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Micro irrigation for sustainable agriculture


Mar 21, 2007
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Micro irrigation for sustainable agriculture

Dr Bashir Ahmad
July 4, 2021

The focus should be on orchard and vegetable production with drip irrigation close to the CPEC economic zones

Agro farm on drip stretching over 700 acres in Bahawalpur desert — Photo courtesy: Infiniti Farm

Agro farm on drip stretching over 700 acres in Bahawalpur desert — Photo courtesy: Infiniti Farm

The dwindling water resources of Pakistan are under continuous pressure due to rapid population growth and climate change-induced risks. Meeting the increasing water demands is a challenge for the policy-makers, planners and researchers as well as the end users. In view of the looming water crisis, efficient and economical use of scarce water resources is an imperative.

Unfortunately, the efficiency of existing surface irrigation systems is less than 40 percent. Inadequate water storage, sedimentation of existing reservoirs, falling groundwater levels, low land and water productivity are some of the major challenges to water resources in the country.

The agriculture sector is amongst the largest water consumers globally. Around 93 percent of water is consumed by agriculture, 4 percent by industry and 3 percent by domestic users. The agriculture sector is often criticised for its low efficiency and excessive water losses. Due to increasing water demand in other sectors, particularly industry and domestic, it is very unlikely that more water resources will be made available for the agriculture sector in the future.

To meet the increasing food requirements, irrigated agriculture has to produce more with less water by adopting efficient micro-irrigation systems like drip, sprinkler and responsive methods. These irrigation methods need to be more-efficient, cost-effective, reliable and flexible.

The irrigation efficiency of drip and sprinkler irrigation systems is more than double the efficiency of traditional surface irrigation methods. However, their adoption is very low in Pakistan so far.

Keeping in view the current situation, accelerated and sustainable adoption of micro-irrigation, especially drip irrigation, is urgently needed.

Global overview of micro irrigation technologies

Drip and sprinkler irrigation systems have been developed and successfully adopted in various countries of the world, including the US, Australia, China, India, Turkey, Brazil and Israel. The last two have witnessed a quantum leap in the expansion of micro irrigation technology.

Israel and Uzbekistan have adopted this on 100 percent of their areas, whereas 57 percent, 56 percent and 37 percent areas of the US, Brazil and Australia, respectively, are under drip and sprinklers. The adoption of drip and sprinkler systems has reduced water use in irrigation by 27 percent in China and 35 percent in Australia.

In Asia, the most significant gains have been achieved in China and India, the world’s top two irrigators, where the area under micro-irrigation has expanded 88-fold and 111-fold, respectively, over the last two decades.

India now leads the world, with nearly 5 million hectares (about 13 million acres) under micro-irrigation methods. Contrarily, in Pakistan these technologies are still in their infancy with installations on only a fraction of irrigated area. The worldwide micro-irrigation adoption grew slowly but steadily. It was 1.08 million acres in 1981 and has now reached about 128 million acres (52 M ha), showing a nine-fold increase.
The last 15 years (2000-2015) have witnessed a quantum leap in the expansion of micro-irrigation technologies, both in the developed and developing countries.

The outcome in Pakistan

Despite multiple attempts to introduce and upscale micro irrigation systems in the country during the last three decades by Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) and its various partners, unfortunately, the outcome has not been satisfactory. The government of Pakistan has been providing huge subsidies to farmers for installation of micro-irrigation. However, with all efforts and subsidies, the adoption of micro-irrigation in Pakistan is not at a scale comparable with other countries of the world.

About 75,000 acres in the Punjab and 5,000 acres in Sindh have been brought under micro irrigation under current initiatives by provincial On-Farm Water Management Departments. Since micro-irrigation is highly successful in the world and significantly contributing to the economy of many countries, we need to assess the slow adoption in Pakistan.

Why do farmers prefer traditional irrigation practices? Is it due to lack of knowledge and non-availability of necessary services for modern irrigation technologies? One of the main limitations for its adoption and operation is high operational fuel cost. Farmers usually abandon these systems after 1-2 years of operation due to the high electricity cost.

