in higher precipitation areas dense forests occur in scattered pockets (Khan 2002).
The irrigated farming system is currently practiced on a relatively much smaller scale from small dams, mini
dams and tubewells. A natural lake namely Namal lake is located in the extreme southwest of Pothwar. Part of
water from this lake is pumped for irrigation of adjacent areas but most of it is conveyed through a tunnel
through the Salt Range to irrigate lands near Mianwali (Munir 2002).


Water Resources Development and Management in Pothwar

Water resources development and management in Pothwar plateau is somewhat different from rest of the
country, as there is no formal canal irrigation system available. Rainfall, runoff and groundwater are the main
sources of water. Runoff from watersheds is stored in small and mini dams and ponds for multiple uses.


Sources of Freshwater

Mountains, hills and spurs with potential of rainwater coming down to plains through various streams
originating from Murree, Kahuta and Kotli Sattian hills surround Rawalpindi district. Two seasonal Rivers Haro
and Soan flow from east to the west and after crossing region in the north and in the middle respectively, fall in

masl elevation in meters at mean sea level

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

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Volume (2), No (13), 2010

the River Indus. The important among them is Soan. The rainfall in both summer (April-September) and winter
(October-March) normally remains sufficient for maturing Rabi and Kharif crops.


Water Management in Pothwar Plateau

In the Northern Punjab, rivers and canals have literally no significant role in irrigation and the availability of
surface water is not in abundance as compared to other parts of Punjab. To cope with water demand, there needs
to be an effective water management in place. The water scarcity trends are now clear in the Pothwar plateau
and there are chances that it might result into water crisis in the near future. Experts are of the opinion that
water crisis are already there, as the country is not effectively managing the available resources. The crisis is
basically due to lack of management of water under scarcity so that basic needs for domestic and food purposes
can be met (Munir 2002). The water scarcity is now reality and in future new water resources are harder to find,
therefore new water resources would largely come from the saving of existing losses through effective
management of the available resource (Ahmad 2008a)
Water management becomes necessary for ensuring the long-term availability of clean water for the domestic
use and for meeting the demand for food. The Water Apportionment Accord does not cover the Northern Areas
and Pothwar plateau, therefore, the people of Barani areas are deprived from having access to river flows from
the Indus Basin Irrigation System (Ahmad 2008b). The water rights on the non-perennial floodwater streams are
not precisely and sharply defined and any large scale water development in these areas sometime create
conflicts among the community. Moreover proper infrastructure to harness potential from non-perennial stream
is also lacking.

1.3.3. Storage of Water in Dams

There is a need to characterize various techniques used for storage of runoff in ponds and dams in the Pothwar
Plateau. The commonly used techniques for storage of water are presented in the following sections.

A pond is a body of standing water, either natural or man-made, that is usually smaller than a lake. A wide
variety of man-made bodies of water are classified as ponds, including water gardens designed for aesthetic
ornamentation, fish ponds designed for commercial fish farming, and solar ponds designed to store thermal

Check Dam7
A check dam is a small structure, which can either be temporary or permanent, built across a minor channel,
swale, bio-swale, or drainage ditch. Similar to drop structures in purpose, they reduce erosion and gully
formation in the channel and allow sediments to settle. They also lower the speed of water flow during storm
events. Coarse and medium-grained sediment from runoff tends to be deposited behind check dams, and
floating garbage are also trapped or eliminated by the presence of check dams, increasing their effectiveness as
water quality control measures. In nearly all instances, erosion control blankets, which are biodegradable openweave blankets, are used in conjunction with check dams. These blankets help enforce vegetative growth on the
slopes, shorelines and ditch bottoms.

Mini Dams
Mini dams are an emergent very successful irrigation method utilized in Barani areas of northern Punjab. The
design is based on a proven method used to store year round rainfall and floodwater that otherwise would not be
7 dam

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

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available during the dry season and pass downstream and escape unutilized. Mini dam uses diverted water of the
perennial flows, and runoff. Mini dams are the structures of less than 15 feet high or that impounds less
than 50 acre feet of water. The Service's Dam Safety inspection team determines the size classification of a
dam. They use the dam height or the water storage capacity at maximum water storage elevation, whichever
yields the larger size classification, to determine the size of a dam (Division of Engineering 2008). These dams
are constructed without detailed feasibility. However, a brief feasibility and design is made by the Civil
Engineers of ABAD (Agency for Barani Areas Development) and implemented by the Directorate of Soil
Conservation. The Directorate of Soil Conservations lacks capacity for engineering and command area
development works. However, their staff mainly the Soil Scientists has gained experience to implement the
schemes. The mini dams are being constructed by the farmers under a programme of subsidy. Farmers share the
balance cost of the mini dam beyond the subsidy.

Small Dams
Small dams are structures that are less than 40 feet high or that impound less than 1,000 acre-feet of water.
These dams are constructed after having the full feasibility. There are design and supervision consultants hired
by the Small Dams Organization of Punjab and contractors are awarded construction works. A nominal staff is
posted for the operation and maintenance of the dam and canal network.

Intermediate Dams
Intermediate dams are structures that are 40 to 100 feet high or that impound 1,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of water.
Some of the dams constructed by the Small Dams Organization also falls under this category but still named as
small dams.

Large Dams
Large dams are structures that are more than 100 feet high or that impound more than 50,000 acre-feet of water.


