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March 14, 2018

Water scarcity threatens fennel cultivation in Sindh


March 14, 2018

HYDERABAD: Gulbahar Shar, a grower from Mirpurkhas district expressed his reluctance to cultivate the aromatic fennel crop this year due to water scarcity.

“We are waiting to receive water in the channels since January 2018, after the end of an annual rotation period. In fact fennel is a profitable crop, but many of us unfortunately cannot cultivate it this year,” he said.

Shortage of water has forced many farmers in Sindh to calculate the risks when they are planning to harvest any seasonal crops.

“Wheat crop standing on hundreds of acres needs at least two-three waters on ripening, but farmers have failed to receive water for this valuable food crop on time,” he said, and added that now they were harvesting. “I expect lower yield this year.”

Though fennel is cultivated all over Sindh, Mirpurkhas and Umerkot districts are considered major areas for producing the seed, where farmers spare small pieces of land for this product. Kunri, Umerkot, which is famous for chillies, is also a major market for fennel seeds and other such conventional agriculture products.

Farmers cultivate fennel in mid-November, just after finishing cotton picking, and its harvesting season begins in February and March. Shar is also an office-bearer of a water association and works with farmers to ensure water distribution among beneficiaries.

He said farmers usually cultivate fennel every year, considering it supportive and profitable in terms of its market value. “The produce also depends on land, water and care.”

Fennel crop gives 20-25 maund/acre. Its market value depends on quality. Farmers usually get Rs12,000/maund for better quality and Rs2000 to Rs7000 for low-quality.

It is an easy crop to deal with. The flower stalks are cut on maturity and then placed under shade to protect from direct sunlight and heat. Once dry, shaking the stalks dismantles all the seeds.

Farmers believe that it is a sensitive crop that needs favourable weather and just enough water. Dewdrops at the time of flowering cause diseases and farmers sprinkle wood and cow-dung ashes on the plants to avoid any loss of product. These ashes also benefit the soil and plants. Fennel plants grow in all types of soils, including waterlogged soils.

Many farmers cultivated fennel because they inherited this practice from their forefathers, but when they faced water shortage, they became careful. Now, some farmers either cultivate on a smaller patch of their land, or avoid the crop altogether. On an average, farmers in Mirpurkhas and Umerkot spare two to four acre land for fennel farming. One acre requires around three kilogram seed, which is available at Rs300-350/kg in the local market. Seeds cost Rs1,000/acre.

Many countries have initiated research to produce new varieties of fennel seeds with higher yield, distinct aroma, shine, and low irrigation requirements. But in Sindh, this conventional crop is yet to get government attention.

Researchers said no specific station or research institute existed to assess conventional crops, including fennel.

Sindh government has set priority for only major crops like wheat, rice, sugarcane, mango, banana, guava and some vegetables, for which they have research institutes and guidance mechanisms for farmers. The private sector has also not shown any interest in the conventional seed varieties.

Traditional farmers do not know the exact name or variety of fennel seeds that they grow, and hence cannot prove quality as well.

Farmers get seed from the local market, cultivate it on a small space of land and sell it at the offered rates. There is no data on its local or international demand or consumption trends.

Demand in urban retail and super stores could point out the consumption patterns.

Herbal medicine experts and alternative health practitioners use fennel seeds in preparing a number of medicines, and elderly people use it for home remedies. Mothers use fennel water for newborn babies to relieve stomach pain and help aid digestion. Fennel seed is considered a source of minerals like copper, iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc, and magnesium.

Researchers in Sindh agriculture extension suggest establishing institutes and research stations in all districts to assess such minor and conventional crops to help farmers adopt better agriculture practices and increase revenues.

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