Luckily, with the introduction of solar water pumping and its integration with micro-irrigation by the PARC, now micro-irrigation technology is taking off. There are success stories spreading over the landscape of Pakistan, where pioneering and progressive farmers have adopted the full micro-irrigation package. Private farms at Kallar Kahar have done wonders, turning the difficult terrain into productive agricultural land.

Another private farm stretching over 700 acres on drip irrigation system in the Cholistan desert is worth mentioning. There are good success stories of individual farmers who are rejuvenating sand dunes in Cholistan, Thal, rugged Balochistan and arid DG Khan through drip irrigation and are role models for farming communities.

Success stories of drip irrigation for orchard and vegetable production have happened mostly under provincial On-Farm Water Management Departments (OFWM) projects. Another PARC initiative of portable solar pumping is being widely adopted in Thal and kacha areas along the River Indus.

Progressive farmers are getting yields comparable to the developed countries but not good monetary returns. This is due to poor market linkages, lack of value chains and non-existence of follow-up of agronomic practices by public institutions. OFWM is providing effective advisory services on irrigation and water management but agronomic practices, crop varieties and plant protection knowledge of the farmers is weak and needs to be updated.

There is a dire need to properly document, publish and disseminate these success stories and inform the public to promote micro-irrigation across the country. This will dispel the myth that micro-irrigation does not fulfil the irrigation requirement.

Recommendations on way forward

Israel has succeeded in advancing irrigated agriculture on a wide scale on arid and semi-arid lands, with an intensive use of technology and capital and a firm state-led irrigation policy. For this to happen in Pakistan, there must be a clear roadmap and strategy which must have popular support across the board. The strategy and approach must be simple, consistent and holistic. Some of the main points may be:

Documentation and wider dissemination of success stories of drip irrigation for growing orchards in the desert under marginal land and water conditions.

Incentivising local manufacturing of micro-irrigation components to reduce price and make it affordable for small holder farmers. This will not only lower price, increase production but also create jobs.
Service companies should be made accountable for compliance of follow up on repair and maintenance for the stipulated period.

The federal government must facilitate research and development support for low-cost local fabrication of micro irrigation equipment and incentivise service provider companies.

The subsidy policy should be revised to favour small landholders. Influential but absentee farmers have been the major beneficiaries of public subsidies of micro-irrigation which now should be provided to small and on-site farmers.

Training of farmers in the use of new technology with advisory service on agronomic practices, crop varieties, diseases and post-harvest interventions will be important confidence building measures.

There must be proportionate public investment on canal-fed irrigation and micro irrigation sectors outside the Indus irrigation system. Canal-irrigated areas are a major beneficiary of national water resources free of cost on the one hand and prime beneficiary of public investments (irrigational infrastructure including dams, barrages, canals and headworks). Irrigated areas consume more than 95 percent of water and irrigation development budget whereas micro irrigation schemes outside canal irrigation areas get a fractional share.

On-Farm Water Management services may be segregated and separated for canal irrigation regime and Micro-Irrigation Department for rain-fed areas. This will make sense of rational fund allocations and performance competition.

Micro-irrigation should be granted an industry status. Integrated packages, including solar pumping, micro irrigation and green house tunnels for vegetable production can do wonders.

The government of Pakistan must set up a task force on micro irrigation like India did in 2003. It impressively supported adoption of this technology on more than 13 million acres.

Proper market access and value chain needs to be established to provide fair economic return to the farmers.

Micro irrigation, particularly drip irrigation, may be confined to horticultural crops, including fruits and vegetables and priority be given to desert, semi-desert and water scarce sandy areas, including the Potohar plateau and command areas of mini and small dams.

The focus should be on orchard and vegetable production with drip near the CPEC economic zones so that exports can be arranged easily.

The writer is Climate, Energy and Water Resources Institute (CEWRI) director at the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC)

Drip irrigation is a good start, but alongside water, nowadays they send nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphate with the water) and when they plant the seeds they are “coated” in mycorrhizae fungi (to act as extensions of the roots). Furthermore, drones are used to know which part of the fields need more water or nutrients and organic pesticides.
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when they plan the seeds they are “coated” in mycorrhizae fungi
that is for forestation on barren land.
the soil is capable but water management is required in this case..
drones are used to know which part of the fields need more water or nutrients and organic pesticides
That also requires some AI to determine with some expensive cameras. Drones are also used for diseases detection in forests.
that is for forestation on barren land.
the soil is capable but water management is required in this case..

