It was tough visiting far-flung villages in the disaster-prone Dadu district as the temperature touched 49 Celsius. Swathes of land along the roads and link roads wore a deserted look with no crops or greenery in sight.
Water scarcity and hot weather together have forced many farmers to say idle at homes.
However, in village Hamzo Khan Khushk many farmers were preparing lands for the next immediate crops, mostly cotton, despite the scorching heat and acute water shortage. They lamented the scarcity of water.
It is the second consecutive year that they are facing the worst kind of water scarcity and resultant delayed cultivation. But they are hopeful of recovering the losses sooner or later.
Farmer Gul Muhammad Khushk said, “We have prepared our lands for sowing cotton, expecting to receive water in the first week of June, as we have been told by the irrigation department officials.”
The farmers of this particular village reportedly have set an example by cultivating vegetables on small family lands without chemical inputs - pesticides and fertilisers. They use only farmyard manure and water from hand pumps.
The village has garnered enough popularity to attract farmers from even as far as Swat to visit their vegetable gardens. People from other areas visit the village to learn and follow their methods to grow clean foods.
In another village Muhabat Jalbani, a group of women have made small vegetable gardens with apple gourd, cauliflower, melon, and aubergine, etc. Some of these small gardens are parched due to hot weather and persistent water scarcity.
Generally, farmers seem dejected and depressed in this helpless situation.
With temperatures simmering between 44 and 49 degrees during May, some women have lost their vegetable gardens. Life is completely disrupted and most people prefer staying indoors to avoid the heat wave after 11 am. One can still see some women farmers watering their vegetable gardens. They use groundwater from hand pumps.
The uncertain level of groundwater is also a major issue for this community. In some places, the water quality has also deteriorated.
Dadu district is considered disaster prone. In case of more water in the river, it floods. The district, besides benefitting from the main Dadu canal flowing from Sukkur barrage, is situated at the right bank of the river Indus, having enough catchment area. Kachho and Kohistan on the other hand are rain-fed areas, where people depend on livestock rearing and agriculture. In case of delayed rains, people face a drought-like situation.
Livestock production in this particular area is an important component of the district’s agricultural economy, which is linked to sustainability of the poor farmers.
Farmers Zulfiqar Jatoi from the riverine village Mithal Khan Jatoi was optimistic. He expects to receive water soon as the level improves in the river near his locality.
Zulfiqar is among a few farmers, who do not cultivate summer crops, including the major cotton crop. It is because the area is flooded during the summer season, destroying the standing crops. Farmers in this catchment area concentrate on sowing wheat, variety of pulses and other conventional crops for survival.
The farmer recalls the past when the river with enough water flow during February and March, fed all the canals and distributaries, besides benefitting the forests and groves nearby.
Zulfiqar claims to have experimented to preserve and reintroduce old seed varieties of wheat, which had disappeared almost three decades back. This year they have five grain varieties, enough to sustain them.
Despite water-related issue, farmers are optimistic and continue to multiply and preserve indigenous seeds of food crops, especially wheat. Since it is the second consecutive year or in some cases first year, farmers are cultivating indigenous seeds on a small portion of land along with high yielding varieties. The farmers claim to have collected enough seed this year for at least two-five acre land each. They expect to have more seeds for the next season.
According to elderly farmers, these old varieties seeds have more potential to survive in less water and give better yield. Farmers believe 14-16 kilogram seed of old varieties are enough for per acre cultivation, compared to high yielding varieties, which farmers use up to 40-50kg/acre, depending on the land.
These old varieties also help cut the cost of chemical inputs as pesticides and fertilisers are not needed, and farmyard manure is enough to maintain soil fertility.
Niaz Sial, representing farmers’ network that works in 25 villages, said the recent water phenomenon has disrupted entire economical activities, mainly agriculture and livestock rearing.
About the newly emerging challenges due to water scarcity, farmers believe old varieties will sustain in less water, as they require only two-three waters. Otherwise, the farmers cannot continue cultivating crops in this fearful water crisis.
The writer is a staff member