Need for Mini Dams

The only source of water in the Barani tract is rainfall, which varies between 300 and 1000 mm with total
runoff of 9 MAF8. About 30% of rainfall is lost which is sufficient to irrigate two million acres if properly
harvested. The rainwater not only washes away the fertile top soil but also depletes the soil nutrients. The uncontrolled flow of runoff water has converted large tract of table lands into gullies and made them unfit for
cultivation. About 12000 acres of land are being affected every year due to soil erosion and gully
formation by rain water.
Transfer of soil from one place to the other through high rainfall causes soil erosion. Moreover high intensity
rainfall, steep slopes and erodible soils without adequate protection have led to extensive soil erosion9 and
reduction in agricultural productivity in Pothwar plateau. The soil conservation technology is well established,
but in spite of the efforts of various public-sector departments and projects costing billions of rupees during the
last 54 years, soil erosion still continues to be a serious menace. In order to prevent soil erosion water
conservation is an important factor. It not only store water but also prevents soil erosion. Construction of dams
is supposed to conserve land from the menace of soil erosion on small scale.
During the dry spell (1997-2003) there was little rainfall and farmers especially in Barani areas started
installing more tubewells. Consequently the groundwater resource was exploited indiscriminately and water
table lowered at a rate of 0.6 to 2.5 m per annum resulting in intrusion of saline water into fresh layer as well

Million acre feet

When soil particles are unmanaged, water finds its own way, it enters from one place and exit from the other. It destroys the whole
landscape. It also takes away the nutrients of soil and drop in the gullies and rills.

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

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Volume (2), No (13), 2010

as extremely restricted well yield. One of the solutions to the problem is efficient management of groundwater
as well as artificial re-charging of groundwater aquifer through construction of delayed action mini dams with
sinking sumps which would help increase recharge to groundwater and raise the groundwater level. The scope
for such development works is quite large in the Barani areas (GOP 2009).
Another objective of mini dam is to reduce the fast depletion of groundwater. Much of the rainwater is wasted if
not managed properly. In order to save the runoff water in the Pothwar region construction of mini dam is most
suitable option. Storing runoff in mini dams has good potential for irrigated agriculture. Surface storage may
not be possible everywhere but perennial and non-perennial rivers and streams running through Pothwar plateau
carry substantial water especially during monsoon season. Moreover for mini dam very large catchment is not
required which makes it even more feasible to construct the mini dam in the area rather than the small dam.
In case of small dam, the ownership and management lies with the government. But unfortunately management
is very faulty and there are many losses which also includes the conveyance losses. On the other hand the
ownership of the mini dams lies with the individual, the management is the task of the owner him/her self and
cost of managing the dam is to be borne by the farmer. This is the reason the mini dams are more economical to
make as compared to the small dams because in case of small dam the ownership is of the government and due
to this it is highly uneconomical. The construction of the mini dam is highly subsidized. Most of the mini dam
schemes are subsidized ranging from 40-80%.
The share of farmer ranges from 20-60% of the total cost. In small dams huge investment is required. A small
dam benefits to the multiple users where as mini dam benefits to an individual or a small group of farmers.
However, farmer can trade water in case there is a market.


Benefits of Mini Dams

Multi-purpose dams entail many benefits for the community and are likely to have very positive impact on the
livelihoods of the local population. Dams provide a range of economic, environmental, and social benefits,
including recreation, flood control, water supply, waste management, and wildlife habitat.


Public-Sector Initiatives for Construction of Mini Dams

Various public-sectors institutions are engaged in the development of Barani areas of Pothwar Plateau. Some of
the institutions involved in the construction of mini dams and water management are discussed in the following


The Directorate of Soil Conservation

The Directorate of Soil Conservation of Punjab Agriculture Department is engaged to control the problem of
soil erosion for the last four decades and has the jurisdiction in the Barani areas of Punjab extending from the
Districts of Narowal to Districts of D. G. Khan and Rajanpur. The major functions of the Soil Conservation
Directorate are to (GOP 2006):
Control soil erosion process in the cultivable areas and the adjoining un-cultivated lands and to save these
areas from further degradation.
Make maximum use of runoff water by conserving it into the field by various moisture conservation
Bring more area under cultivation through reclamation and gully control techniques.
Develop water resources through various means by providing assured water supply for irrigation purposes.

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

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Agency for Barani Areas Development (ABAD)

ABAD was established on the recommendation of the Barani Commission in 1978. Since its creation, ABAD
has implemented many long-term multi-sectoral projects aimed at improving social and economic conditions
through building up the land, water, forestry, agricultural, livestock resources and promoting agro-based cottage
industry in Barani tract of Punjab.
ABAD has successfully implemented two phases of ADB-sponsored project Barani Areas Development
Project. The 1st and 2nd phases of BADP have developed good community based models for sustainable NRM
and land management which are being replicated in other projects. ABAD has mainly worked with the leading
national and local NGOs such as NRSP in implementing its projects. ABAD has been implementing Barani
Village Development Project (BVDP) with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and International Fund for
Agricultural Development (IFAD) assistance (GOP 2006).