That also requires some AI to determine with some expensive cameras. Drones are also used for diseases detection in forests.
Yes, I understand it’s used in forestation, but it is also used in agriculture

Organic farmers in India have started using it

also, using a regular commercial drone with a decent IR camera should help give significant data. Other inexpensive sensors on how much water is in different sections of the field can help with that as well.

These drones and the cameras are getting cheaper and cheaper every year. Good business opportunity for Pakistani drone makers.
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2. Good share,
3. We should make our own compost from vegetable/green waste. The rest can be fulfilled by the chemical fertilisers. I like organic/manure fertiliser but that should be used for non edible plants/trees.
India has reclaimed many desolate/barren lands to forested area, and very cheap.. I like that.
Such a beautiful video.. @jamahir

you can add mycorrhizal in it, with other nutrients... and apply on cliff along the road side... and in semi-desert area
May work, should be studied.

What I would suggest is the silt trapped behind the dams should be dredged and studied for use as fertilizer. Not only could it be a source of pesticide free nutrients but it will extend the life of our dams in a process that can pay for itself.

This silt can be sold or spread on near barren lands to bring them back into productive use.

Shortage of irrigation water in Pakistan is an inevitable truth. The shortfall of water is increasing very rapidly with the passage of time. Among the 25 most populous countries in 2009 South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan are the most water limited nations. According to the United Nations World Water Development Report the total actual renewable water resources in Pakistan decreased from 2961 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1420 cubic meters in 2005. If the current trends continue it could go as low as 550 cubic meters by 2025. There is severe water shortage looming in Pakistan. According to a 2006 World Bank report it is fast moving from being a water stressed country to a water scarce country. Our per acre production of different crops is less than many developing countries of the world. Drip irrigation trend of row crops is increasing throughout the world. This irrigation method has the advantage of precisely applying irrigation water in the root zone, thus offering the potential of increased profit due to reduced water, fertilizer, cultural costs and increased revenue due to increased yield.


Four Brothers HEIS, vision is to provide solution for agricultural irrigation & to be a leader in advance technology, committed services, and unwavering reliability to serve the agricultural Foods (Pvt) Ltd in all possible ways as a committed partner & help to increase the farmer income & profit

  • - To continue to be the leader in providing irrigation technology that will be cost effective to the user
  • - To help farmer, save money, increase yield, both in quantity & quality thus maximizing the farmer profit
  • - To partner with the farmers by offering them the best services, advise & product at unbeatable prices


High Efficiency Irrigation System is a revolutionary approach in Pakistan. Our theme is Productivity Enhancement through the System. The cost of per acre yield is increasing day by day with the increase in input cost. It is not wise to suggest the farmer to increase yield at the increasing cost of inputs.

Benefits Of High Efficiency Irrigation System:

  • > Increasing per acre yield.
  • > Decreasing input per acre.
  • > Increasing efficiency of inputs.
  • > Saving of power, electricity/diesel.
  • > Cultivating more land/acres with less water.
  • > Irrigating maximum land with minimum number of hours.
  • > Uniformity of yield per plant per acre.

The concept demands us more expertise to be developed in local agriculture. For this we are collaborating with some agricultural universities & agriculture research stations. We are satisfying customer with full range of micro nutrients (sole manufacturer of micro nutrients in Pakistan) compatible with drip irrigation, macro fertilizers like DAP and Urea, high yielding seeds, noble pesticide chemistries and a very dedicated field support team.

Tending orchards in Thar desert — without flowing water


A farmer is using clay pitchers to irrigate his orchard and crops, using 70 per cent less water than conventional methods.

Akhtar HafeezUpdated 03 Aug, 2020 06:28pm

Most of the inhabitants of the Thar desert can grow crops only after a downpour has transformed the arid land into lush greenery. But Allahrakhio Khoso, a 60-year-old farmer, does not need to wait for rain.
In the city of Nagarparkar, in the shadow of the Karoonjhar mountains, Khoso has made an orchard in the desert a reality by using matkas or pitchers — an everyday object more commonly found in the home than in the field.

