Sudden dust storms and gusty winds, together with rise in temperature have badly impacted the standing kharif crops, mainly chilli, onion, cotton, rice, vegetables and banana in the province of Sindh.
Haroon Memon, representative of chilli growers’ body from Kunri, Umerkot district, said though the gusty winds are a normal phenomenon in this season, this year the intensity has damaged standing crops in fields.
On one side there is acute water shortage in many areas, while on the other, the newly emerging problem of dust storms has damaged all the seasonal crops. Heat waves along with dust storms started during the last week of May 2016, which has damaged the standing crops of vegetables, rice and cotton, leaving growers in a helpless situation.
According to Memon, the dust affects the leaves, the trunk, and the fruits, and damaging the plants instantly. “Chilli is being sown in the fields, which needs proper care, but with water shortage and heat wave, combined with the strong gales in many areas, it is very difficult to tend the crop in the desired manner. The impact is going to be huge and make the lives of the already marginalised farmers, miserable.”
Nawab Zubair Talpur, President Sindh Growers Alliance said the dusty storm has disrupted the growth of all crop plants, like cotton, chilli and vegetables. Vegetable gardens; especially the cucurbit family plants face the most severe blows, and around 60-70 percent of the vegetables and fruits are reportedly damaged in many areas.
"Loss is beyond repair and growers in Badin, Sujawal, Thatta, Tando Muhammad Khan, Umerkot and other districts are afraid of facing more problems due to the dust phenomenon emerging in the wake of weather pattern changes," Talpur said.
Cantaloupes, watermelons, melons, squashes, gourds, cucumbers and others make a long list of the cucurbit family of plants, which are commonly grown in warmer parts of the country. The devastation will also affect market supply for these common, every day perishable food items.
Cotton sowing season starts on May 15 in Sindh, and continues till early June. But in the current situation, it is very difficult for the growers to save their crops.
Growers in tail end areas, mostly in Kunri, the chilli-growing zone, contradicted the government's advice to schedule irrigating their crops for seeding and proper usage of water. They say it is not possible in the circumstances where they have no access to water. “How can we manage when there is not a single drop of water?” they ask.
Apart from this, they believe that the government officials have yet to understand this new weather disruption. They accuse the government of keeping their areas on their least priority list. If the government does not visit the affected areas, how is it possible to find the causes and solutions for the present predicament, they ask.
There is a lack of understanding with the government high-ups, who forecast and issue advices for growers without taking stock of the ground realities.
It is also the time for the onion seedlings, which are being prepared in nurseries. But it would be difficult for the onion crop to survive the eminent heat wave and strong dust storms which are making survival difficult for most of the crops in the region.
Growers, sharing experience, said the month of May and the first half of June usually remain drier and hotter than normal. But this year the intensity has spread fear among them. They fear it is also an omen of continuous hot weather over the plains of Sindh and the vast coastal belt where in places like Badin, Sujawal, and Thatta, the situation is already deplorable.
Recently, the agriculture areas of the province experienced intense heat of up to 51 degree Celsius. In many areas, standing crops were damaged due to the excessive heat.
The agriculturists said that usually crops tend to grow faster in warmer conditions. For example, heat is useful for cotton, but extreme weather affects it badly. Warmer temperatures affect the quick grown of many crops, causing decrease in its yields.
The target of cotton is usually set to achieve four million bales from around 600,000 hectares of land in the cotton growing areas. But the growers are not sure about this old data, and said that the government must share the information and strengthen coordination to help farmers and avoid any mishap, like today's growers are facing.
For any particular crop, the effect of increased temperature will depend on the crop's optimal temperature for growth and reproduction. Some factors may counteract these potential increases in yield. If temperature exceeds a crop's optimal level or if sufficient water and nutrients are not available, the yield may be reduced or reversed, they added.
Agriculturists believe that frequency of dust storms is increasing. This is a function of weather events, interacting with soil and land management through its effects on soil structure and vegetation cover. They link it to the ruining of forests in many areas, which usually played an effective role to avoid the loss of crops and protected humans during the summer season. But now these plain-land forests and riverine forests have depleted due to wrong policies and political manoeuvring.
The impacts of sand and dust storms were described in terms of crop damage, soil productivity losses, economic losses, mass migration, health impacts, and impacts on climate.
They link this occurrence to climate change, which has made it more difficult to grow crops. As a result, the traditional sources of livelihoods of the farmers and rural workforce are at stake.
Information gathered from banana growers reveals that they are also experiencing a similar situation, as the fragile fruity crop is damaged, and the yield may be lower this year. Sindh is the major producer of banana, and contributes 90 percent in the national banana production.
The most affected areas include coastal areas of Thatta, Sujawal, Badin, plain areas like Tando Muhammad Khan, Umerkot and desert area like Thar, Nara and Kohistan.
Growers in tail end areas are already staging protest demonstrations against water shortage and accusing the government of poor management and bad administration.
What is happening because of weather can be termed a natural phenomenon, but what the government officials are doing is nothing short of playing games with the growers and the national economy that is very much dependent on agriculture.
The writer is a staff member