1.6. 3. Barani Village Development Project (BVDP) 1999-2007

A major aim of the project is to introduce irrigation and technologies suitable for low rainfall areas to help
increase crop growth and productivity. A total of 235 mini dams, 161 ponds and 5513 soil conservation
structures and 1492 dug wells constructed through community organizations. BVDP is a multi-sectoral
integrated project with IFAD assistance of US $ 25.1 million (GOP 2006). Up till 2008, a number of projects
have been completed which were financed by different agencies10.




Objective of the study

The overall objective of the study is to evaluate the current productivity and potential of mini dams
in the Pothwar plateau, their limitations and issues hindering cost-effective utilization of stored
water using an approach of diagnostic surveys and analysis for enhancing future development of
irrigated agriculture in the command area of mini dams. The specific objectives are to:
Analyze economic benefits of mini dams to the farming communities.
Investigate whether investment on mini dams is cost-effective or not?
Identify key issues and list potential options for command area development based on the findings of the
diagnostic surveys and analysis.
10 Mini Dams Completed Under Second Barani Area Development Program

Dams Completed Under Water Resources Development in Barani Area Of Punjab

Mini Dams Constructed Under Barani Village Development Program
Mini Dams Completed Under Drought Emergency Relief Assistance Program In District Rawalpindi
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Drought Emergency Recovery Assistance (DERA-I) In District Jhelum During The Year 2002-03
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Drought Emergency Recovery Assistance (DERA-I) (MPA Grants)In District Jhelum During The
Year 2003-04
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Drought Emergency Recovery Assistance (DERA-I) (World Bank) In District Jhelum During The
Year 2004-05
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Drought Emergency Recovery Assistance (DERA-II) In District Jhelum During The Year 2007-08
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Drought Emergency Recovery Assistance (DERA) In District Chakwal During The Year 2001-04
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Drought Emergency Recovery Assistance (DERA/ DRP-P-II) In District Chakwal During The Year
construction of mini dams on under sustainable livelihood in Barani area project (SLBAP) during the year 2006-07
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Sustainable Livelihood Barani Area Project (SLABAP) In District Jhelum During The Year 200708
Construction Of Mini Dams Under Development Scheme In District Gujarat During The Year 2006-07
Construction Of Mini Dams In District Gujarat During The Year 2008-09
Construction Of Mini Dams/Delay Action Dams Under The Scheme "Establishment Of Water Recharge System Through Construction
Of Mini Dams In Valley Soon Sakesar And Pothwar Area Of District Khushab

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

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Find out what are the potential interventions used in the target areas.


Data Collection

The study for the mini dams was designed covering both the review and analysis of secondary data and
collection of primary data in the mini dams selected out of the population database developed under the study.
Mini dams are largely constructed in the province of Punjab and based on this experience the project is
currently underway in AJK.
The data of all the mini dams constructed in Punjab province by the Directorate of Soil Conservation was
collected for the development of the database. Based on the database, a sample of mini dams was selected to
conduct the diagnostic surveys for the collection of primary data. Data from secondary and primary sources was
triangulated for synthesis of findings and identification of key issues and potential options.


Secondary Data

The documented data of mini dams maintained by the Directorate of Soil Conservation was collected to develop
a database of the completed mini dams in Punjab under various projects funded by different donors. The data
includes: a) total number of mini dams in Punjab; b) spatial distribution; c) age of the mini dam; d) designed
versus actual command area of the mini dam; and e) cost and subsidy provided for mini dams. The data of 981
mini dams were collected from the Soil Conservation Directorate and database was developed using MS Excel
Files. These dams were constructed during the period from 1984 to 2009. Thus the database developed covers
the period of 25 years. Out of the population of 981 mini dams 27 mini dams were selected for the conduct of
diagnostic survey and analysis.


Primary Data

For the conduct of the primary data collection, a questionnaire was developed. Later on pretest of the
questionnaire was conducted and necessary changes were made in the questionnaire. After the fine tuning of the
questionnaire, structured interviews were arranged for the owners of the mini dams.
Sampling frame was the total numbers of mini dams in the Pothwar plateau while the sample was selected from
the frame. The sampling frame represents the dams with small and large command areas; range is 2.5-250 acres.
Out of 14 districts in which whole range of mini dams is located, nine locations of Pothwar were selected;
Rawalpindi, Gujar khan, Sohawa, Chakwal, Talagang, Fateh Jang, Pindi Gheb, Jhand, and Attock. Out of these
nine locations, 27 mini dams were selected for the conduct of the diagnostic survey. Out of these, data of 21
dams are reported.
The sampled dams chosen for the survey are of different ages based on the year of construction. The oldest dam
selected for survey was constructed in the year 1996 and the most recently constructed is 2009.
The primary data collection was targeted to answer specific questions about what farmers have experienced and
their opinion about the dam, how has it affected their lives and livelihoods, and what types of externalities are
generated by the dam. Data regarding physical characteristics of mini dams, outcome of mini dams, contribution
of mini dams in agricultural development and the limitations is collected through survey. Questionnaire is
developed to acquire the information about physical characteristics of mini dams, initial and operational cost of
the dams, maintenance, utilization pattern, impacts, core issues of the dams and option for betterments in view
of the owners.


Constraints of the survey

Survey was organized in collaboration with the Soil Conservation Directorate and survey team was fully
dependent on the Directorate to conduct the survey. Due to dependency constraint, survey time got

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expanded which delayed the research. Sample selection based on some criterion could not be applied and
the random sampling approach is adopted.
Farmers availability was not sure as on some of the sites, as farmers were not there so data collection
could not be materialized on these sites.


