HYDERABAD: Emerging challenges to agriculture witnessed overall due to water scarcity and increasing soil degradation have convinced farmers in Sindh to look for different options to continue traditional practices of producing crops, vegetables, and fruits for survival.
Looking at this alarming situation, researchers, agriculture scientists and growers of fruits and vegetables were invited to discuss the way forward quite recently. During the discussion, a detailed presentation was given to promote 'ultra high density plantation (UHDP)' to get more product and multiply income from a small piece of land. The fruits, the organisers suggested for UHDP included strawberry, different varieties of mango, seedless lemon, guava and grapes. Strawberry fruit usually grows in cold areas, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This fruit plant consumes more water, the presenter suggested.
Strawberry is a new variety in Sindh, which was introduced two-three years back in Khairpur, Dadu, Jamshoro and some parts of other districts, mostly in catchment area of the River Indus. These farmers bring seedlings from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to cultivate on small pieces of lands. Since they are unaware about marketing and value-addition of the product, they look uncertain.
Some farmers believe that the transported seedlings should be transplanted within 48 hours to avoid loss, as they fear higher increasing mortality rate due to the 2000 kilometre long distance.
A grower Malik Akbar, hailing from Khairpur district, said he has used UHDP method for guava, strawberry and grapes at his fields. He advised farmers to see alternatives, lessen cultivation cost and find markets for these fruit varieties. He expects that farmers should change conventional practices and introduce profitable strawberry and apply intercropping methods to get products multiplied throughout the year.
Abdul Sattar Khatti, another grower said usually Sindh farmers produce jujube in which they have 40 trees per acre. “But now following UHDP farmers can plant 150 trees per acre and get more product and income. The change in mindset is the only way out for farmers' survival due to the prevailing unavoidable challenges,” he added.
Muhammad Shah Sawar, a researcher and grower, hailing from Peshawar, during his detailed presentation showed inspiring pictures of strawberry standing in the fields of Northern Areas of Pakistan and asked growers of lower Sindh to produce this fruit and earn more.
Having 32 years experience in research on conventional crops being produced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said, “We are working to bring change and increase income through intercropping of all fruits and common crops, including strawberry.”
Giving background of strawberry, he said it was a strange variety of fruit, which came to Pakistan’s Swat valley and Islamabad in year 1980. “Initially, a few growers planted it on experimental basis. But now there are around 70,000 farmers producing strawberry in the country, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces,” Sawar added..
Per acre yield and income he said was exciting for growers available in the programme. “It’s per acre cultivation cost, including land preparation, growing seedling and use of chemical input ranges from Rs175,000 to Rs200,000.”
Farmers in KP usually transplant 40,000-50,000 seedlings per acre. In return per acre product and income they get was up to rupees one million and 1.2 million, depending on the situation, he added.
He urged farmers in Sindh to adapt market technology for agriculture and fruits products. He gave examples about value-addition of fruits, which have more demand in urban markets and the products remain available for sale throughout the year at super stores.
Swat and parts of Punjab grows this fruit during May and June, because there is cold during these months. KP farmers receive 15-20 ton per product from 45,000-50,000 plants. Following this, he suggested Sindh farmers to cultivate it during the month of December or after September when temperature drops to 25 Celsius.
Growers of Sindh took interest in the talk and raised questions on the possibilities to produce strawberry in the water-scarce zone, where temperature is high for most of the time in the year. Besides this, increasing soil and environmental degradation due to excessive use of chemical input was also discussed.
Nabi Bux Jamro of Agriculture Research Institute, Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam, said strawberry required 25 waters, starting from transplantation to harvest. “Sindh is experiencing the worst kind of water scarcity and extreme heat. In this situation, risk factor should be kept in mind by farmers while cultivating this fruit, which requires more water and pleasant weather.”
It was a sensitive crop, and neither does it survive in dryness not in heat and rains. “It grows in pleasant weather to give more produce. In fact for Sindh farmers producing strawberry is a challenge but they must test it if they want to do so,” Jamro said.
Mir Amanullah Talpur, a leading grower from Kunri, Umerkot district said, “We have already learned lessons quite recently, when corporate sector was dominating with huge machinery and investment. We follow conventional practices and produce common crops, vegetables and fruits, some of which have got reputation in world market.”
For example, he said mango varieties from other parts of the country could not match with Sindh province varieties like Sindhri, which have unique taste, nutrients value and aroma.
He gave rationale that mango was a summer variety and people loved eating it during the season. Some people want to offer strange varieties of mango, which produce fruits three times a year, including winter. “In fact these varieties are not suitable for the environment in Sindh,” he added.
Talpur said some hybrid mango varieties were available in market in the month of September at Rs80-Rs90/kg, which do not taste like the local mango varieties. Approximately 600 varieties of strawberries are being cultivated globally because of its nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.