Guava orchards, a sliver of hope for Badin farmers

May 11, 2021

HYDERABAD: A farmer Muhammad Zaman is among four lucky ones who have received 1,000 guava fruit saplings for planting at their family land.His family already has a few mango orchards standing at a...

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HYDERABAD: A farmer Muhammad Zaman is among four lucky ones who have received 1,000 guava fruit saplings for planting at their family land.

His family already has a few mango orchards standing at a small water stream nearby, and now with the addition of the new guava garden, neighbouring farmers have started dropping by to take a look at the growing plants.

Falling crop productivity has forced farmers to hunt for alternative livelihoods. So, if Zaman’s guava garden succeeds, growers would have a chance at earning a livelihood.

Zaman belongs to village Sono Khan Jamali, located near Talhar town of Badin district, which is situated at the tail end of the canal irrigation system. The area faces severe water scarcity.

Quoting elderly farmers, he said when Sukkur barrage was built in 1932, the British government supported farmers to have fruit orchards like mango, guava, pomegranate and other gardens. At that time the land was quite fertile and they used to have higher yield of crops and fruits.

However, things changed in 1955 after the building of Kotri barrage. Farmers noticed changes in soil fertility, which ultimately led to loss of crops and vanishing fruit orchards.

Currently, tail end farmers are not receiving water needed to improve crop productivity.

The next immediate food crop in the region is paddy, and Zaman was busy preparing seedlings for establishing a paddy nursery.

Farmers in Badin district usually prepare rice crop nurseries in May and start sowing in early June as per the traditional crops calendar. Badin district makes higher contribution in total rice products like other districts of Sindh.

Farmers usually receive water in May for cultivating paddy, which continues till June, July and August, but sometimes the pattern changes, which harms the crop as water availability is essential for this delta crop.

Some area farmers cultivated bhindi (okra) this year and got better prices for the produce at the local markets.

“This year has been lucky for us and we got Rs16,000—20,000 for a 50kg bag,” Zaman said. On average, farmers earned Rs300,000/acre of okra this year, which they said was sufficient compared to the last year.

Water scarcity often makes it difficult for farmers to cultivate not only traditional crops, but also vegetables, which they depend of for both food and income.

Some farmers also cultivate wheat when they receive water in November, but productivity is low, measuring only 10-20 maund per acre, compared to other parts, which receive more water and normally get 40-50 maund per acre.

Abdul Majeed, another farmer of village Haji Hayat Khaskheli cultivated chilli on one acre land and luckily got a high price. He was also preparing to cultivate paddy, expecting to receive timely water to avoid uncertainty.

He said they use hybrid seeds and receive 80-100 maund per acre of rice, depending on the situation. “Previously, we used traditional rice seeds, which did not require chemicals. The crop also used to receive a variety of fish seeds naturally from the watercourses, so farmers had white meat (fish) too,” he shared.

Gone were the days, he said “now we use excessive chemical input, and fish cannot survive in the crop water.”

Qasim Junejo, a farmer belonging to village Mubarak Junejo said they have lost underground water because of increasing sea intrusion and excessive use of tube wells. He was considering alternative means to get water for cultivation.

Qasim has four acres of land, and mainly prefers to sow paddy on hopes of receiving sufficient water during the sowing season of this particular crop.

“My family had more than 50 buffalos- a larger herd in the village some time ago, but now I have only two animals to have milk for children. The reason for the loss is lack of green pasture where we may rear the animals,” he added.

Almost all farmers were facing a similar situation - from not being able to cultivate traditional crops to losing cattle and animals due to water scarcity. Though many people have wells and hand pumps for getting potable water, a majority of these facilities have become useless.

Most families travel three-four kilometres twice a day to fetch potable water for domestic needs and to feed their animals.

In this situation, farmers suggest different options to save the communities residing in this disaster prone district.

Samina Qambrani of Laar Humanitarian Development Programme (LHDP) said the role of farmer women in agriculture has been diminished. Mostly they live idle at homes or only a few of them keep themselves engaged in needle work to design colourful products for local markets.

LHDP has been motivating women farmers, and facilitating them with required tools and seeds to cultivate vegetables at their widespread courtyards and backyards in collaboration with Action Against Hunger (ACF), a global humanitarian organisation, so they could have their own chemical-free food.

Through this move, she thinks households might have safe and chemical-free food, while enabling them to save the amount which they usually spent on buying the same vegetables from the market.

After agriculture, livestock has been the second largest source of income for the communities in Badin district. Activists believe that climate change, increasing sea intrusion, frequent threats of rain flood and sea storms have together contributed to affect the lives and livelihoods of the community people.

“Livestock, especially small animals are considered a bank for local herders. Whenever they require some amount, they can sell one or two animals to meet the need and continue their lives,” Qambrani said.

The past of the area people was quite different in terms of having rich natural resources and prosperity. Now, even drinking water has become a precious commodity for the local communities, she added.

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