Findings of the Analysis of the Mini Dams Database


Water Resources Potential

Rainfall is the major source of water available in the area. The high intensity storms coupled with steep slopes
result into runoff. Due to deeply incised nature of the main rivers and streams, groundwater over most parts of
the Plateau is mainly recharged from rainfall. The water is ultimately supplied through springs and streams in
the mountainous belt for farming. Rainfall is the main source of water to meet crop evapotranspiration and crop
yields are low per unit area due to traditional farming practices. The rainfall pattern demands water harvesting,
storage and supplemental irrigation for crops during the months of April to June and October to December
(PARC 1986; Shafiq et al., 1994). The runoff available in the Pothwar Plateau is 3.5 MAF, of which 0.10 MAF
is utilized by small dams, mini dams and ponds. The remaining 3.4 MAF is going to the Indus and Jehlum
Rivers (Bhutta et al., 2002).


Spatial distribution of the mini dams

The Pothwar Plateau is characterized as semi-arid to sub-humid climate having average annual rainfall varying
from nearly 1500 mm at the north-east and progressively drops to 375 mm in the south-west region. The
Pothwar Plateau can broadly be classified on the basis of annual rainfall as:
High rainfall zone (> 750 mm annual)
Medium rainfall zone (450-750 mm)
Low rainfall zone (< 450 mm)





Ch a
Ta al

No. of Mini Dams

Since 1980s different agencies started construction of mini dams and ponds under various development projects
to harness the runoff for multiple uses and to control erosion of top fertile soil and formation or deepening of
gullies. Secondary data reveals that most of the mini dams are concentrated towards the centre of the region i.e.
the area that falls in
medium rainfall zone.
Spatial Spread of Mini Dams
This zone includes district
Chakwal, a part of
Rawalpindi and a part of
Attock. Tehsil Sohawa
got most of the mini dams
and the number totals to
228. Most of the dams in
Sohawa were constructed
during 1994-97 in the
Development Program of
ABAD. Least number of
Dadan Khan, i.e. 20 mini
dams during 2001-2004
Figure 2. Spatial spread of mini dams in the Pothwar Region
(Figure 2).
There are factors involved in the spatial variability of mini dams in the Pothwar plateau and are listed as under:

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

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Temporal analysis of mini dams

shows that 115 were constructed
in 1996-97 and the least were
constructed during 1990-91 i.e.
only one. The Figure 3 shows the
temporal distribution of mini
dams in the Pothwar plateau since
1984-85 (Figure 3).


Volume (2), No (13), 2010








Y ear of Construction

Topography of the area

Drainage pattern of the
streams network
Potential sites for storing
Awareness of the farmers
Target areas of various
projects, implemented site
Riotous ownership of the
potential site for dam
Rainfall variation

84 9 91 9 94 9 9 7 0 02 0 05 0 08
-9 -0
6 09

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No. of Mini Dams

Figure 3. Temporal spread of mini dams in the Pothwar

Storage Capacity of Mini Dams

Water is the main limiting factor for agricultural development on sustainable basis in the Barani areas. The
potential sources of water of these areas are rainfall, groundwater and runoff. Mini dams are constructed with a
primary objective to harvest and/or harness surface runoff for supplementing incident rainfall to enhance
agricultural productivity. The size of the dam is a function of available runoff volume in the stream and the
potential command area. In most of the cases, the storage capacity of mini dams ranges from 30-50 AF which is
enough to irrigate an average command area of 25 to 32 acres using the concepts of supplemental irrigation over
and above the available incident rainfall. One mini dam is primarily constructed to satisfy the needs of a farmer
for supplemental irrigation to the Barani farming lands.


Analysis of Cost and Subsidy

Total cost of a mini dams ranges from Rs. 0.4 to 1.0 million which a farmer alone cant afford, therefore 80 %
subsidy is provided by the Punjab government. The analysis of secondary data on subsidy provided by the
provincial government have large variations due to different cost sharing mechanisms followed over the last
two decades. On an average, subsidy ranges from 41to 77 %. An analysis of cost and subsidy is presented in
Table 1. The last column of the Table 1 indicates the percentage of cost sharing by the government. The share
of government varies as per mechanisms of subsidy followed for sharing the cost by the farmer and the

Table 1. Cost and subsidy analysis of mini dams in Pothwar plateau


Pindi Gheb
Gujar Khan

Subsidy Given by Government

No. of Mini Dams

Cost of one
Mini Dam









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Pind Dadan Khan

Volume (2), No (13), 2010



Findings of the Diagnostic Surveys


Design and Actual Command Area




lm d
oo ed
r H ad
am Kh
Sh Kha
am am
ad n
am far
am Ali
am Bo

Age of Dam (Years)

Commadn Area (Kanals)

The actual command area developed so far is far less than the design command area; as per the findings of the
study almost 5% of the surveyed mini dams have fully developed command area (Figure 4). Even some of
the dams are too old but command area was not developed properly and mini dams utility constrained to
aquaculture only. Low command area development is an indication of low utilization of the stored water, thus
there is potential for
Designed vs developed Command Area w.r.t Age of Dam
further utilization of
water. The development
of command area is the
responsibility of both the
public-sector institution
construction of the mini
Designed Command Area
dams and the farmer. The
Devloped Command Area
Age of Dam
real issue is that the
command area is not part
of the project and it is
solely left on the farmers
for the development of
the command area. Major
reasons identified for low
command area in the
Dam Owner
mini dams and stored
water are:

