Government of Pakistan

Ministry of Science and Technology


"Water Research for Changing World"


Desertification is a process of land-degradation by which a region becomes progressively drier and drier — eventually becoming desert. Or, to put it another way — desertification is the process by which previously biologically productive land is transformed into wasteland.

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources established its first Field Research Station in Cholistan desert being manageb by its Regional Office Bahawalpur. It covers more than 15 sites in the Cholistan desert to conduct development oriented research on the desert problems in the actual desert environment. The major Desert Research Stations are at Dingarh, Naraywala, Hyderwali, Toba Allah Yar, Marrot, Qaim Sir, Noorpur Balochan, Noor Sir Balochan, Malkana, Nawa Khoh, Piryar, Chaku, consisting of land for research more than 200 hectares. The area of Field Research Station is representative of marginal dry lands where research on all aspects of dry lands can be carried out. The major research areas are: Rainwater Harvesting, Desertification Control through Sand Dune Fixation and Stabilization, Duneland Afforestation, Rangeland Management, Grassland Development, Agro-forestry, Saline Agriculture, Silvipasture, Arid-horticulture, Saline Fish Farming, etc. The innovative technologies developed at Cholistan to convert deserts in to productive lands are being replicated in other main deserts e.g. Thar in Sind , Chagi-Kharan in Balochistan.


Water Resources

The most suitable catchments for water harvesting and collection were identified by PCRWR at Dingarh through contour surveys. Total area of the catchment is 90 hectares (220 acres), out of which 10% is covered by small sand dunes, hummocks and shrub vegetation while 90% is flat, devoid of hummocks and vegetation. The soils of the area are dense, saline-sodic, clayey, impervious, poorly drained having pH more than 9.0, useable as an effective catchment area for runoff. The runoff in the catchment has been increased manifold by developing network of macro and micro ditches. The runoff of the catchment has also been increased by cleaning hummocks and vegetation causing obstacle in the flow of rainnwater. The other techniques e.g. sand stabilization, soil compaction, surface smoothing has also been adopted. All the low lying points in the catchment have been interconnected by ditches. As a result of efforts made to develop efficient catchment, the rainwater is harvested very efficiently for storage in the earth ponds constructed by the PCRWR. To store harvested rainwater, the PCRWR have excavated and constructed seven ponds at Dingarh. These ponds have been designed to catch maximum rainwater within shortest possible time and to avoid maximum water losses. The depth of ponds varies between 4 to 6 meters. The storage capacity of each pond varies between 2067 to 15000 m3. Each pond has been connected with the main catchment through main channel and net work of ditches connecting all lowest points in the catchment via small pond to deload sediments from rainwater before reaching in the main pond. The purpose of channel and ditches is to collect runoff promptly during and after rain. The main channel and steps in the main pond has been constructed by pucca material. The slope of pond sides is 1:2 to avoid its collapse. The earth excavated has been dropped 16 meter away from the pond banks in three directions leaving front side open to avoid siltation due to water erosion during rainy season. A trench of 1 meter wide and 1 meter deep around the pond away 15 meters from main pond bank has been prepared to catch rainwater and earth coming from earthen bunds. A mini wall of bricks 12 cm high and 7.5 cm thick plastered with cement around the pond close to the banks has been erected to prevent direct entrance of runoff in the pond from banks. The seepage losses from pond have been minimized (1) By keeping bed of pond at the dense clayey layer (2) By spreading good quality polyethylene sheets on the bed of pond covered by 15 cm thick compacted layer of dense clay. The sides of the pond have been plastered with mud. Further, pond after one or two fillings automatically become impervious and seepage losses are reduced. It is because of the fine particles brought by the rainwater from the catchament seal the pore spaces in the bed and sides. As a result of fine material deposition on the pond bed a strong impervious layer of earth is developed, which works like cement plaster. The evaporation losses from the pond have been minimized, (1) By reducing its surface area and increasing the depth of pond, (2) By growing trees as windbreaks around the pond in the multistory form, (3) By erecting earth walls or earth bunds around the pond to function as a windbreak to save pond from shifting sand deposition resulted from wind erosion from the surrounding area.