After eight years, Khoso has 400 berry trees, 70 lemon trees, three mango trees and four pomegranate trees. He grows vegetables such as okra, bitter melon, onions, chilies and tinda (a type of squash), as well as watermelon, on his land in the district of Tharparkar.

Khoso can grow berries, lemons, mangoes, pomegranates, watermelon and vegetables. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

Khoso can grow berries, lemons, mangoes, pomegranates, watermelon and vegetables. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

In pitcher irrigation, a large clay pot with a wide bottom and narrow top is buried in the ground and filled with water. The water is slowly released into the surrounding soil and absorbed by the roots of nearby plants, minimising the amount of precious liquid lost to evaporation.

In pitcher irrigation, a large clay pot is buried in the ground near a plant and filled with water. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

In pitcher irrigation, a large clay pot is buried in the ground near a plant and filled with water. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

Water in the desert

Rich in coal but poor in water, Thar is the largest desert zone in the province of Sindh. Its residents depend on rainfall; most people fetch their daily water from wells and store rainwater in water tanks. In summer, many wells run dry and groundwater becomes brackish.

To this day, some wells are dug without modern machinery. Recently four workers dieddigging a well when the walls fell in on them.

Water is so important a commodity that it even features in marriage negotiations; before a proposal is accepted, the parents of a bride will ask the groom’s family how close the nearest well is. In greetings, people also ask about sweet water wells.

Nevertheless, living in the desert does not mean thirst and poverty are inevitable.

How does pitcher irrigation work?

"Many years back, one of my friends came to visit our village and he discussed pitcher irrigation," said Khoso. "I got the idea and started working on it. In the beginning, it was quite hard but now it looks very simple. I thought that if I could make my farm green without rainwater, then I should go for it."

Khoso has made an orchard in the desert a reality. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

Khoso has made an orchard in the desert a reality. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

To install a new pitcher, Khoso first makes a small hole in the bottom of a pitcher. He puts a rope through the hole, then buries the pitcher, packing mud and sand tightly around it. This leaves only the mouth of the pitcher exposed, which Khoso fills with water. The water seeps through the porous clay and soaks through the rope into the sand, where it is absorbed by the roots of the crops he has planted close by. As well as natural fertilisers, Khoso uses mud from Virawah, a city near Nagarparkar where there is an ancient lake.

Each pitcher is two to three feet wide and holds 10 litres of water, which will irrigate the soil for 15 to 20 days. New pitchers are better for irrigation because they are more porous and, once in place, will last three years. Khoso fetches water roughly every 10 days — there is a well on his farm, and another nearby.

For trees, Khoso uses one pitcher per plant; sometimes two pitchers for mango trees, planting trees 25 feet (7.6 metres) apart. The amount of water needed depends on the crop, with trees requiring more pitchers. Khoso now has 400 pitchers irrigating his orchard.

Khoso believes this is a more effective method than drip irrigation, where pipes release a certain amount of water and fertiliser per minute directly to the roots of each plant. He said that while drip irrigation is suitable for vegetables, for orchards pitcher irrigation can deliver water more efficiently to the plant.
He calculated that 280 litres was enough for his 400 berry trees for 10 days.

Pomegranates are one of the crops Khoso has been able to produce using his method. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

Pomegranates are one of the crops Khoso has been able to produce using his method. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

The efficiency of this system is now accepted. One study that compared melon yields found that pitcher irrigation used two cubic centimetres (cc) of water and yielded 25 tonnes of melon per hectare, while the flood irrigation system used 26 cc of water and yielded 33 tonnes per hectare.

"We do not have any canal or [conventional irrigation] so it's our duty to save water as much as we can," said Khoso. "I have tried to make the desert green and I have been earning my bread and butter through this orchard. In the last season, I earned PKR 130,000 from onions and almost PKR 600,000 from red chilies. I am preaching for the usage of pitcher technology… those who want to try this should start from their homes on a small scale."