Figure 4. Design and actual command area with respect to age of dam
Surface irrigation is the only option available to the farmer because the Directorate of Soil Conservation
works as an administrative agency rather than providing knowledge support to the farmers. Their staff is
not able to conduct the engineering surveys and they lack the capacity to design the irrigation system and
layout. Even their design capacity in mini dams is non-existent. Therefore, farmers tried to get the earth
moving machinery from the Agricultural Engineering Directorate General, which is also not in the reach
of ordinary farmers and this Directorate also does not provide any engineering support for the forming of
land for irrigation. Therefore, farmer of mini dam is left on the mercy of almighty good luck farmer.
The subsidized rate of bulldozer for command area development ranges from Rs. 550-650/hour, whereas
the private bulldozer is available at a rent of Rs. 1500-2500 per hour. The subsidy and shortage of
bulldozers are the main reasons that this facility is available only to influential or notables.
The real issue is the reason that the dams are built with the proposition of using flood irrigation. The use
of pipe flow irrigating with furrow, sprinkler, and drip will not only improve the delayed command area

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development by 2-3 folds but at the same time reduce the O&M cost of pumping. The cost of land
leveling will be minimized to almost nothing.
Change from Barani farming to irrigated farming environment is not automatic. There is a need to have
different culture and farmer has to be trained in the new concepts of farming with supplemental and deficit
irrigation along with effective utilization of incident rainfall.


Storage Capacity

The storage capacity of the constructed mini dams mostly ranged between 15-50 AF. During survey of the mini
dams it was observed that the catchment areas of most of these dams were barren and hardly any management
measures were taken to minimize the soil erosion in the catchment and to save the storage of the mini dam from
rapid sedimentation, as the storage of these dams is diminishing rapidly. Almost 20-40 % of the design storage
capacity has already been lost and the rest is at stake. Immediate action is needed to save the investment.
Integrated watershed, command area and reservoir is the sustainable approach to check the rapid phenomenon
of siltation of mini dams, which already have low storage capacities.


Land use systems

After the intervention of the mini dam in this region there was a significant improvement in the land use system.
Before the intervention, the cropping intensity was low, as mostly Barani wheat was grown in the Rabi season.
Out of the surveyed sample, 33% of the farmers were doing Barani farming and 61 % were doing nothing
on their lands. After the intervention of the mini dam, farmers shifted to double cropping system and also
some other activities mainly aquaculture. Around 85 % of the sample converted part of their Barani wheat
to irrigated wheat. About 61 % of the sample farmers started aquaculture. Almost 42 % of the farmers
were cultivating vegetables (okra, onion, garlic, cauliflower, coriander, capsicum, reddish, and chilies). Yet
14% of the sample started the fruit plants most of it was citrus, whereas each of maize, fodder and
groundnut were grown by almost 19 % of the sample farmers (Table 2).

Table 2. Land use system before and after the intervention of mini dam
Land use system
Fruit plantation
Groundnut (barani+ irrigated)
* Barani wheat ** Barani and irrigated

Before Mini dams


After Mini dams

% age
1 field

From the Table 2, it is evident that after the intervention of the mini dam farmers have started cultivating high
value crops. Moreover the cropping intensity was increased from 100% or less to up to 200% with higher use of
fertilizer due to irrigated farming. During the survey, it was observed that some farmers are also bringing more
area under cultivation due to ensured water supply, there are significant success stories. Socio-economic
condition of the beneficiaries improved. Before the intervention of the mini dam, the low yields were mainly
due to the lack of water and inefficient use of agricultural inputs like fertilizer and risk aversion of the farmer
due to uncertainty of the rainfall.

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

Operational cost

It was observed that a number of mini dams are built at the downstream end of the farmers landholding and
farmers has to depend on lift irrigation schemes for irrigated agriculture to be provided by On-farm Water
Management Directorate. As most of the mini dams are built in remote areas where electricity is not available,
therefore, a considerable amount has to be spent on diesel operated pumps. It was estimated that operation and
maintenance cost on lift irrigation schemes is about Rs. 100,000 per annum to Rs. 500, 000 depending
upon the farm size.


Life of the reservoir

Projected life of mini dam is 25-30 years. However, this is dependent on measures taken for watershed
management. Well managed watersheds help to increase the life of dam by controlling the occurrence of the
sedimentation. Watershed management can be carried out through check dams, and plantation of trees in order
to stop sedimentation to fall in the main dam. ABAD while implementing the 1st and 2nd phases of Barani Area
Development Programmes and Directorate of Soil Conservation have worked on gully and soil erosion along
with the command area development and watershed management but on a small scale having no impact at all.
These interventions were implemented in piecemeal and not integrated with mini dams. Watershed management
is a pre requisite prior to the construction of mini dam because of: a) reducing the velocity of runoff; and b)
reducing the sediment load to the dam. Out of the total mini dams surveyed, 38% dams contain check dams in
their upstream and rest of the dams (62%) does not have any activity related to watershed management
which can be attributed to:
Neglect on the part of the Directorate of Soil Conservation, ABAD and the farmers which can be
attributed to the limited financial outlays.
Farmers are concerned mainly to the dam and least bothered about the watershed management. One
reason is of course financial constraints of the farmers and the others can be land tenure and ownership
issues. In reality mini dam should not be constructed without resolving the issues of land tenure and
Prolonged droughts, intensive precipitation, steep slopes and erodible soils without adequate protection
have led to extensive soil erosion and reduction in storage capacity of these mini dams.
It is observed that the mini dams in combination with the check dams are having less sedimentation and thus
reduced loss of storage capacity. According to the farmers view point, the life of the mini dams with watershed
management is expected to be 40-50 years. Loss of storage capacity of the mini dams without watershed
management range from 12 to 25 years.


