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January 14, 2018

Fishponds uproot crops on agriculture lands


January 14, 2018

HYDERABAD: Small-scale growers are establishing fish farms on productive agricultural lands instead of continuing with cultivating cash and food crops. This shift in priorities is due to multiple reasons, including water scarcity, unstable prices, and constantly increasing input costs. Growers lament that they are left with no other option but to change their profession from tending of crops to fish.

Community activists said not only agricultural lands, but natural lakes were also being used for fish farming.

Fishermen communities working in both marine and inland waters have raised questions as to why the government has abandoned the natural fresh water bodies, and why was it promoting artificial fish farming, which was resulting in ecological losses.

It is considered an easier and a more profitable option to earn money by the farmers. They give their land to contractors, who invest and market the product on their own. “Fish farming needs less investment in terms of money and time both as there is no ploughing, land levelling, sowing, and harvesting involved. The fish ponds need nothing except fish seed and feed,” growers said.

Compared to seasonal crops, challenges of prices, market and increasing cost, they believe a fish farm is a continuous business and the product can be sold in the market throughout the year.

Artificial fish farming is taking the lead, attracting investors to establish hatcheries, which produce fish seed. After poultry, fish farming may be called an attractive business for the people.

Researchers hold the mushrooming fish farms responsible for destruction and displacement of the communities. Vast swathes of fertile lands in different districts are being turned into fish farms and seepages into the cropping zones from these farms affects standing crops and soil fertility. Many farmers who are affected by this complain that once a fish farm is established near a field, there is no option but to establish another fish farm.

Prof M Ismail Kumbhar of Sindh Agriculture University suggested the government to design policy for the revival of natural lakes, promoting agriculture, while offering incentives to farmers, fish farming, land use and water. These fish farms should be established in the saline areas on degraded lands instead of productive lands.

“Violation of cropping zones has already caused problems of increasing salinity and land degradation in the areas where rice and sugarcane cultivation were banned,” he said, and suggested the government to ban fish farming on productive agriculture lands and make efforts to revive natural lakes.

Activists from the fishing communities said 227 freshwater bodies in Thatta and Sujawal districts are registered with the Fisheries Department; of these several have been occupied by politically influential people. “Besides these lakes, around 25,000 acre productive agriculture land has been reclaimed to establish fish farms only in Thatta and Sujawal districts,” activists said.

The major lakes in Thatta district include Keenjhar, Haleji, Hadero, Aghimani Kori, Khalifa Kori, and Jhangisar Kori. These lakes were the part of the River Indus, which used to leave fish in these ponds when it receded.

Influential people have disconnected the feeding sources of lakes from canals and got these waters and lands leased through legal procedure after declaring them as degraded and useless. Badin district has 109 registered freshwater bodies. Some of these are Ramsar Sites and famous wetlands, providing livelihoods to a large number of people contributing to the national exchequer.

According to community elders, many of these freshwater lakes have come under the sea because of increasing sea level.

Some larger lakes are being filled with effluents from sugar mills, poisoning the marine life. These natural and manmade phenomenons have forced a majority of fishermen to stay idle or to find alternate sources of living.

Ramzan Mallah, community activist from Umerkot said Kalankar, Seroi, Burti, Nokli and Palaro lakes that once used to attract many visitors were now being illegally used by the landlords for agriculture. These landlords enjoy political backing and have encroached upon the natural lakes near the sand dunes bordering district Sanghar and Umerkot. Now only Kalankra lake exists, which too is being encroached upon from its banks by disconnecting its feeding sources from canal.

Mustafa Mirani from Manchhar Lake said 226 water bodies in Dadu and Jamshoro districts were registered with the Fisheries Department. “Due to water scarcity, many of these lakes, including Manchhar Lake and Bukhari Lake were not useful for the communities anymore,” he said.

About the status of fish farming, Mirani said since there was no source of fresh water in these two districts, there were no artificial fish farms. “Guddu and Sukkur barrages are major sources of water to feed the agriculture lands and fish farms, coming from Kashmor to tail-end Thatta and Sujawal districts,” he informed.

A total 1,209 waters are registered with the provincial government's Fisheries Department and many more with the Forest Department. Only a few large water bodies are fighting the war of survival. The majority of freshwater bodies have either been converted into fish farms, agricultural land or are poisoned due to industrial waste.

Around 0.5 million workforce is associated with the fishing sector, the second largest economical section, after agriculture.

Hundreds of families depending on these fresh waters for livelihoods do not have any option other than migration from the area, activists said.

Sindh Inland Fisheries Department director was reluctant to respond on questionings regarding the status of natural freshwater bodies, the reports about these lakes being converted into fish farms, and producing inorganic fish.

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