Rising cost of fuel has made farmers jittery in Sindh as they prepare for wheat sowing in advanced cultivation areas of the province.
Farmers fear the high cost of fuel would add to the cultivation cost, which was already high due to expensive seeds and chemicals. Currently, a 50kg bag of wheat seed was being sold for Rs4,000-Rs4,500, while last year the bad was priced at Rs2800-Rs3,000.
Prices of fertiliser inputs climbed up as well. Diammonium phosphate (DAP) price soared to Rs7,500-Rs8,500/bag this year compared to Rs3,600 last year; phosphate surged to Rs5,000/bag from Rs2,400/bag; while urea prices shot up to Rs2,200/bag from Rs1,600/bag last year.
Similarly, the cost of ploughing tractors climbed up to Rs1,800-Rs2,200 this year, against Rs1,200 last year.
Add to this the increase in prices of petroleum products, and farmers get burdened by additional input costs. The rise in price of light and high speed diesel is of particular concern as light diesel oil is used to power a majority of tube-wells in the rural areas, while tractors run on HSD.
Government last Friday increased the price of petrol by Rs8.03/litre, diesel by Rs8.14, kerosene by Rs6.27, and light diesel by Rs5.72/litre. This raised the price of petrol to Rs145.82 from Rs137.79/litre, HSD to Rs142.62 from Rs134.48/litre, kerosene to Rs116.53 from Rs110.26/litre, and light diesel to Rs114.07 from Rs108.35/litre.
In addition, this also impacts the transportation costs between the farm and the market.
In many areas, farmers have yet to harvest standing chilli, rice and sugarcane crops to make room for the major cereal staple in the country. Various ecological zones in the province follow a different cropping pattern, with distinct mechanisms. For example, farmers from the coastal areas are busy harvesting rise and vegetables to vacate land for wheat.
People in parts of Tharparkar, Umerkot and Mirpurkhas are preparing to gather chillies from their fields, which will later be used to sow wheat.
Presently there are more than 12 seed varieties in the markets of Sindh, being sold under different brand names like TD-1, Benazir-13, Galaxy-13 and others.
Akram Khaskheli, a farmer, who also unionises peasant workers in Benazirabad district (Nawabshah), said the issue of certified seed availability crops up every year. It was a cause of concern, he said, pointing out that due to the dysfunctional Sindh Seed Corporation- Sakrand, unauthorised companies were selling seeds in the market.
“This causes problems for the producers,” he said, explaining that not all seeds were suitable for all environments. “For example, there are some companies selling seeds prepared as per the weather of Punjab, which cannot germinate or grow healthily in Sindh because of the different environment. Despite hue and cry by farmers, these companies still operate in Sindh without any fear of legal action.”
There are three ecological zones in Sindh, where crop cultivation starts in gaps and periods.
Thatta, Sujawal, Badin, Umerkot, Tharparkar and Mirpurkhas make up one zone. Here farmers start wheat sowing in late October or the first week of November.
Another zone includes Sanghar, Hyderabad, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Benazirabad, Jamshoro, Dadu and Naushehro Feroz, where November 15 means the beginning of wheat sowing.
The third region starts from Khairpur, Sukkur, Larkana and other northern parts, where wheat sowing begins late in the end of November and continues till mid-December.
Being a winter crop, wheat requires cold weather for seed germination and healthy growth of plants. However, some farmers violate the set traditions and start sowing earlier.
It is an old practice that farmers preserve their own seeds for the next season, but now due to variation in germination they depend on markets to buy seeds. In this situation, small scale farmers always face problems in getting certified seeds, as the authorised companies do not have capacity to meet their needs.
Ramzan Nangraj, a small-scale farmer from Naushehroferoz district said he cultivated wheat before the set period and found that the germination ratio of seeds was low. Usually they cultivate wheat after November 15-20.
A graduate in agriculture, Nangraj said they sowed the wheat early to avoid the issue of water scarcity, which sometimes creates problems for them to save the crop. About low germination, he said it happened because of weather which was warmer there. Wheat requires cold for germination and healthy growth of plants.
The provincial government starts a one-month rotation period in the irrigation canals from December 20 to January 20, which sometimes causes problems and rotation period becomes longer. This always hits the winter food crop at its initial stage.
Rahim Lakho, another farmer from Matiari district said he has cultivated wheat crops despite increasing cost. “Producers are being compelled to withdraw producing food crops, as there are no incentives from the government to help farmers avoid major problems.”
He said in many areas, farmers have installed diesel tube wells, and were now bearing an additional operating cost. Only in the catchment area of River Indus, more than 3,000 tube wells operate for the purpose.
In addition to the rising costs, farmers are also worried about low out of the grain.
A recent order by the court, imposing ban on cultivation of wheat in the catchment area of the river for ensuring rehabilitation of the riverine forest, might also cause uncertainty among farmers as well as reduce output. “Riverine area contributes more to wheat productivity, but the recent move may cut total output,” he said.
Sindh Growers Alliance President Nawab Zubair Talpur said due to delay in crushing season, sugarcane growers might not be able to vacate their lands for the wheat crop.
He said the mills should start the cane crushing season on October 15, so farmers could get ready to cultivate wheat as per season.
Last year the provincial government on the request of farmers had set the support price of wheat at Rs2,000/ maund. Now in some areas, the price of wheat flour ranges from Rs70-80kg and might increase further in the coming days, the leader said.
Some farmers still preserve old and traditional wheat varieties, which otherwise had vanished from the environment after the new high yielding varieties flooded the market around 30 years back. These new varieties have replaced old ones on the basis of yield.
Only a small scale farmers’ network in Dadu has continued the practice of cultivating old varieties, which do not require more water and chemical input. They use farmyard manure or compost to avoid chemicals and save the crop.
Now, when the sowing has just started, farmers demand the government to ensure the provision of certified seeds through authorised institutions and companies to lower the uncertainty.
The writer is a staff member