Groundwater Situation

The drainage of the Pothwar is primarily through the Haro, Soan, Kansi, Bunhar and Kahan river system. They
flow mainly in a southwesterly direction to the Indus River. The markedly lower levels of the river courses, in
comparison to the general land surface, present infiltration of river flow into the general water table, whereby a
large part of precipitation is lost without contributing to the groundwater. However, the development of small
and mini dams in the Pothwar tract is contributing a lot to the local groundwater recharge. As a result there is
potential of using groundwater in riverine and river areas of Pothwar. In the periphery of the mini dams, the
depth to groundwater is about 30 to 50 feet. The quality is usually good and suitable for irrigation. A high
percentage of successful wells are possible in the river plains. The number of successful wells is low in the
upland areas and the supply is very small at higher depth i.e. >150 ft, rendering irrigation schemes largely
uneconomical. The effect of development of mini dams in the Pothwar tract, contributing a lot to the local
groundwater. Also there are no contiguous groundwater reserves in the area.

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

Shift from Barani to irrigated Environment

In the Barani area of Pothwar, intervention of mini dams is very successful at certain places but mostly farmers
are reluctant to develop their lands and there are many reasons behind it. One of the reasons is the fact that
before the intervention of the mini dam farmers were used to practice Barani farming which is just like
gambling and everything depends upon rainfall. But after the intervention of the mini dam farmers are quite
unaware of the irrigated farming. They dont know how to cultivate in an irrigated environment. During the
survey it was realized that most of the farmers are quite reluctant to install the efficient systems of irrigation like
drip and sprinkler irrigation even if the schemes are subsidized. Moreover, its also the job of departments of
agriculture to train the farmers for post dam environment. The shift from Barani to irrigated environment is not
automatic as it is considered.


Economic Analysis of Mini dams


Economic Benefits of Mini Dams

The potential benefits of mini dams were far greater then actually realized, in other words the actual benefits
which could be realized from the construction of the dams are depressed. Out of the total surveyed sample
majority of the farmers didnt develop their lands considerably. Most of them were of the view that after
spending huge amount of money on the construction of the dam they are not left with considerable amount so
they cant even develop their lands by hiring the bulldozer. Many farmers were not interested in doing the
farming, because agriculture doesnt seems to be a priority for them. Maximum economic potential lies in some
of activities which are low input oriented but returns are very high just like aquaculture.
Aquaculture is one of the most profitable activities, as the input required for aquaculture is very low but the
return is very high if properly harvested. Out of the surveyed dams farmers are mostly using the seeds of silver
grass, Mori, Raho, and common corps, the common corps grow relatively faster than other species even if
farmer do not put the feed for fish this specie grows to 0.80-1.0 kg but if fertilizer is applied and proper
care is done for their nourishment it can gain weight up to 2.5-3 kg in a year. Many farmers are putting the
seed of silver grass fish, one of the main reasons for putting this seed is that there is a wild weed called Konder
in local language, which is wildly grown along the periphery of the reservoir of almost all the surveyed dams
and specialty of this fish species is that it eats this weed. Konder absorbs water quickly and obnoxious in
growth. And it grows again even if harvested.
The whole investment on the dam can be returned only from the aquaculture within few years. Out of the
surveyed dams, 61 % of the farmers were doing aquaculture but at a very limited scale. Most of them
carried out this activity just for the sake of entertaining friends and families. If before and after scenario of dam
constructions are considered there is a visible difference, due to ensured water supply farmer are better off
especially those who are interested in farming they are taking benefits out of the stored water. The yields are
increased due to ensured water supply and returns are much higher than before. Another economic benefit is the
forest wood plantation in the command area. Prices of wood are very high and plantation of high value forest
wood give higher returns to the farmers. The forest plants also serve as a watershed management means.
Though the potential of mini dams is far greater than realized in most of the dams but very few farmers are
working to realize economic benefits, which could be much higher than the actual situation. The economic
benefits of the mini dams are discussed in the Case Study of Azam Farms.


Case study of Azam Farms

During the survey one of the farmer named Muhammad Azam residing in Hasan Abdal, was found to be one of
the progressive and enlightened farmers; dam constructed three years back with 46% subsidy (Figures 5 and
6). Total cost of the dam was Rs. 5,83,245. Most of the land was barren before the construction of the dam.
Only Barani wheat was grown on his land. But after the construction of dam he even grew fruit plants like
leechi, grapes, and plum, converted a part of Barani wheat into irrigated wheat. Out of his total land of 12.5

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

acres, 95 % was developed and he was irrigating 70% of the total land from his dam, he was not only realizing
the maximum potential with all the available resources out of the dam but also expanding his area by purchasing
more land as he has ensured water supply system.

