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June 14, 2018

Water-strapped growers demand Sindh be declared calamity-hit zone


June 14, 2018

HYDERABAD: Sindh Growers Alliance (SGA), a leading farmers’ body, has urged the government to declare Sindh province a calamity-stricken zone due to persistent water scarcity that has resulted in colossal agriculture-related loss.

The growers have asked the provincial authorities to lay off all taxes, including irrigation, land revenue, and agriculture loans, so they may heave a sigh of relief.

The SGA President Nawab Mir Zubair Talpur told The News that farmers were left with no option other than putting this demand before the authorities, who ought to facilitate farmers in this critical time.

“The water level has improved in major Rohri and Nara canals but these water bodies still have 25 percent shortfall,” Talpur said quoting official reports.

He said the situation was worst in tail-end areas, where people did not even have water for agriculture, livestock and humans. “The water is expected to reach other canal networks after 20 days,” he said.

In this situation, he said, some farmers may have a chance to cultivate rice after much delay, but this would definitely affect the yield of the crop.

Talpur believes the uncertainty may impact all immediate crops scheduled in late summer and winter, which will surely hurt the major economy, putting the livelihoods of 70 percent rural population at stake. ”A large number of rural people, both men and women, depend on agriculture, directly or indirectly,” he said.

For this crisis, the SGA leader held responsible the irrigation officials, who allegedly facilitate politically influenced people, providing them with water through direct outlets ad depriving others of their share. This kind of corruption and maneuvering also contributed to damage this major economy, he reacted.

"I have prepared 30 acres of land quite recently to cultivate chili and purchased hybrid seed by investing Rs300,000 (Rs10,000/acre). But a delayed release of water into watercourses did not let me cultivate a single acre and lost the investment,” Talpur said sharing his own experience.

There are many other growers, who have attempted the same and lost their money due to lingering uncertainty.

Similarly, he said his family was one of the major producers of mango but this year they faced hardships due to water scarcity. “The mango loss can be measured from the fact that the previous year my family produced 20 trucks but this year it was 10 trucks only because of smaller the size and lower quality of the fruit,” he said.

The growers feared that the underground water level in Sindh either has dropped to extremely low levels or it was not safe for crops, livestock and humans.

Some time back farmers had the option to extract underground water through tube wells to save crops, but now they don’t.

Earlier, there were predictions that River Indus may receive water by end of June to meet the irrigation requirement, but now the situation has changed and reports suggest the water may not arrive in Sindh before the first week of July.

It will be too late to instigate rice growers to cultivate their pieces of lands. The season of major crops has gone and every crop now will be late and the yields low.

The water shortage started from January this year up to ending June. It is said to have broken the previous records, which has affected all the crops and disrupted the process of next immediate crops, causing losses worth billions of rupees to the major economy of the province.

The information gathered from farmers in different areas depicts the horrible picture of agriculture in terms of acute water scarcity and inability of farmers to continue agriculture.

The tail-end growers pointed out that wheat, being a major food crop, required three to four waters at least to ripen but failed. As a result the yields were comparatively low. Since then almost all crops have experienced the similar situation. Due to this uncertain phenomenon, famers in tail-end areas could not cultivate major cash and food crops like cotton, rice, and vegetables.

It has made the farmers and those associated with agriculture vulnerable to food shortage, joblessness, and more poverty.

Ismail Kumbhar, professor at Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam and a renowned researcher, said after mango farmers, the lemon growers were also now lamenting as the water scarcity had damaged the valuable product.

“In many areas traders and contractors of mango, banana, and lemon have withdrawn and breached traditional agreements,” Kumbhar said quoting reports. He said they had reportedly left the major orchards, creating conflict-like situation with producers and traditional clients. “It is a rare situation that contractors in some areas have breached the agreements to avoid loss and created awkward situation for producers in half-way process,” the professor said.

During the recent visit to catchment area of River Indus near Jamshoro district it was observed that several farmers in the river have prepared lands in wide area, expecting to receive water in the river till June 15, but their expectations ended up in disappointment. These farmers have a different situation compared to those, who have lands close to the river streams.

They receive river water only during the medium or high floods for their crops. The last time these farmers received water was during 2015 floods, which inundated the area giving them bumper crops. After three years, presently the farmers as usual have prepared their lands, invested in leveling to receive water for their crops. But it seems all expectations and forecasts about rains and river flows till the end of June proved futile. There is not enough water to drink even in many riverine areas.

The uncertainty and joblessness among water-scarce agriculture communities was evident from the fact that having no better option a large number of people are forced to pull out from their ancestral lands and migrate to urban centers so that they could survive.

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