Genesis of Rainwater Harvesting Project

The research of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources in the late eighties and early nineties showed that clayey soils of Cholistan can be used economically as catchments to bring rain into large deep reservoirs and make it available to thirsty people and animals for the whole year after their filling. These findings plus the obvious hardships of the Cholistanies and their herds during the extreme drought of 1988 to 2004 caused PCRWR to propose a project for "Mitigation of Drought Disaster in Cholistan through Management of Water Resources" (MDDC) to the Federal Government. Recognizing the needs of Cholistanies and observing conclusive evidence that PCRWR knew how to significantly improve Cholistan water resources, the Federal government funded this project.

Objective of the Project

Development of water sources by rainwater harvesting system, pumping good usable quality ground water and desalination of saline ground water in the Cholistan desert where maximum human and livestock population can easily approach for obtaining good quality water during dry and drought period.

Project Achievements

A net work of water sources has been established by Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources in the Cholistan desert by developing specially designed 92 reservoirs at appropriate locations normally constructed from 10 to 15 km distances from each other with water storage capacity of 15000 cubic meter (4.0 million gallons) making total of 1.35 million cubic meter (368 million gallons) annually. Twenty specially designed deep tubewells have been installed by PCRWR with discharge of annually about 7.0 million cubic meter (1405 million gallons) in the Cholistan desert where groundwater is usable for drinking of human and livestock population. Two Reverse Osmosis Plants have been installed to desalinize highly saline groundwater with desalination capacity of 0.01 million cubic meter annually for human and livestock drinking. The developed water sources have been distributed in the whole Cholistan desert considering population of human and livestock to meet the requirement of drinking water. The overall drinking water requirement annually for human and livestock population is about 8.0 million cubic meter. Whereas water sources have been developed for providing water at storage capacity more than 8.4 million cubic meter (1800 million gallons) annually. Now drinking water in the desert is available throughout the year. As a result of water source development, migration of human and livestock due to shortage of water has stopped and loss of about Rs.6 billion annually have been saved caused due to reduction in livestock production in the form of mortality, diseases, reduction in meat and milk as well as damage to crops in canal irrigated areas. Further, micro-climate around the reservoirs has also been improved leading to eco-friendly. Now birds and other wildlife can be seen frequently around the reservoirs as well as more and new vegetation species can also be observed resulting overall positive impact on biodiversity of desert.


Rainwater Storage Reservoirs Developed in the Cholistan Desert by PCRWR

Transformation of Barren Dunes in to Forest Land

The dune land is having vegetation cover mostly less than 20%. As a result of less vegetation cover wind erosion is active and sand encroaches upon good lands. To make sand dunes stable by providing more vegetation cover through growing fast growing trees and generating income from waste degraded lands, PCRWR is conducting research at various research stations in the Cholistan desert. About 50 hectare dune land has been converted in to good forest land having more than 80% vegetation cover. Before the experiments, this area had vegetation cover less than 15%. The main tree species grown at the Stations are Acacia, Tamarix, Ziziphus, Ampliceps, Prosopis cineraria, Date palm (Jandi), Salvandora, Oleoides (Van). If all sand dunes and sandy soils in main deserts are converted in to forest land by growing xerophytic & halophytic tree species then billion of rupees can be earned from timber and fuel wood as well as stable friendly environment will be developed protecting fertile lands and infrastructures from wind erosion and covering in sand.

Development of Grassland with Saline Water

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has developed a grassland on about 50 hectares by saline ground water at various field stations. Although the underground water is saline and not suitable for normal field crops, however it can be used for growing salt tolerant fodder grasses on coarse textured sandy soils due to rapid leaching of salts beyond the root zone. The salts accumulated due to irrigation of saline water are flushed very deep during rainy season by the rainwater percolation in sandy soils because the sandy soils are excessively drained. Further, the adverse effects of saline water on the physical properties of soils can be neutralized by applying required amount of gypsum, farmyard manure and organic fertilizers. The grasses namely Napier bajra, panicum, Gyna, Sporobolus, canchrus, Sindicus Sympopogan, Lasiurus, Vetiveria have been grown under saline water irrigation having salt concentration more than 4600. The production of grassland per acre biomass was obtained 10 to 35 times more than natural desert grazing land. The livestock carrying capacity can be increased at least more than 10 times as compared to present situation may add to economic source manifold of the country.

Introduction of Economic Plants

Jojoba is a valuable oil producing and ornamental plant. The high wax produced by seed of Jojoba is good substitute of sperm whale oil. Jojoba plant attains the height between 2 to 6 feet but it may grow up to 10 feet and offers a thick vegetative cover in desert. The natural life span of this plant is between 100-200 years. Jojoba plants have been grown under conjunctive use of rainwater and saline ground water by PCRWR. The plantation of jojoba plants on large scale in the deserts and in the uplands as well as plantation on the boundaries of farm field in irrigated area may add in the source of income for the farmers.

Rangeland Development

The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources has develop drangelands on about 50 hectares by introducing various species of grasses, trees and bushes i.e. Atriplexes (salt bush) at Desert Field Research Station in Cholistan by using saline ground water. These salt tolerant plants are palatable by livestock. The bushes are best sand dune stabilizer due to very good stature. These bushes provide green forage during dry period especially when other vegetation is dry. The increase in the carrying capacity of livestock on multi-scale level may increase livestock production many times at least more than 10 times if ranges are scientifically managed.

Agroforestry in Desert

About 50 hectares dune land in the Cholistan Desert has been converted into crop land and brought under agroforestry to make marginal dry lands income generating to contribute in the national economy. The fodder and oil seed crops are grown with forest trees. The most important crops are cluster beans, mustard and barley, whereas, tree species are Acacia, Zizyphus usable as timber and fruit. If deserts are brought under tree plantation and crops. It will enhance income source of the people and it will help to upgrade their socio-economic condition to make their life comfortable.


Barley & Mustard Grown with High Salinity Water in Cholistan Desert by PCRWR

Desertification Control

Excavation and Construction of Ponds 6 Nos.
Chapper Din Shah Chachro (200`x200`x20`) 1
Sundhi Bheel Chachro (200`x200`x20`) 1
Bughar Village Mithi (200`x200`x20`) 1
Densi Village Nigar Parkar (200`x200`x20`) 1
Haido Village Mithi (200`x200`x20`) 1
Khario Junejo Mithi (200`x200`x20`) 1
(2) Construction of Dug Wells 4 Nos.
Brick Masonry (B.M) Dug Well Pooran Wah Nagar Parkar 30 ft deep , 8in dia 1
Brick Masonry (B.M) Dug Well Doonjh Juneja Mithi 100 ft deep , 4in dia 1
Cement Concrete (C.C) Dug Well Jaga Vary Mithi 100 ft deep , 4in dia 1
Cement Concrete (C.C) Dug Well Subhri Deeplo 70 ft deep , 8in dia 1
(3) Khario Nara Field Station
Installation and Construction of Deep Well 1
High Efficiency Irrigation Systems.
(i) Sprinkler Irrigation System 8 Acres
(ii) Trickle Irrigation System 8 Acres
Installation of Meteorological Station 1
Rain Water Harvesting Pond (150'x150'x20) 1
(4) Construction of Retention Dam at Nagar Parkar 1
Fencing around 70 acres of land 70 Acres

Achievements in Chagi-Kharan Desert

  1. Excavation and Construction of 5 rainwater harvesting reservoirs (150'x150'x15') in Noshki, Kharan and Washuk Districts Completed.
  2. Excavation of 10 channels and 8 ditches for collection of rainwater in reservoirs for livestock.
  3. Construction of 20 check structures and bundhats in projedt area.

Summary of Achievements Regarding Rainwater Harvesting and Desertification Control

Sr. # Name of Activity Locations
Cholistan Ahmed Pur Thar Chagi-Kharan
1 Rainwater Harvesting (Construction of ponds 200'x200'x20') 102 16 7 5
2 Dug Wells - - 5 -
3 Deep Tubewells 10 10 1 -
4 Reverse Osmosis Plants 2
(1000-4000 Gallon per day)
(300-500 Gallon per day)
- -
5 Retention Dam - - 1 -
6 Check Structures - - - 20
Desertification Control
1 Sand dune fixation 50 hectare - - -
2 Afforestation 50 hectare - - -
3 Orchard Plantation 30 hectare - 3 hec. -
4 Rangeland development 50 hectare - - -
5 Grassland Development 50 hectare - - -
6 Saline Agriculture 40 hectare - - -

Present Activities in Cholistan Desert

More than fifteen macro and micro field Research Stations have been established in the Cholistan desert between Tehsil Fortabbas, District Bahawalnagar and Dingarh Fort District Bahawalpur at locations i.e. Dingarh, Naraywala, Haiderwali, Marrot, Toba Allah Yar, Qaimser, Jaisa, Malkana, Januwali, Chapu, Jamalde sir, Kundai, Chandani, Chadhran, NoorSir, Perhar wali to conduct research at various issues of the deserts i.e. Water scarcity, Range management, Wind erosion, Agriculture, Livestock management etc., and to demonstrate various technologies of desertification control and converting desert lands into productive source of income for the up-gradation of social and economic status of the people.

The research is being conducted on the following major disciplines:

  1. Rainwater harvesting
  2. Sand dunes fixation and stabilization
  3. Range management
  4. Afforestation of dune land
  5. Grassland development
  6. Saline agriculture
  7. Orchard plantation with rainwater and ground saline water
  8. Agriculture with good quality rain water stored in the ponds

Rainwater Harvesting: The experiments have been conducted and are being conducted at Dingarh Field Research Station on the aspects of rainfall, threshold rainfall, evaporation, wind speed, humidity, seepage, characters of catchment, types of catchments, management of catchments, designs of ponds, types of ponds, storage capacity of ponds etc.

Sand dune fixation and stabilization: Wind erosion is very active on sand dunes due to non-vegetation or poor vegetation because soil surface of sand dunes is bare and naked. The winds cause shifting of sand particles toward the direction of winds resulting the burial of good fertile range, grass and crop lands making them abandoned. To grow vegetation on the naked sand dunes is not a easy task because micro-environment of the mobile dune is not favourable for the germination and growth of plants. Therefore, it is imperative to create favourable micro-environment for the growth and survival of the baby plants to be the big plants by fixing the mobile sand through erecting micro-barriers fences in the form of checker boards to reduce the effect of wind speed and to collect rainwater in the mini-pits around the baby plants to supply required moisture and to make mini-area stable inside the checker board by the growth of natural vegetation in addition to planted vegetation. Research activities are being carried out to evolve cheap and sustainable technologies for sand dune stabilization.

Range management: Livestock grazing is the main land use of desert land due to hyper arid climate, topography and non-availability of water for irrigation of crops. The main livestock species found in the desert are sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and donkeys. Livestock and livestock products in the form of meat, milk, skins and hides are the major source of income for the people. To rear livestock water and fodder are basic commodities reqired for the nourishment of livestock animals. More than 10 million livestock is reared in these main deserts of the country. Therefore, experiments are conducted at field Research Stations for management of ranges.

Afforestation on sand dune lands: The sand dune land is very important for stabilization to avoid sand migration and burial of fertile lands to be used for grazing, cropping and other precious purposes. Further stabilization of sand dunes is also important for generating income for the up-gradation of the peoples social life and further for protecting environment and its improvement. Therefore, research is going on Afforestation of sand dunes with various species of forest trees at various field research station in Cholistan and at Mithi in the Thar Desert.

Grassland Development: There is a difference between grassland and rangeland. The grassland is called when the area is consisting of grasses dominantly as compared to other vegetation species while ranges are consisting of various types of vegetation including palatable and unpalatable vegetation species. The research is being conducted on grassland by introducing various species of palatable and nutritious grasses at various farm locations in the Cholistan desert to increase carrying capacity of livestock manifold as compared to natural grazing lands.

Saline Agriculture: More than 35% lands in the deserts are deep sandy soils in addition to sanddune lands. The sandy soils are usable for growing salt tolerant crops with saline water irrigation because salts of the water percolates from the root zone of crop rapidly without damaging the crop more seriously. Mostly in deserts ground water is saline therefore, there is, a need to conduct research on various crops to grow with saline water. The research is being conducted for growing barley, wild oats, mustard, millet and alfalfa crops, etc.

Orchard plantation with rainwater and ground saline water: The desert land can be used for plantation of orchard plants e.g., ber, date, falsa etc., which are drought resistant, salt tolerant and tolerable to harsh desert environment under the irrigation with rain stored water and ground saline water pumped by tubewells. The orchard plants can be a good source of income for the desert people by using local sources. The experiments are being conducted at various field Research Stations i.e. Dingarh, Narawala, Hyderwali, etc.

Agriculture with good quality rain water stored in the ponds: There is a lot of scope for agriculture by growing vegetables, fruit plants and crops with rainwater harvesting and storage in mini-micro dams and large ponds in the deserts. It has been estimated by PCRWR that more than 1200 million cubic meter rainwater can be harvested and stored in the main deserts of Pakistan . This quantity of rainwater is sufficient for supplying drinking water to the human and livestock population residing in the desert and an additional 1.0 million acres desert land can be brought under agriculture for growing vegetables, fruit plant and other beneficial trees. Therefore, research is being conducted to introduce this technology in the deserts.

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