Figure 5. Command area of Azam Farms

Figure 6. Forest plantation at Azam Farms

His land use systems include cropping of wheat, fodder, seasonal vegetable, livestock and aquaculture. Forest
plantation was also there, some of it was natural and most of it was self planted. Moreover, he has planed to
construct poultry and dairy farms with the resources available to him domestically like forest wood. The forest
wood to be utilized for his dairy and poultry farm was of the value of Rs. 0.2 million. He got benefit from
vegetable farming, which includes garlic, onion, potato, okra, cauliflower during the alternative seasons. He
sold garlic for Rs. 90,000. He also took benefit from aquaculture, and he put 5500 seeds of fish, worth of Rs. 1.0
million11. Yield of wheat doubled compared to the Barani wheat. He was getting Barani yield of 2.0 to 2.4
tons/ha and after the construction of the dam his productivity doubled, as he is now getting 4 to 4.4 tons/ha. The
gross value of his previous year wheat was about Rs. 2, 13,750, out of which Rs. 1, 66,250 was the value of
irrigated wheat. Around 28 % of the total cost of the dam was recovered through the irrigated wheat, whereas
15 % of the total cost was recovered only from the sale of one season garlic. As a whole 43 % of the total cost
has been recovered only from garlic and irrigated wheat. The total cost of the dam can be recovered in two crop
seasons if he only grows wheat and garlic. Thus the economics of mini dam farming is very high.


Economic Loss

Along with few success stories, another situation observed during the field study was that many farmers are
adding economic loss to the public-sector resources. If the dam continues to operate then the benefits are going
to increase but if it doesnt operate then it will be adding more and more to the economic loss. The present value
of the benefit of operating the dam for fish, farming, forest wood, and livestock is lesser than that of the
economic loss being caused by not realizing the potential benefits of farming on one hand and on the other hand
the investment done by the public-sector in the form of subsidy is also wasted. Application of benefit/cost
methodology is helpful to rationally compare options as in case study given below.


Case study of Mehboob Ali Khan Farm

In Jhand distrtict, Soil Conservation Directorate constructed dam for a farmer named Mehbob Ali Khan, son of
Sher Muhammad Khan. Designed command area was 15 acres. His dam was constructed in the year 2007-08.
Total cost of the dam was Rs. 8, 63,000 with 52 % subsidy, out of which 7 % was outstanding. The catchment
area was 1.5 km2. The total storage capacity was 20 acre feet. His land use system included Barani wheat and
groundnut. The location which was selected to construct the dam was not feasible, or in other words the

11 The average weight l is taken as 1 kilo gram, and 10% are considered as losses during the harvest of fish, prices vary from 180-4000/kg
so the approximated price is considered which is Rs. 250/kg

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

feasibility was also wrong. While the farmer was interviewed he told that he is not using the dam for irrigating
his crops rather he was doing Barani farming with only two crops. He also put some seed of fish but didnt take
care and somebody stole most of the fish and he couldnt take any measures. Loss of fisheries curtailed his only
cash income.
The most critical point observed was that due to wrong feasibility the occurrence of sedimentation was very
frequent, within two years of construction of the dam it silted up to the level of 2 feet, whereas total height of
the dam was only 10 feet (Figures 7 and 8). And the tendency of sedimentation was very high. Farmer was of
the view that he will use the reservoir area of the dam as a bed when dam will silt up completely. It will serve
him two benefits: a) the land of the bed will be more fertile; and b) he doesnt need to put the expensive
bulldozers on the land for leveling. For these short term benefits he was ready to give up long term benefits of
the dam like farming, and aquaculture. The economic loss in such cases is very high, on one hand he added to
the loss by not developing the command area and by not doing farming, on the other hand he wasted the
investment done on the dam by the public-sector. The opportunity cost of this loss is very high. This investment
could have done for such a farmer who may be progressive enough to develop the command area and add to the
economic benefits.
Influence of big landlords on the government departments was also observed. During study it was observed that
influential can get their work done easily than those who dont have any say. And due to this reason one farmer
is able to get more than one dam in the name of other family members

Figure 7. Deteriorated condition of Mini dam at

Khan Farms, Jhand district


Figure 8. Dam of 20 acre feet silted up to 2 feet in

two years at Azam Farms, Jhand district

Opportunity Cost

Case study of Khursheed Khan Farms

In Fateh Jang, a farmer who was American return had constructed 9 dams out of different schemes of mini dams
from the subsidy support from ABAD. He owned 625 acres out of which less than 19 acres were developed. His
land use system includes citrus, peach, olive and mulberry on a very limited scale. Orchard having 4000 plants
of oranges, 150 plants of olive, some plants of grapes and mulberry has been established. He shifted from wheat
to fruit plants and also installed drip irrigation for grapes (Figures 9 and 10). The area on drip irrigation system
was only 5 acres. He didnt get benefit from aquaculture out of a single dam. Livestock holdings include small
ruminants around 50 and 6-7 Cows. There was not much of the problem of sedimentation in the any of nine
dams. Water table depth in this area is not very high because of the hard rocks. The question arises that why
only one farmer is entitled to get huge benefit on one hand when the schemes of mini dams are running short of
money and many farmers are not able to get benefit for one dam. On the other hand, this farmer has lot of
resources but he is not apprehending the probable use of nine dams. The physical plantation observed at the

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

dam is the only orchard of oranges and some area of vineyard. He is not even working on aquaculture which is
low input activity. This is also a question of the concerned authority that why such schemes are concentrated to
those who has already taken the benefit and if they are taking benefit they must develop their land in
consonance with the resources and must contribute towards agriculture productivity. Such cases poses high
opportunity cost in a way that this opportunity could have been availed by such farmers who are progressive
and deserving to get subsidy.

