Sunday May 22, 2022

Sea intrusion causing low yield, crop failures in coastal Sindh

April 22, 2021

HYDERABAD: Faiz Lashari, a small scale farmer of coastal town Garho, Thatta district, could not understand why the communities were not sowing traditional crops, which used to bring prosperity for them.

Coastal farmers have been growing banana, a variety of vegetables, betel leaves, besides major crops wheat, paddy and cotton. “But now, the situation has changed, and farmers are not able to produce many crops or they get lower than normal per acre yield,” he shared.

Faiz Lashari himself is a folklore writer and keeps a close eye over the changes in the coastal area. He believes that it is not just sea intrusion, which affected soil fertility in the area, but other issues too, such as rising temperature. All these factors combined were impacting soil fertility and in turn also crop growth and productivity.

Garho Town is the last landline route connecting with the seawater. It is not only crop cultivation which has suffered from these impacts. Mango orchards in the vicinity too have suffered. The overall tree cover in agriculture fields, as well as on banks of irrigation channels has declined in the area.

Farmers in coastal areas have an advanced cultivation cycle. For example, they sow cotton in February and expect to harvest the cash crop in May; however, the slow growth of the crop this year has created problems for them.

Gulab Shah, another farmer said, “We are losing traditional crops one after another and now witnessing temperatures above 40 Celsius in early April.”

Normally, coastal area people in Thatta and Sujawal districts never witnessed temperature above 35 Celsius, and the weather remained pleasant.

Weather remained pleasant in the past because there were sufficient mangrove forests along the coast, ample riverine forests and tree cover, as well as better soil fertility, which meant more trees along field boundaries.

All of that has now changed.

Shah said both factors – sea intrusion and growing heat waves contributed to soil infertility as well as depletion of trees and low crop yield.

After the destruction of melon and betel leaves, the coastal farmers are experiencing diseases in banana. Many farmers have lost the valuable crop and are struggling to shift hands to alternatives for survival.

Forests Kharani, Garhio, Malirani, and Khaso along the river streams used to produce various products, such as honey, fodder and fuel wood, providing a source of income to the local community. Now, almost all trees, which have long roots, cannot survive in the coastal soil because of salinity, farmers said.

This loss of habitat has also had negative impact on coastal biodiversity. Many species have either gone extinct, or are fighting the war of survival.

Farmers pointed out that increasing sea intrusion hinders their activities aiming to rehabilitate soil fertility. A few farmers experimented by planting forest trees on their pieces of land, which they were not using for cultivation; however, their efforts were in vain.

This year, only a few farmers have cultivated melon, which a majority did not risk investing in crops which they feared would not give them enough in returns.

Traditionally, coastal farmers used to grow melon in February, expecting to harvest it in early April and May to earn some extra amount during Ramazan, when the demand for this product is increased. But this year, they were frightened and did not take risk because of their previous experience of crop diseases.

Vinod Kumar of WWF-Pakistan at Keti Bunder office said the recent heat wave has disrupted the growth of mangroves species seedling like Avicennia marina and Rhizophora mucronata, which previously used to grow in February and March. It was taking a month longer now. This was happening because of releasing low quantities of freshwater into the sea and increasing heat waves.

He said coastal biodiversity was at risk because of a lack of policy to ensure flowing river water to the delta, despite approval of releasing 27 million acre feet (maf) through Kotri downstream.

The WWF official claims to have initiated mangroves plantation on 4,000 hectares in the deltaic region. Besides this, Sindh forest department and certain foreign companies have also contributed to cover mangroves area, which consume more carbon dioxide to lessen the pressure of heat wave.

Reports show that coastal land degradation was a major problem for the communities, which depend on agriculture, livestock rearing and fishing.

Climate change profile of Pakistan, an assessment report 2017 said that increasing sea intrusion was adversely affecting coastal agriculture, mangroves, and the breeding grounds of fish.

Coastal farmers have been crying against the ill-treatment adopted by government policymakers, who never paid heed to their grievances. Sea intrusion has claimed a large portion of fertile land, leaving nothing for the community to live on.