Based on rapid assessments, more than 20 interventions have been identified for rehabilitation of agriculture
he World Food Day 2022 can be better read as Floods 2022 Day in Pakistan. The visit by the United Nations secretary general followed by a special mention of flood-driven food insecurity in Pakistan is an opportunity to address the greater climate challenge threat. For now, the immediate need is to bring the farming and rural life in flood affected areas back to normal.
Teams from our university have undertaken a series of relief operations and rapid surveys to find pathways for recovery and rehabilitation. Some lessons learnt from Sindh province are summarised below:
Debt relief: The farmer as well as the lender (aarhti) are indebted. They have an interdependent living in a centuries-old symbiosis. The money trail begins at the lending point (investors’ or bankers’ fund) and the cycle completes with the arrival of commodity in the market (cotton, dates, rice, vegetables etc). With floods, and commodities lost, both parties are incapacitated. The debt stress is further aggravated by the fact that the farmers’ households are demolished. This is not a simple matter of offering cash for immediate needs or supplying inputs in-kind. There is a case for legislative action to write off farm debts and loans with a plan to reinvigorate the lender. Being landless tenants, haaris lack access to formal lending. Historically, the famous intervention by Sir Chotu Ram in 1930s (The Punjab Relief of Indebtedness Act, 1934 and The Punjab Debtors Protection Act, 1936) is known for having wiped out all farm debts. It had a clause for the protection of lenders as well. In the recent past, we have seen large loan write offs allowed by the State Bank of Pakistan. Now is the time to extend a similar helping hand to the flood affected small lenders and borrowers.
Farm inputs: The land in upper Sindh is getting ready for Rabi crops (barseem, wheat and brassica). The farmers need cash for fuel, seed and fertilizer; the lender lacks liquidity. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) grants can be tailored to facilitate wheat sowing by small holders. Cash handouts could be replaced by a supply of bags of seed and fertiliser. The banks should create easy access to investment for input supplies. The credit delivery process could also be extended to include livestock feed and fodder. For the landless haari, the BISP grants should be reframed to provide livestock and poultry. Subsidised farm input supplies, services and credit delivery will be required at the displaced farmers’ doorstep.
Drainage: Water in the katcha areas (riverine) has receded, leaving behind rich soil cover fit for cultivation. Meanwhile in some pucca areas, the irrigated lands are submerged from excessive downpour and hill-torrent floods. The horizontal drainage has reached its limits. Those who can afford pumping are already draining stagnated water. A drainage and irrigation redesign are needed to combat the current crisis and for future protection. It is possible to use the “pan evaporation” method to predict the time required for evaporation of the standing water. Observation sites can be established across the affected localities and data gathered to calculate the required time span. Accordingly, crop sequences can be designed for several months beyond the traditional Rabi mix.
Cropping scheme: The planning of crops for the next six months is essential. That can include new crops like soybean and traditional vegetables, fodders, edible oilseeds and cotton. Early summer vegetables, onion, chillies, melons and gourds are supplied from Sindh to the rest of the country. Seed is the critical input here. Gujranwala and Karachi markets are the principal suppliers of local and imported vegetable seeds. Among fruits, two major causalities are dates and bananas. Dates are traditionally propagated by the suckers (plantlets) produced at the bottom of growing trees. The flood water has killed suckers in large numbers. Planting material for new date fields will be rare for several years. It’s a similar case with bananas. Tissue culture derived seedlings are the technology option for providing planting material. The technology is a fully commercialised option. In the past it has been treated as an academic exercise. It is time to incentivise commercial tissue culture labs.
Revival of markets: The market infrastructure stands damaged, and the running capital has vanished. Agricultural markets are not mere places of forward movement of goods. These are also the epicentres of services and innovation. Now that the markets are to be rebuilt, they should be built better and bigger. There is an opportunity to rethink the governance of markets and warehouses. The example of the Punjab Agriculture Market Reforms Authority (PAMRA) and the Cattle Marketing Companies may be examined.
Pondages: Sindh has a few large lakes and wetlands. Floods have created new lakes in low-lying areas that are difficult to drain. While water stagnates, mosquitoes breed. There are biological and chemical control applications. Deeper waters are fit for aquaculture and Azolas and lotus (floating plants). Azola and lotus produce biomass, food and fodder while evaporating water faster. The shallow water and muds can be cultivated with fodder grasses (elephant grass, mott grass, king grass). Fish seeds, Azola and fodders are available in the Punjab and should be mobilised for users in Sindh.
Livelihood and migration: Climate-driven migration and search for livelihoods is bound to occur. Our cities are already overcrowded. Mass migration has both benefits and risks. The current crisis asks for offering livelihood options for the dispossessed – be that through interest-free loans or investment in new skills; solar cookers or internet connectivity. A collective effort is needed in this regard. For the academics, there is a rich ground for studies and future policy and planning.
Technology: The application of technology offers reliable assessment procedures and planning support. That includes using GIS, satellite images and data analytics. The rangelands can be seeded using drones that are also reliable survey equipment. Android Apps are being developed to reach out effectively.
Internship: There are about three million students enrolled in the higher education system. The current crisis offers an opportunity to expose our youth and the future leadership to crisis management. There is an internship requirement for university students. This is an extraordinary situation where a phased internship programme can be designed to send the interns to flood affected regions for volunteer work. They will go with a varied set of skills and return with improved levels of skills and new ideas. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has many sponsorship programmes, including the National Research Programme for Universities, that can be diverted for the rehabilitation of flood zones.
Based on rapid assessments, we have identified more than 20 interventions for the rehabilitation of agriculture. The internship/ outreach programmes are designed for nutrition and health education of women and children. Together, we can rebuild the communities shattered by the floods.
The. writer is the vice chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad