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April 8, 2021

Cotton farmers in Sindh want crop insurance policy

Business

April 8, 2021

HYDERABAD: Farmers in parts of Sindh fearing loss in cotton yield due to substandard seeds, climate change and lack of government vigil demand to set support price at Rs6,000/maund and to introduce crop insurance policy for protection against natural disasters.

Lamenting the low quality of seeds available in the market, farmers urged the government to regulate seed distribution.

They have also suggested that the government should set a support price of Rs6,000/maund so they could recover the cost of cultivation, including amount they paid for chemicals, water, tractor, diesel, and other inputs. To avoid the situation, farmers also demanded to introduce crop insurance policy to at least get compensation in case of disasters.

For the past several decades, small-scale farmers have been facing one disaster after another due to the impacts of climate change.

Altaf Mahesar, who leads a farmers’ network in Dadu district, said lack of government monitoring of seed varieties resulted in various mix ups between hybrids and other genetically modified seeds, which had drastically cut per acre yield.

Mahesar has been motivating farmers to promote indigenous seed varieties, which have either vanished from the local environment or been replaced by hybrid seed varieties. “Several farmers are trying to preserve their own seeds for the next year, which too cannot germinate properly.”

Similarly, unauthorised dealers also manipulated seeds at their warehouses, which hampered the yield. He said famous BT cotton seed being cultivated for years has lost its capability to produce cotton. “But unaware farmers are being exploited by seed dealers again and again because of poor vigil on part of government authorities.”

He also linked it to the government’s agriculture department officials, who were involved in this game directly or indirectly, allowing seed dealers to distribute substandard seeds to farmers without any check.

Reports gathered from different areas show that farmers in the advanced areas like Thatta district have already cultivated the crop in February and early March. Growers were anxiously observing the situation, as they always face multiple problems ranging from sudden water closure in the irrigation system and impacts of weather ups and downs.

Last year, the cotton crop came under frequent attacks by locusts causing fear all around. Just after that in mid-September 2020 devastating rain flood hit the valuable crops standing on hundreds of acres of land.

Following rain flood the farmers in parts of Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas and other districts, failed to harvest cotton from the inundated fields to recover losses.

Leading growers believe that till 2004-05 the country used to produce around 16.1 million cotton bales. But now farmers were unable to produce even 5.5 million bales.

Farmers blame adulterated seeds and substandard chemical inputs for yield losses.

Sindh Growers Alliance (SGA) President Nawab Zubair Talpur said they were unable to recognise the various seed varieties and could not discern if they would germinate in the local environment or not.

“We only discover the outcome once we have invested a huge amount on land preparation, ploughing and water, and the seeds do not germinate on time causing problems,” he added.

Farmers in Sindh were experiencing hardships to pay more costs due to government negligence. “There is no concept of giving subsidy to farmers over seeds, input and machinery, and they also get low rates for the product, which does not even help in recovering the cost of cultivation,” he added.

Previously, there were zoning systems in which some areas, including Sanghar district, were declared as cotton production zones. The cotton-related industry looked vital and was functioning properly. But now the major cotton industry seems ineffective because of unavailability of raw material.

Mir Hassan Mari, a farmer and activist from Sangar district said germination looked satisfactory at an early stage, but mostly the true picture appears after the plant has matured. For the last few years, growers have been observing an uncertain situation when it comes to total yields.

Sanghar district is known as a major cotton producing area where around 157 ginning factories were established in different towns. However, reports show that out of these only 50 percent factories were functioning in the season. The rest were closed because of a short supply of raw material.

Compared to other countries, Pakistan does not have a policy to help farmers through provision of subsidy at all stages, ranging from fertiliser and provision of quality seeds and buying machinery.

Things though are not gloomy everywhere. Reports show that coastal area farmers in Keti Bunder, Thatta district have received a bumper wheat crop, measuring 50-60 maunds per acre. Therefore, these farmers were now also optimistic in terms of cotton production, which was the next immediate crop in the area.

Gulab Shah, a local farmer said that things were looking good, but it all depended on water availability, “Since we are at the tail-end area of the irrigation system, we always face disturbance. Thus we are unsure at the moment about our crops yield.”

In Sindh, cotton cultivation begins in February-March. Thatta, Badin, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Tando Allahyar, Tando Muhammad Khan, Hyderabad, Matiari and Sanghar either have cultivated cotton as per time or were still sowing. Meanwhile, Nawabshah, Noushehro Feroz, Khairpur, Dadu and other areas were preparing to cultivate cotton starting from the second week of April to May.

It has been learned that cotton seed quality is a perpetual issue with low germination rates and weak certification. Some reports show that Pakistan cotton producers have received more than 15 seed varieties from 1963 to 2020.

Only a few of these varieties were known for having insect, drought and heat tolerant qualities which better survival rates. Some had poor germination results, while others needed heavier chemical inputs.

Each year, farmers hope to recover their previous losses. But unexpected rainfall and changing weather conditions, such as high temperature at critical stages of crop growth always create problems for them.

Some researchers in the agriculture sector believed that different cotton producing countries have increased their yield to a certain level, but the situation was the opposite in Pakistan. Here production has decreased by 30 percent or more.