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February 5, 2021

Food price volatility bugs fragile Kohistani farmers


February 5, 2021

HYDERABAD: Ashfaq Palari, a small scale farmer in village Mahinda Palari, situated near Kohistan town of Thana Bola Khan in Jamshoro district is disappointed by the sharp decline in prices of commodities he grew.

“Whenever it is our turn, the crop market falls down, leaving us in a helpless situation. Hardly a few days back, we saw onion being sold at Rs100-150/kg in the market. But now its price has dropped to Rs20/kg only,” he said, adding growers even could not recover the cost of cultivation.

“Tomatoes are facing a similar situation. We were expecting to earn a little amount to recover losses. But tomato prices nosedived and many frustrated farmers have even discarded their crop in the fields,” he lamented.

Kohistani farmers usually cultivate a particular variety of onions locally known as phulkara, which sometimes gives higher profit, even more than their expectations, depending on the stability of the market.

Palari has grown onions on an acre and collected 70 bags, which weigh 2.5 maund each. He spared another half an acre for growing a variety of seasonal vegetables for safe food consumption and selling in the local market if he had any extra left. He preserves his own seed for the next crops to save cost. He also does this to avoid buying substandard seeds, which often do not germinate or give lower yields.

He had cultivated tomato, cauliflower, chilli, coriander, spinach and methi (fenugreek) for his family’s consumption. Now, looking at the changing weather, he was preparing to cultivate the next immediate vegetable crops like tauri (ridged gourd), apple guard, egg plants and others, which may ripen after mid-February and early March.

Thana Bola Khan is a business hub of the entire Kohistan, where farmers usually depend on rain for cultivation of crops through spate irrigation. The farmers and traders have easy access to supply their products to Karachi and Hyderabad.

Though spate water is only available for short periods of time, during Monsoon, farmers can easily cultivate their traditional crops by using natural water sources.

Previously, farmers used to cultivate a small portion of the family land by extracting water from deep wells through animals.

Ashfaq Palari and his mother Suraya Palari have taken a lead to run an integrated farmer field school (FFS) for male and female farmers to produce safe food in the fields for consumption at the domestic level for maintaining nutrition and avoiding health problems and for the market.

The village Mahinda Palari, being the largest locality in Kohistan region, comprises over 700 households, out of which around 55 families have got vegetable seeds and are trying to spare a piece of land to produce fresh vegetables accessible for their own consumption.

Kohistani farmers mainly cultivate one crop on the same land in the year and give rest to other portions of land to maintain its fertility.

Presently, influential farmers have installed solar-powered tube wells to extract underground water for irrigation purposes. Otherwise, a large number of small-scale farmers cannot afford to bear the heavy cost of installing such a water facility.

Palari was among a few farmers, who have got support from the community-support organisation, Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) under its Programme for Improved Nutrition in Sindh (PINS) to install solar-powered tube well and seeds.

Sindh government, through the Planning and Development Department is implementing a six-year (2016 to 2021), multi-sectoral Accelerated Action Plan (AAP) to reduce stunting and malnutrition in the province.

The initiative extends help to women farmers to have nutritious food, both vegetables and dairy products, for their families.

Another farmer Bilawal Khaskheli of village Abdullah Khaskheli in the same neighbourhood has also established his own farm to produce onions and a variety of vegetables.

The farmer has also experimented to produce potatoes on his piece of land. He is in his third year now to produce seasonal vegetables through available resources, saying they rely on their own products.

The farmers have developed ponds near solar-powered tube wells to irrigate their pieces of lands, which also attract village women to use it for washing clothes.

The elderly people, residing near natural rivers recall the stories of wild animals inhabiting long ago. Now hardly a small population of common animals inhabit the area nearby.

Climate change has impacted badly on natural resources, and especially disturbed mountain ecosystems. People living in arid zones, like the Thar Desert and Khirthar hilly areas, seem vulnerable and face hardships due to dryness and drought. In these circumstances poor people do not have access to enough food to live safely.

Ali Muhammad Kallar of TRDP said besides agriculture, the villagers also get underground water through tube wells for their domestic need; however, due to weather changes in many areas the old deep wells were not functional.

Usually Kohistan communities depend on agriculture and livestock rearing for livelihood. The women farmers have also adopted agriculture entrepreneurship to produce a variety of vegetables on their own.

There are huge patches of abundant land and farmers always wait for rains to cultivate a small area.

Kallar said small farmers were implementing new agriculture techniques adapting to climate change for survival during these emerging challenges. The village families have established home-based vegetable gardens, producing safe food for their consumption and saving amount, which they usually use in buying food items from markets. “Therefore, these vegetable gardens can play a vital role to address malnutrition issues in disadvantaged areas, such as Kohistan region in Sindh,” he added.

Furthermore, provision of livestock, goats and poultry to the families also help maintain their nutrition. It may also help stop migration of mountainous communities.