Farmers’ plight

August 07, 2022

Changing weather patterns and lack of incisive policies are adding to the problems of Sindh’s rice farming communities

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efore the heavy rainfall, the fast-rising shortage of water had stressed the richest rice region. The yield is likely to be lower than the last year.

In Sindh, the paddy sowing season (Kharif) started following April and is now about to run out. However, Qader Bux Soomro’s rice field is not yet ready for cultivation. Soomro’s land is located near the main Karachi-Islamkot Thar Coal Road, in southern Sindh’s tail-end district, Badin.

Due to climate change, water scarcity has become a rising concern in southern Sindh. In Badin, Thatta and Sujawal districts, fertile land is turning into desert. “I had great difficulty nurturing the seedlings for the 20-acre field. After implantation, we found that adequate water wasn’t available,” says Qader Bux Soomro, 50, who grows various crops, including high delta crops on 200 acres of land. He says, “the acute shortage of water has been devastating. “Seedlings were drained before they could grow.” Rain remains the only hope, but it is not going to be enough for such farming.

Zohaib Ali Bughio, a research scholar and a gold medalist, is researching possible zinc enhancement and its bioavailability in rice grains in connection with zinc malnutrition in humans’ sustainability at the Department of Soil Science at Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam. He is also pursuing a PhD at the Nanjing Agriculture University, China. Bhugio says that the situation of the paddy crop in Sindh is alarming. “Because of the worsening climate situation, paddy areas are shrinking. The farmers are losing their assets.”

“The rice farming community is under dual pressure. On the one hand, the government has halted the cultivation of paddy crops due to the unavailability of water. On the other, the growers are facing disastrous natural events,” says Bughio. He adds, “where water is accessible, paddy farming has been banned.”

Pakistan is indexed as the world’s 11th substantial producer of rice. Sindh is a top producer of non-aromatic rice varieties. Rice is a crucial cash grain crop of the national thrift after the wheat crop and textile industry. The worldgrain.com reports that according to a Global Agricultural Information Network report, Pakistan cultivated a record rice crop of 8.9 million tonnes in the 2021-22 marketing year, up from 8.4 million tonnes the prior year.

Southern Sindh was once recognised as a hub for red rice-growing fields. Soomro who owns 500 acres is not alone in his struggles. Tens of thousands of rice growers are disappointed. They are worried that water scarcity might cause a drought-like situation and devastate agriculture. Rice is a water-consuming crop. It needs to remain inundated for survival. That’s why the Sindh government imposed a ban on paddy cultivation last year.

Water shortage is also an important factor in the global climate crisis; ultimately, it impacts the production of crops, especially rice yields. “We know that rice is a high delta crop. It needs significant water. Earlier, there was a severe water deficit across Sindh, mainly in lower Sindh,” says Riaz Dayo, the deputy secretary Agriculture, Supply and Prices Department, who retired a couple of months ago from his post. “When water is not available for drinking, how are farmers going to cultivate?” he asks. He is hopeful, though, and says, “improved availability of water is expected. We will get over this crisis.”

River Indus is a substantial irrigation system, a supply source for agricultural fields as well as drinking water for approximately 40 million people in Sindh. The people of Sindh have depended on the river for thousands of years.

In Pakistan, more than 90 percent of water is consumed in agriculture. The country is the third vastly water-stressed country on the planet. There are high chances of definite water deficiency by 2025, according to the IMF, the UNDP and Pakistan’s Council of Research on Water Resources.

Abdul Sattar, another small land holder from Sallar Soomro, is living in uncertainty. He says, “we are already facing risks cultivating other crops because of a severe water shortage. If the situation escalates, we will have absolute water scarcity.”

Sattar, complains, “there are many faults in the distribution of water. Besides, our entire irrigation system has become outdated. It does not support small growers.” He adds, “bigger landowners of the region are depriving tail-end growers. Water mismanagement is aggravating the crisis and must be addressed promptly.”

Bhugio says, “earlier the water table was in the regular range, and water absorption and movement were balanced. Now the water has been pushed lower from the surface of the soil due to fluctuations in temperature and less rainfall. This is because of climate change.”

The researcher worries that the climate crisis could strain the situation further. He urges all stakeholders to understand that the country is on the verge of food scarcity.

Once one could tell from Sugdasi’s fragrance that biryani was on the menu. Sindh has already almost lost its local varieties, mainly Sugdasi rice harvested in Dadu and Johi regions. Bhugio believes that there is no alternative to this rice crop. He adds, “Sindh is a large producer of non-aromatic rice varieties, such as Erri 6, Erri 8. Aromatic varieties, especially Basmati rice are largely cultivated in the Punjab.”

Changing weather patterns and extreme temperatures have been decreasing average rice production. “In the past, the average has been 50 to 60 maund of yield per acre, now it has dropped by 30 maund. It is not only due to a shortage of water but also fertiliser absorption availability,” says Bhugio. Disappointed, he adds, “Pakistan is an agricultural country. Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy. Despite the fact, there is a lack of incisive agriculture policies.”

In Sindh, the rice belt is divided into upper and lower regions. The upper region is a single-crop belt and depends on rice. The lower region, including Badin, Thatta and Sujawal is a multi-crop area. Rice accounts for 2.7 percent of the value added in agribusiness and 0.6 percent of the GDP. It is the chief source of livelihood for farming communities.

Rice is a temperature-sensitive crop requiring close monitoring, according to the researcher. All stages are crucial and need care and perfect conditions for producing a good yield.

Sajjan Meghwar, a local landless resident, says that his ancestors were rice farmers. Formerly, he used to farm in the fields where we met. He grazes goats now because the once fertile fields have turned barren. Taking a few mudstones and small wooden sticks in his hand, he points to the barren field and laments that it was too difficult to survive under such circumstances.

“Initially, it was quite hard to do something new, but now I have accepted it completely,”

Qader Soomro says, “we need equitable and timely distribution of water.” He adds, “agricultural expenditures have been rising. Seeds, machines, urea-based fertilisers, pesticides and other related expenses have not been in our hands. Farmers are worried. Many will not be able to pursue rice farming in the coming seasons.”

The farmers are hoping that the climate will show them mercy this time.


The writer is a Hyderabad based environmental journalist



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