Local trade

Khoso buys his pitchers from Hussain Kumbher, a potter. "This is my forefather’s profession; I earn a good income by selling the pitchers to Allahrakhio," said Kumbher. "I have sold more than 1,000 pitchers since he has been working on his orchard. People in the Thar desert still use pitchers to store drinking water, but harvesting through pitchers is beneficial for our business — I get PKR 100-150 per pitcher."

Khoso buys his pitchers from Hussain Kumbher, a local potter. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

Khoso buys his pitchers from Hussain Kumbher, a local potter. — Photo by Zulfiqar Khoso

Kumbher lives in the village of Khaark, almost 25 kilometres from Nagarparker. He told The Third Pole he is the only potter in the area selling pitchers for irrigation as well as household use — so it is unlikely other farmers in the area are using this method.

Experts pitch in

Pitcher irrigation is not common in Pakistan. Many farmers demand canals to irrigate their farms, but experts say canal irrigation wastes a lot of water through evaporation and overuse. In the future, different farming methods could mean bumper crops are grown with a small amount of water.

"People are not familiar with pitcher technology hence it has not been so common. In Sanghar district, some farmers have planted lemon orchards through this technology. In cities, people use this technology on a small scale. This is very beneficial in semi-arid zones, like the Rajasthan desert of India. Where no water supply is available, farmers use pitchers to boost their agriculture," said Ismail Kumbher, a professor at Sindh Agriculture University in Tandojam.

The professor added, "People in the desert are not privileged — they don’t realise the importance of pitcher technology and in our country it is not cheap, therefore we don’t see this water-saving technology on a large scale. This is also helpful for kitchen gardening. I believe the Sindh government and Sindh agriculture department should come forward to facilitate those farmers who are using pitcher technology with limited resources." He said the government should provide training on pitcher irrigation and pay for or subsidise the cost of pitchers.

Muhammad Waseem Kalro is senior scientific research officer in the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council’s Arid Zone Research Institute in Umerkot. He told The Third Pole that the pitcher irrigation method uses 70 per cent less water than conventional irrigation for any crop.

Despite its benefits, the technology is restricted by its very nature to places and plants that can be usefully grown using it. Kalro said that pitcher irrigation is more effective in sand than soil and "is only suitable for desert areas… If we use this technology on a national level we need more water and more pitchers, and it would be very costly, so this is best at a household level and in those areas where water is brackish.

Especially in Thar, now people are consuming fresh vegetables from pitcher farming. Therefore, this is no less than a blessing for local people. We are working here in Umerkot and have developed different arid agriculture models."

Idrees Rajput, a water expert and former secretary of irrigation, agreed. "Pitcher irrigation has a very limited scope. It may be used for fruit and vegetable cultivation. No mass irrigation is possible with pitcher irrigation. This is helpful in desert areas where people can’t cultivate their land with conventional irrigation," he said.

The header photo by Zulfiqar Khoso shows farmer Allahrakhio Khoso.
Improving Punjab Irrigation: More Crops from Every Drop


Farm owner Chaudhry Mohammad Ashfaq has installed a drip irrigation pumping system at his farm in District Layyah, Punjab, Pakistan.

  • Pakistan is facing serious threats from escalating water shortages. Over half Punjab’s share of water in agriculture is lost in canals and watercourses.
  • A Punjab government project, supported by the World Bank is providing farmers more efficient irrigation systems, community support, and better technology, maximizing water productivity, minimizing losses, and increasing yields.
  • “Four hours of water supply was not enough to irrigate even 2 acres of land through the conventional flooding method. However, now 4 to 5 acres of land can be irrigated in less than one hour,” says a beneficiary farmer in District Layyah, Punjab.

Layyah is a small district in southern Punjab, Pakistan. Sand dunes and wild shrubbery make up most of the landscape, one of which, gives the district its name – Layyan, a wild, short stature shrub of fuel-wood.). It is an agricultural area with no significant industry and most people earn their living through agriculture. Like the rest of the Punjab, Layyah also depends on ground water and canal irrigation channels for cultivation.

The conventional irrigation method of flooding however renders significant water losses of 20-25%. Uneven fields and poor farm designing further add to agricultural losses. Pakistan’s Water Accord of 1991 assigns Punjab’s share as 6.9 million hectare meters, though less than half of that, only 3.2 million hectare meters, actually reaches the farm gate due to losses in canals and watercourses.

