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June 15, 2021

Farmers frustrated as drought disrupts crop calendar, prices

HYDERABAD: Most of the Sindh farmers are growingly concerned over water scarcity-driven changes in crops calendar, which have disrupted their routine practices alarmingly.

They largely pin this phenomenon on persistent short supply of irrigation water, while others believe it is an impact of climate change. For example, this year rice cultivation was delayed for one or two months, depending on the area. Coastal farmers, who take a lead in cultivation of all agriculture crops, now seem unable to sow rice because they are yet to receive water in June.

Traditionally, they (coastal farmers) start preparations for rice cultivation in early April and May. Following this, the other areas get water in May and June for the same crop. Like this, cotton, another major cash crop, is cultivated in many areas but it does not receive the required water on time for its growth and productivity.

According to farmers in coastal area of Keti Bunder, Thatta district, they had prepared rice nurseries but all of them were destroyed due to persistent water scarcity. Not only rice, they had also cultivated cotton on a wide area, but harvested only 15-20 maund (40kg) / acre compared to 40-45 maund/acre during bumper crops, previously.

Usually, the coastal farmers are the main suppliers of vegetables to Karachi market. But this year they had cultivated tauri (ridged gourd), karela (bitter gourd), chilli, guar, loki (pumpkin) and others, which could not survive due to water scarcity.

According to farmers, these vegetables required water weekly, but they were receiving water fortnightly or three weeks late. In result, almost 80 percent of vegetables have been ruined at the mature stage at the time of harvest.

These vegetables were ready for harvesting but water scarcity with strong winds and heat waves together destroyed the product instantly. It was a huge loss, which they could not afford, farmers said.

Reports from Sujawal and Badin, both coastal districts show farmers did grow seedlings in paddy nurseries but it was too late for them to plant them and even if they did the crop would not be good enough.

Ghulam Hussain Khaskheli, a small-scale grower from Kaloi, Tharparkar district said this year the cotton seed was faulty and had a very low germination rate and productivity. He said farmers in Tharpartkar and Umerkot districts cultivated cotton and chilli in the face of water shortage.

Khaskheli said traditionally Kunri area of Umerkot district used to produce a variety

of vegetables but this year the farmers could not grow vegetables because of water shortfall.

“We experienced devastating rain and floods last year, which ruined entire crops [cotton and chilli] and left farmers in a vulnerable situation,” he said, adding that they were unable to recover losses suffered last year. Now again due to acute water shortage farmers were unable to save their standing crops, he said.

Altaf Mahesar, leading a farmers’ network in Dadu district for promoting indigenous food varieties and motivating farmers about biodiversity, said Sindh farmers in particular were experiencing problems in terms of cultivating crops timely. “It has been two consecutive years that rice and cotton growers are facing problems getting proper yield because of water crisis,” Mahesar said.

“Following this, the vegetable producers are also facing hardships to grow these food products timely because of the same problem.” As a result, he said the consumers were getting vegetables grown in Swat and other Northern Areas and that was the reason their prices skyrocketed.

“There is no planning by the government to offer incentives to farmers by providing subsidies so they may produce vegetables in other areas,” Mahesar said. Presently, parts of Mirpurkhas, Tando Allahyar, Hyderabad and Naushehro Feroz districts contribute to produce vegetables for the markets.

Mahesar, who also keeps an eye over volatile prices of food items, said Sindh needed more vegetables to meet the demand of the population, which it was unable to produce.

The government at these difficult times allows importers to bring vegetables to fulfill the needs of consumers in Pakistan. Vegetable traders say due to low supply from local producers they procure these essential food products from northern areas, mainly Swat.

That is why for the two consecutive years or more the prices of vegetables have been high, compelling consumers. Many reports show that not only fresh vegetables, even the productivity of pulses has also dropped unimaginably and the government imports this commodity from other countries to meet the local need.

Last year, the tomato crisis had also forced the government to import the product from Iran, despite the fact there is big potential to produce tomatoes here in many areas. Mahesar said due to shortening supply of local vegetables, the consumers were paying a lot more for these essential.

Vegetable farmers have a different opinion. They say they are being paid Rs20/kg only at wholesale markets, despite picking, packing and transportation costs. But consumers get the same product at Rs100-150/kg from retailers. Thus, they believe wholesalers, middlemen, and retailers may earn more compared to producers. Farmers demanded of the government to set up support price mechanism and grant incentives to them so they could live comfortably.