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April 25, 2019

Irresponsible farming, natural disasters reasons behind falling yields


April 25, 2019

HYDERABAD: Choudhri Rehman, a small farmer residing in Deh 161 (a revenue village) in Mirpurkhas district, is fixing plastic pipes one after another so people can get water from a community pond, situated in a corner of their village.

The area, comprising of about 86 families, has two separate cemented water ponds that supply water to all the villagers for their domestic needs.

“I have taken this responsibility voluntarily for two hours daily in the morning to help the community people get water through their plastic pipes,” Rehman responds, while he continues to work on fixing pipes.

He operates the electricity motor installed along the pond, and maintains the temporary system to facilitate the community to get an equal share of water.

These water ponds have been connected with two watercourses flowing near the village, to replenish the ponds on a daily basis. Appreciative of the essential resource, the community uses the water sustainably.

This system was adopted when groundwater was contaminated some years back, and villagers had to fetch water from the watercourses instead.

Choudhri Rehman owns five acre land on which he cultivates cotton, sugarcane and grass fodder. He said that the situation worsened during December-January every year when the annual rotation period started.

“When there is no water in the watercourses, we fetch water through donkey carts from a distant village, which has government-built water supply scheme. A majority of villages have the same situation in terms of drinking water,” he added/

Elderly residents of Deh 161 village quoting their forefathers said the British government had brought their ancestors from Punjab to cultivate discarded barren lands in Sindh during 1886-87. These villages were known as Deh numbers (revenue villages) in which artisan families like potters, carpenters, blacksmiths and barbers were also settled to help the farmer communities.

Since then these farmers and artisan families have been living together.

Potters provided earthen products to the community people, carpenters, blacksmiths and barbers helped the farmers and their families by performing their traditional roles, and in return for their services, these artisans used to collect grains and cash after the end of each harvesting season. There have been many changes in the economic resources, and the tradition set a century ago was no more in practice. But these people continue to live together as a community.

Ali Nawaz Kumbhar, who belongs to the potters’ community of the village, said the village had 25 potter households, but hardly one or two families continue their ancestral work now.

“Many have had to change their professions to earn for survival,” he said while talking about the problems disturbing their crafts manufacturing work.

He pointed to water scarcity, unavailability of suitable soil, lack of demand, and market access as the main reasons behind the decline of his profession.

Choudhri Anwer, another small farmer and active member of Farmers Organisation (FO), residing in neighbouring village Deh 153, shared the challenges in the area, including shrinking underground water, depleting fruit orchards and groves, prioritisation of crop cultivation and resultant disruption of wildlife. He said they have lost their families’ lands due to increasing salinity and water logging all around.

Anwer witnessed farmers prioritising crops in the area during 1973-74, when farmers violated the water distribution system to cultivate 100 percent land against 30 percent set by the government.

Those land holders did not even spare traditional grazing fields for livestock rearing, and encroached upon the entire land for cultivation, he explained. “This kind of land use affected soil fertility and resulted in salinity and water logging on a big chunk of land.”

Till 1994-95, they had all food crops, including wheat, sorghum, pearl millet, maize, and major fruits like mango, chiku and others, Anwer said, but now a majority only focuses on sugarcane. “Only a few farmers cultivate cotton and wheat, besides sugarcane.”

He said union council Paban (formerly known UC Kangor) of Mirpurkhas district was considered most rich in terms of agriculture and variety of fruit productivity and livestock. People were wealthy because of higher agriculture productivity and livestock.

Recalling the blissful days of the past, he said there was a strong railway system, which used to carry agriculture products, chilli, wheat, cotton, onion, and variety of fruits from Jhudo and Tando Jan Muhammad railway stations, which were once considered major markets for these products.

“But all that was destroyed due to prioritising of crops cultivation by covering 100 percent land,” Anwer added.

Agriculture scientists point out that around 70 percent cultivable land has been affected by salinity and water logging in Sindh. This has decreased crops yields and increased overall vegetation loss.

Mirpurkhas district receives water from Potho Minor and Kot Ghulam Muhammad branch, which flow from main Nara Canal. Potho Minor alone feeds 19 watercourses for irrigation and drinking purposes in the wide area.

Talking about the role of FOs, Choudhry Anwer said they collect irrigation tax from farmers and give 60 percent of amount to Area Water Board on main Nara Canal, while keeping 40 percent amount for maintenance of watercourses and running affairs smoothly.

But, he lamented that the collected amount was not enough to maintain the water distribution system. “Similarly, FOs do not have other sources of revenue generation to improve flow of water to feed the targeted area,” he explained.

Furthermore, Anwer accused certain influential landlords with political backing, of getting more share in water for irrigating their lands and depriving others of their rightful share.

Abdullah Saraz of Laar Humanitarian Development Programme (LHDP) working with farmers in the area links the destruction with natural rain-flood disasters, which also have contributed to the destruction of fertile lands.

The 2011 recent rain and floods destroyed remaining lands through flowing saline water, he said. “Since then the farmers are crying against decreasing crop yield and losing water resources.”

Saraz said the way forward was to arrange frequent meetings with representatives of water bodies and small growers to force the government to rehabilitate fertile land by introducing an effective drainage system.

He pointed out that one drainage project launched a few years back has been in doldrums because of management failure. “Drainage can be the way to address the problem of salinity and water logging,” he added.

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