The Punjab Irrigated-Agriculture Productivity Improvement Project (PIPIP), launched by the provincial government and supported by the World Bank is helping Punjab to enhance water productivity by producing more crops per drop.

PIPIP provides farmers with high efficiency irrigation systems (HEIS), including drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, and improving watercourses; helps build community irrigation systems; and improves agricultural technology, such as laser land leveling.

Abdul Baqi, manages his family’s 4.5 acre orchard in Chak 125, Layyah, and has been in the citrus farming business for the last five years. “Drip irrigation is a revolution in the agricultural sector. The efficient application and use of water for every plant is very important. It not only increases the yield but also affects the quality of it,” he says.

“Four hours of water supply was not enough to irrigate even 2 acres of land through the conventional flooding method. However, now 4 to 5 acres of land can be irrigated in less than one hour.” Baqi explained the productivity of the system adding, “Drip irrigation allows better fruiting on every plant. Plant health doesn’t get compromised, while the survival rate of saplings is 97% which was 60% on flooding. It is the best solution to cope with Pakistan’s water crisis and food insecurity.”


Tunnel farming techniques now allow farmers to grow off-season vegetables.
Black Box Sounds/World Bank

" Four hours of water supply was not enough to irrigate even 2 acres of land through the conventional flooding method. However, now 4 to 5 acres of land can be irrigated in less than one hour. "

Abdul Baqi
Orchard owner, Layyah

Drip irrigation method enables effective and timely application of water, reducing waste.

Black Box Sounds/World Bank
According to Shakeel Abbas, Deputy District Officer, Water Management Body, District Layyah, “the impacts gathered from the evaluation studies for drip irrigation show that it increases the efficiency of water use by 50%, enhances the yield from 35-100%, and also reduces the mortality rate of the plants. It also gives uniformity of color, size and shape to the fruit and it gives easy and efficient nutrient distribution. Moreover, it also reduces the labor work of a farmer by about 20%.”

Mohammad Ashfaq of Chak 294, Tehsil Karor of District Layyah owns 15 acres of land and has been in the farming business for 20 years. He is growing some off-season vegetables through tunnel farming techniques.

“The new and modern irrigation methods introduced by the project have done wonders, ”Ashfaq says. “The productivity of my land has increased many folds. The water provided by the government was not sufficient to harvest multiple crops in one season as every crop requires different water levels. Now with drip irrigation, I can harvest multiple crops at the same time. It not only helps in efficient use of water, but also reduces the labor and the number of man-hours. It is certainly less stressful and more useful as I am able to acquire a greater yield in lesser time.”

In the past, “it was very difficult to grow cash crops in Layyah because of its hot and dry climate,” says Meherbagh Ali, the District Officer, Water Management Body, District Layyah, “But the drip irrigation method enables the effective and timely application of water, fertilizer and nutrients as per the plant’s requirement at various stages of its growth.

This irrigating system is very efficient for variety of soil conditions such as uneven topography, odd field configurations, rolling sandy areas and long stretches of crops. Drip irrigation is very good for the orchards and high value row crops.”

The agricultural sector plays a central role in Pakistan’s economy, making up 21% of GDP. However, it is facing serious threats from escalating water shortages. PIPIP is helping the farmers of Punjab minimize these water losses and maximize their yields, thereby contributing to a hope for a sustainable future of Punjab and Pakistan.
Post #5 and 6
See how cheaply (#6) it can be achieved, and govt spends millions. Also, the Britishers planned those lakes years ago in that citiy. In UK, you can find water reservoirs in every city.
Post #5 and 6
See how cheaply (#6) it can be achieved, and govt spends millions. Also, the Britishers planned those lakes years ago in that citiy. In UK, you can find water reservoirs in every city.

JazakAllah for bringing me to this thread...

It's quite sad how this thread got no attention whereas useless threads get 10+ pages...

Either way, I'm a believer of quality over quantity and I again appreciate you tagging me in here. :enjoy:

Thread bookmarked!
Reclaiming agricultural land from the barren and desert lands has been achieved successfully in Australia and China. Additionally bird and animal species are also increased.
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