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Business

August 13, 2017

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Rising salinity and water scarcity put Indus delta farmers on edge

Rising salinity and water scarcity put Indus delta farmers on edge

HYDERABAD: Coastal area farmers are preparing to cultivate major crops of chilli and tomato to recover the losses following the missing summer crops due to persistent water scarcity.

Reports collected from farmers in Keti Bunder and other coastal areas reveal that some lucky farmers had already sowed cucumber, bottle gourd, and ridge gourd after the first rain showers in the month of June this year. These vegetables now are ready for picking to take to the market.

Cucumber harvesting started 45-50 days after sowing just after the first shower. Farmers are picking this product in the scattered fields, saying timely picking can maintain the quality of the product to attract customers in the market.  

It depends on the product, but on average, farmers usually get 10-12 harvests. These indigenous food crops of this area have a wide market in Karachi and other towns.

The recent heavy rains with more canal water have inspired the farmers in disaster-prone Keti Bunder and other coastal areas in Thatta district to cultivate their pieces of lands.

Keti Bunder farmers have taken a lead in producing cucumber, locally called kheera and kakri, for major markets, including Karachi. They may rule the market till the month of September to earn enough, because at present cucumber has not yet arrived in the market in large quantities from any other cucumber producing areas.

Currently those cucumber producing fields are working as rice paddies. Farmers will begin harvesting rice in September. Then the lands will be vacated for cucumber cultivation.

The other season for cucumber cultivation usually starts in March and depends on water availability in Keti Bunder and other coastal areas.

In case of water scarcity, usually from March to mid-June, farmers in coastal areas cannot cultivate cucumber. Cucumber is one of the famous and widely cultivated vegetables belonging to the gourd family.

The cucumber originated in India and is cultivated almost everywhere in the world now. According to growers, the summer crops, including cucumber require frequent irrigation water, but not during the rainy season.

Gulab Shah, a leading grower of Keti Bunder said they were preparing tomato and chilli seedlings in the nurseries to soon plant in the fields. “These crops are harvested in October and November,” he said. However, he lamented the uncertainty of the market in case of tomatoes, as the situation varies depending on imports. “If tomato is imported from neighbouring countries, it will affect the growers in the coastal areas,” Shah said.

Shah said the farmers usually spend Rs50,000/acre cost on tomato cultivation, including using tractors and chemical inputs for the high-yield seed varieties. “These high-yield varieties require more water and chemical inputs. So, in case of a fall in prices, the farmers incur heavy losses, frequently not even recovering the usual expenses,” Shah explained. Chilli cultivation was the same, he said, and added that farmers cannot store high-yield varieties.

Farmers also complained of receiving fake and substandard seeds of paddy, chilli, pulses, and other crops, from unauthorised dealers in the local markets which did not grow. They urged the government to develop a system for checks and balances to curb the sales of fake seeds.

They pointed to low productivity and said it should serve as an “eye-opener” for the government. Even wheat production has declined to 15-20 maunds per acre from 40-50 maunds. They said the unchecked supply of fake seeds had added to their woes.

Coastal area people draw their livelihoods from a combination of agriculture, fishing, and small-scale livestock-rearing due to the diversity of the marine environment. In many areas the farmers have lost their traditional sources of livelihood and agriculture, and have joined fishing for survival.

Since most of the farmers are poor, they are unable to bear the cost of commercial farming and its associated machinery. There is also lack of awareness regarding micro-irrigation like drip and sprinkler methods.

Problems faced by coastal farmers are multifaceted. Issues range from land degradation to poor ground water due to rising sea-levels, increasing salinity, airborne salt deposition as well as excessive chemical inputs.

Land infertility has become a major issue in the whole of Sindh. To counter these problems, some farmers, following their forefathers, are rehabilitating land by using farmyard manure. They believe the best way to move forward is to promote indigenous practices, and reduce water consumption and chemical inputs.

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