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January 13, 2019

Water insecurity raises fears among Sindh farmers


January 13, 2019

HYDERABAD: The provincial government of Sindh has formulated a four-month water use plan, and shared it with the growers to promote the use of the precious resource in a sustainable manner, a leading grower told The News.

However, growers lament that the plan would disrupt the sowing of the major wheat crop, especially during its growth and ripening period, which would impact yield.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) President Qabool Muhammad Khatian said, “It is for the first time that the provincial government has formulated a four-month plan and shared it with growers to use water sustainably.”

He called it a warning for the growers. “Following this plan, we have to take water after 15 days instead of on a weekly basis, which shows that the wheat crop will suffer, as it may not get proper water during its growth and ripening time,” he said.

On a question, the SCA president said it would definitely impact yield and productivity of the important wheat crop. “Definitely this phenomenon will impact the overall crop productivity,” he added.

Attributing the water phenomenon to climate change, he also blamed poor governance for the deteriorating agriculture, water resources, and the natural ecosystems.

He urged the government to ensure equal distribution of water so the farmers could get rid of the fear and uncertainty.

It has been observed that some landlords, who have political backing, get plenty of water through direct outlets from the canals during water availability, while majority of the farmers, especially those living in the tail-end areas, could barely get enough water for cultivation.

“It is the worst kind of water shortage in Sindh, and we have assessed that some tail-end districts like Badin, Thatta, Sujawal, Tando Muhammad Khan, Dadu, parts of Umerkot and Mirpurkhas have only 10 percent wheat cover area this year,” Khatian informed.

The grower leader was optimistic about food security, and said the country has good stock of wheat for the next three years. Pakistan exports wheat to two neighbouring countries Afghanistan and Iran. “Though we are food secure at the time, the phenomenon may change the position in the next few months if threats continue,” he added.

SCA President Khatian said they had assessed 60 percent water shortage in Sindh, while in Punjab it was 30 percent. “Sindh is facing a drought-like situation at present,” he explained.

Now, it all depended on rainfall. “In case we receive low rainfall, it will be worst for agriculture as well as livestock and humans in parts of Sindh, which are already experiencing drought and dryness for two consecutive years,” he added.

Sindh Growers Alliance (SGA) President Nawab Zubair Talpur expressed fears that this year too water would reach farmers late, perhaps in the month of May or June, depending on the frequency of rainfall.

He termed it unusual that annual rotation period was started earlier on December 20, 2018 against the scheduled January 6, 2019. Early closure of water in canals has disrupted the cultivation process in the province, mainly in tail-end areas. Farmers failed to cultivate even grass fodder for animals.

“We are still struggling to recover losses we faced the previous year due to prolonged delay of water in canals and distributaries. Many farmers were either disappointed and withdrew sowing major crops or spared smaller pieces of lands for cultivation,” Talpur informed.

He said this phenomenon negatively impacted yields of major crops like cotton, sugarcane, and rice due to the unavailability of water in the irrigation system, Talpur said while talking to The News on Saturday.

Over past several generations, farmers have had a tradition to spare some pieces of land to cultivate vegetables and various off-season and conventional crops to earn a little for their families. It all depended on the availability of water in canals and distributaries. But 2018 turned crucial for agriculture, pushing farmers into debt in a fight for survival.

Explaining the background, SGA leader said farmers expand cultivated area for wheat and use sugarcane fields. Because sugar mills usually start crushing cane in November. However, for the last two consecutive years, cane crushing started in late December and January instead of November. This pushed farmers into further trouble.

Talpur accused sugar mills of not paying arrears to growers for the past three years. “A large number of disappointed growers showed reluctance to cultivate sugarcane this year. This will affect the prices of sugar, the main edible product.”

He also said that delay in crushing forced many farmers not to sow wheat.

Irony is that sugar mills have been given Rs20 billion subsidy, but growers did not get any incentive. The subsidy given to sugar mills was conditional to start cane crushing in November to vacate land for the next immediate crop, wheat. But they failed to start cane crushing till late December and January.

During the previous year, after rotation, a majority of the farmers received water in late July and August, resulting in colossal losses to agriculture. Majority of the farmers were still facing hardships to recover from those losses incurred due to water uncertainty.

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