Figure 9. Orange orchard at Khan Farms


Figure 10. Vineyard on Drip Irrigation at Khan


Limitations and Constraints in the Use of Stored Water

Many farmers took the benefit from different schemes of mini dams but unfortunately most of the farmers
didnt work on the development of the command area as much as they should have done. When reason was
explored it was found out that most of the farmers are small holders and they lack financial resources, if they
are somehow able to manage the finances for the construction of the dam, then they are not able to manage the
resources for rest of the activities like installation of irrigation system, land leveling, development of the
command area, and management of conveyance systems. Besides this for land leveling to get a bulldozer is a
big deal. The Directorate General of Agricultural Engineering provides bulldozers to the farmers, again those
who are influential can get the bulldozer earlier and easily than those who dont have such reference. Rent of
government bulldozer ranges from Rs. 500-650 per hour on the other hand per hour rate of the private providers
ranges from Rs. 1500-1800 per hour. For the farmers it is not affordable to manage the private bulldozer but
they have to afford it, even after arranging the money they dont get the bulldozers. However, if they manage to
get the bulldozers the machinery is deteriorated such that farmer has to pay its maintenance out of their own
Another frequent constraint is that farmers are not able to arrange the tenants, for their lands. Mostly tenants are
from NWFP. Some time landlords are exploited by the tenants and they have to accept their conditions.


Key Issues

There are three basic element of the mini dam farming system: a) watershed areas for raising fuel wood and
forages and control sediment inflow to the reservoir; b) reservoir as storage of water and for aquaculture; and c)
command area to grow fruits, vegetables, crops, etc. The key issues are listed as under:

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

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Watersheds and Rangelands

Watershed management is not part of the mini dam intervention and some of the dams are built in areas
where either adequate catchment area was not available or land tenures and water rights issues were
serious and the investment has gone waste;
In-appropriate feasibility is another reason for the failure of the dams in terms of inadequate inflows or
heavy load of incoming sediments to the reservoir;
Lack of introduction of suitable forest plants and shrubs as farmers especially in Chakwal district are
growing Eucalyptus.

Dam and Reservoir for Storage of Water

Siltation in the reservoir due to heavy load of sediments in the runoff from the catchment areas and loss of
live storage capacity a very common issue in almost every mini dam;
Faulty construction is due to in-appropriate feasibilities, which are normally due to the political
interference or the influence of the notables.
Command Area
Slow and inadequate development of command area of the mini dams due to inadequate availability of
land forming and earth moving machinery and lack of technical backstop support from the public-sector
institutions. Small holders lack adequate financial resources for the development of command area and
better irrigated farming to enhance productivity;
Lack of access to the earth moving and land forming machinery at the subsidized rates provided by the
public-sector institutions, even such machinery is outdated and inefficient as most of these facilities are
available to only influential and notables, whereas such machinery available with the private sector is
beyond the reach of resource-poor farmers;
Lack of interest in irrigated farming is also one of the major reasons, because many farmers constructed
mini dams in competition with other members of the family and other rivals and later on no attention was
given to the irrigated farming. Trend of selling the lands is also one of the consequences of the lack of
interest. The major use of the dam is largely the aquaculture and potential of dam is not realized to
develop the command area.
Lack of irrigated farming extension services to the farming community and quality inputs at desired times
- shift from Barani to irrigated environment is not automatic, needs training of farmer.
Poor quality of farm level irrigation system developed by the On-Farm Water Management (OFWM) is
another reason for shifting to irrigated farming. The OFWM lacks capacity for providing technical
backstop support based on the need of the farmers and the requirement of the 21st century.


Potential Options

Policy is also required for the repair and maintenance of the dams
Use the real-life success stories developed by the enlightened mini dam farmers within the real farm
economics framework, as a model for further adoption by the fellow farmers. These enlightened farmers
can work as a change agent and such farms can be used as a training and demonstration platforms.
Organize the mini dam farmers in to Mini Dams Users Associations at the District level and link
them together to provide support for building and maintaining forward and backward linkages. This will
help the users to raise their collective voice and to enhance productivity with effective inputs availability
(seed, fertilizer, credit, etc.) and effective marketing of the produce.
Select 10 benchmark mini dams for monitoring, farm economic analysis, training and
demonstration with an objective to test the promising technologies in the real life situation.
Develop appropriate package of technologies using the available success stories for watershed
management, utilization of stored water including aquaculture and command area development for high

Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

Managing Natural Resources for Sustaining Future Agriculture

Research Briefings

Volume (2), No (13), 2010

value farming using hi-tech irrigation systems. Land forming services may also be included wherever
Provision of water and energy efficient pumping systems along with appropriate irrigation and farming






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Natural Resources Division, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.