DESPITE being a desert with limited rains, Tharparkar sig-nificantly contributes to the local and national economy by providing agro-forestry produces including crops, vegetables, wild foods, fodder and forage for livestock, woods for fuel and timber, and medicinal plants/herbs.
Guar, being a crop of arid and semi-arid regions, is also sown as a major crop in Tharparkar besides millet. This year the market price of guar increased five times from 8,000 to 40,000 per quintal. Guar gum powder is used by world oil drilling companies to make specialist hydraulic drilling fluids for extracting shale gas.
The powder made out of guar seeds has applications in food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, textile, paper, water treatment, hydro-seeding, carpet printing, and mosquito coils. It is used as cattle feed as well.
Local people also use green and dried guar pods as vegetable.
Agriculture department in Tharparkar district has estimated total kharif production of the crop in 2011 at about 7,20,000 maunds cultivated over an area of about 6,00,000 acres.
The per acre average crop yield in the area, as being practiced, is about seven maunds (three maunds millet, three maunds guar and one maund mix cropping). The rate of guar went up to Rs16,000 per maund at the peak season. By assuming average sale at Rs8,500 per maund supposed to be sold by local traders to Karachi market, the total sales worth of Tharparkar guar in the year 2011 is estimated above Rs6 billion.
Agriculture experts working are of the view that production of guar could be increased many times more in the area.
As per district revenue record of previous three decades, the total land in the district is 47,91,024 acres. Out of which about 30 per cent (16,00,000 acres) is cultivable and about 13 per cent (6,00,000 acres) is cultureable where agriculture is possible. By bringing the entire 22,00,000 acres of the district under cultivation of guar, 21 times more of the crop could be produced than what is being produced now.
Agriculture in the desert area is almost (98 per cent) dependent on rainfall except some areas of Nangarparkar and Watt where groundwater and in some barrage areas where canal water supports agriculture. Crops in the area are grown in kharif (monsoon) season between July and September.
For a good crop rain is a prerequisite in Tharparkar at least twice or preferably thrice in average quantities spreading over the entire monsoon season. However, in case of drought measures could also be adopted to use harvested rainwater to grow crops especially guar.
There is also need to set up a guar-gum processing industry in Tharparkar for its direct export instead of selling the seeds. This will help gain optimum economic returns on the product benefiting local producers.
Moreover, agriculturists working in the district envisage tremendous potential to increase per acre yield of the crop - at least 50 per cent more than the existing production by taking certain measures like combating the increasing land degradation caused by recurrent occurrence of droughts and increasing human and livestock pressures.
This issue could be easily mitigated by introducing integrated farming system approach such as erection of shelterbelts along boundaries of crop fields to help reduce wind velocity, soil and water conservation, contour tillage and contour sowing etc.
Since the economic returns are seen highest from agro-pastoral system, improved agro-forestry including silvopasture (integrating trees with forage and livestock production), agro-horticulture and horti-pasture systems focusing on guar in all system are also recommendable for Tharparkar.
By adopting these measures land-degradation can be reduced in the area enhancing per acre yield of guar by at least 30 times more than the annual productions of 2011, fostering economic growth and prosperity of the area.