ISLAMABAD, Dec 13 (APP): The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $200 million loan for the development of an irrigation system in Punjab province that would help increase agricultural productivity and enhance food security. The project loan, which is denominated in Japanese yen, will finance the construction of the second branch or Choubara system of the Greater Thal Canal irrigation scheme. The scheme will provide reliable irrigation water supply to 704,000 hectares of land in Bhakkar, Jhang, Khushab, Layyah, and Muzaffargarh districts, making them more agriculturally productive. The government of Pakistan had earlier constructed the Main Canal and the first branch or Mankera system. “Given Pakistan’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, it is essential to build irrigation infrastructure for climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Yevgeniy Zhukov. “ADB’s support will help boost the supply of local produce and promote food security, while increasing economic growth,” Zhukov added. Punjab is the main source of food production for Pakistan’s growing population, producing a significant portion of the country’s wheat, rice, sugarcane, and maize. Because of Pakistan’s semi-arid climate, agricultural production is highly dependent on irrigation. Yet, irrigation efficiency remains low due to water shortages, land degradation, and mismanagement of water resources. The Choubara branch system ADB will help construct comprises a 72-kilometer branch canal, 11 secondary canals totaling 251 kilometers, and 11 tertiary canals totaling 127 kilometers. ADB will also help develop on-farm agricultural command areas, pilot water conservation technologies such as land leveling and high efficiency irrigation systems and help to train farmers in water management and climate-resilient agricultural practices. The Main Canal and Mankera branch areas have around 49,000 farmer households and about 38,000 in the Choubara branch areas. Most of these households own less than five hectares of land. “By integrating infrastructure and agricultural interventions, this project directly supports smallholder farmers to manage their limited resources more efficiently and maximize the benefits from irrigated agriculture,” said ADB Principal Portfolio Management Specialist Natsuko Totsuka. “The project will strengthen the capacity of local authorities to maintain these irrigation systems, boost rural economic growth and help to reduce poverty in the province,” Totsuka said.