Devastation of rice and cotton crops by flood calls for reforms in farming and water management systems
Nusrat Mehdi, owner of five acres of fertile land, was happy because he had lush green paddy crop standing in his fields situated on the bank of Nulleh Daik in Narang Mandi, famous for best quality rice production. He was planning to send his younger brother to a university for further studies once he gets the yield that was expected to be 40-45 maunds per acre and going to pay him a good amount.
But his dreams submerged under flood water along with his maturing crop as heavy downpour in the area and unusual flooding caused heavy devastation. Not even a single acre out of his five acres could be saved. "I am unable to cultivate wheat for the next season as I do not have any money saved and no hope to earn from what I had invested in my fields," Mehdi laments.
According to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), 2,413,663 acres of crops have been affected due to recent extreme weather events in Punjab. The crops include maize, sugarcane, vegetables, fodder etc but rice and cotton which have a pivotal position in Pakistan’s agriculture-based economy have suffered hefty losses. The government estimates show that 1,694,864 acres of the area which is famous for cotton production including Multan, Muzaffargarh, Rahimyar Khan, Rajanpur and Jhang and 739,275 acres of rice belt, comprising mainly Gujranwala, Sialkot, Narowal, Hafizabad, Mandi Bahauddin and Chiniot were inundated.
According to official sources, the total sowing area of cotton in Punjab was 5,813,000 acres, out of which 211,677 acres have been damaged by the floods. Average yield is 23 maunds per acre and the total loss in production has been assessed to be 4,868,577 maunds which amounts to Rs12658 million.
Director General Agriculture Extension, Punjab, Dr Muhammad Anjum Ali, says that the government had prepared the flood management plan in April but the current flooding was due to heavy rainfall in India. "Pakistan was informed about the flood when the water had reached Akhnor and there is only 3-4 hour water travel time from Akhnor to Marala which is insufficient for proper management," Dr Ali says. "Still we are doing our best to drain the water and to compensate the affected farmers."
The DG further tells TNS that committees are working in 14 districts to estimate the damages caused by flooding and the government has plans to compensate those who have suffered severe damages. "Last year, farmers owning land up to 12½ acres had been compensated with one packet of urea and one packet of certified seed which amounts to Rs4050."
Dr Ali was of the view that the damage is not very significant as rice had been cultivated on 4,700,000 acres which is 300,000 acres more than that sown last year and initial estimates show that total damage to the rice crop will be less than the excess cultivated area.
In the opinion of Principal Scientific Officer Central Cotton Research Institute Multan, Dr Dilbaugh Muhammad, if water drains within 24 hours it doesn’t harm the rice crop much because rice is a strong crop whereas cotton cannot stand against flooding water, that is why damage to the cotton crop is feared. "Rice plant can also die if it remains under water for more than 24 hours. The damage could have been lesser had the flooding happened a month ago as the crop needs more water at that stage", he says.
On the other hand, organisations working for farmers’ rights claim that the damage is much more than the estimates given by the government. One of such organisations, Pakistan Muttahida Kissan Mahaz (PMKM), claimed that cotton crop over 1,600,000 acres of land which is 23 per cent of the total cultivated area, rice over 1,400,000 acres out of 4,743,000 (27 per cent) and sugarcane crop over approximately 450,000 acres of land (23 per cent) has been damaged.
Hamid Mallhi, President Basmati Rice Growers Association, tells TNS that over 400,000 acres of rice crops in Punjab have been submerged by the deluge. "It will affect the overall rice production by 10 per cent at least," says Mallhi. "Although the water has receded or drained, the layer of mud on plants and water ponds will definitely affect the yield as at this stage it can help pests breed."
Mallhi was also upset over the amount of compensation being paid to the farmers who faced total damage to their crops. "Even if the damage was calculated at an average rate of Rs30,000 per acre, it amounts to Rs70 billion. The compensation planned to be paid to farmers has been assessed at Rs4000 per acre and that too only for farmers owning 10 acres or less." He was of the view that compensation should be at least Rs10000 per acre which is the minimum amount required for sowing an acre of wheat.
It is pertinent to mention that the government estimates are based on the records provided by the Land Revenue Department. Most of the cotton-sowing area is catchment of the river Chenab and Indus. These areas do not fall in the land revenue record. Difference between the official figures and the estimates given by other sources may be because of this fact.
It is feared that the losses will severely impact the exports of Pakistan as exports depend on rice and cotton. But Secretary General Rice Exporters Association, Kashif-ur-Rehman, says that the recent damages will have no impact on rice export as the new rice crop has no share in exports in the current year. "At least one-year old rice is considered for export and we have last year’s yields in surplus," says Kashif. "For the last five years, the rice export has been around 3700,000 metric tons worth two billion US dollar and we are expecting no decrease this year."
Exports are not decreasing, but no increase is visible either. There is a dire need to reform our farming as well as water management system as we are facing climatic disasters frequently and the farm sector is most vulnerable in this regard. Damages due to these events are increasing and rehabilitation is very slow due to lack of resources, management, planning and capacity. All the stakeholders should think and act accordingly.