Tharparkar’s dry spell

Published November 17, 2014
Villagers lead livestock from the drought-hit Tharparkar district. — AFP/File
Villagers lead livestock from the drought-hit Tharparkar district. — AFP/File

The dry spell in Sindh’s Tharparkar district — which has been ongoing over the last three years (2012-2014) — continues to deprive local growers of their main crops: cluster beans and millet.

And the prolonged drought conditions have forced different community groups, especially those who maintain small landholdings and family livestock, to migrate to neighbouring areas in search of livelihood.

Three seasonal rains are required by areas in Thar between May and July, with the first spell of monsoon rains ideally expected in May.

Cluster bean is a cash crop with bright export prospects. Its current market price varies between Rs2,000-2,200 per 40kg. Millet is sold for Rs1,100-1,200 per 40kg. And according to noted development activist Dr Sono Khangarani, the crop had previously fetched a much higher price.

He says the government needs to take the initiative to promote the use of both surface and groundwater by small landowners. This can eventually turn things around for the arid region’s agro-economy. If farmers get reasonable cash flow from selling their crop, they can be enabled to fight the drought conditions, hence avoiding the need for them to migrate, he adds.


Thar produces vegetables, sugarcane, cotton, red chillies, sesame seed and fodder, though

on a small scale


Statistics available with the Sindh agriculture department show that out of a total of 169 dehs — a unit of revenue for a specified area — of the desert, 24,000 hectares in of them nine are fed by canal water. The rest are dependent on brackish groundwater, which has high levels of salt. The areas getting canal water are mostly close to Naukot, Mirpurkhas district, where cotton and even sugarcane is cultivated.

The average value of salt in Thar’s groundwater remains between 3,000-5,000 parts per million (PPM), and even water samples with 9,000 PPM were found in Chhachhro taluka during a study by a local non-governmental organisation.

Yet, Thar produces vegetables, sugarcane, cotton, red chillies, sesame seed, and fodder, though on a small scale. However, the Sindh agriculture department has not undertaken any major research initiative for crop diversification or for getting better yields.

Even during the current drought, red chilli in Nagarparkar’s famous Kasbo area was being cultivated, along with the onion crop.

The water quality in Nagarparkar is somewhat better, but the level of water in wells is dropping fast in the absence of rainfall. Without rains, local farmers sit idle, as they do not have the resources to utilise brackish groundwater for cultivating crops.

In 2012-13, millet was grown on 40,780 hectares, which rose slightly to 40,800 hectares in 2013-14. Similarly, cluster beans were grown on 97,600 hectares in 2012-13, and 91,000 hectares in 2013-14. Likewise, sesame seed was cultivated on 2,865 hectares in 2012-13 and 2,800 hectares in 2013-14.

A representative of an NGO, Ali Akbar Rahimoon, says India has set up three arid universities to conduct research, while Sindh has none. “India fixes the price for bajra [millet] to promote its cultivation. Rajasthan produces a huge quantity of cumin seed, which is enough to meet India’s total domestic needs,” Rahimoon said.

“The area needs crop diversification and research to train farmers to use brackish groundwater. If the people of Thar can consume this groundwater with 3,000PPM, why can’t it be used for saline agriculture? The problems are non-availability of resources and lacklustre performance of the provincial agriculture extension and research departments.”

The Pakistan Agriculture Research Council has developed a ‘super’ millet variety for Thar that suits the drought conditions and still gives a considerable yield of 22-23 maunds per acre.

According to PARC Umerkot research station official Dr Attaullah, Thar’s millet seed hardly yields 8-12 maunds per acre, and the growers rejoice when they are able to get 15 maunds.

“Some farmers are also interested in buying costly hybrid millet seed, whereas PARC’s super millet variety is sold for Rs50 per kg and it can be arranged as per the area’s requirement. But growers have not shown any interest in it.”

The government needs to promote saline agriculture in Thar, which stretches over 22,000 sq. km. The Thar Desert, according to the Sindh government’s coordinator for relief operations Senator Taj Hyder, has 1.5bn acre feet of groundwater reserves that can be used for agricultural purposes.

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, November 17th, 2014

Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, November 17th, 2014

Opinion

Law & processions
16 Oct 2021

Law & processions

It is up to the police to impose reasonable conditions on a procession.
Is the party over?
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Is the party over?

Many in PTI are concerned how they can hang on till the next elections.
The last fortress
Updated 16 Oct 2021

The last fortress

The state wants to use the social media rules to trample on the right to freedom of speech.
Reopening under Covid
15 Oct 2021

Reopening under Covid

It will be a challenge to deal with all students returning to classrooms and maintaining SOPs.

Editorial

Diminishing freedom
Updated 16 Oct 2021

Diminishing freedom

DESPITE the serious reservations of digital rights activists and tech companies, the federal government has...
16 Oct 2021

Dirty politics

IN her outburst against Prime Minister Imran Khan this week, PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz may not have taken names but...
16 Oct 2021

Decreasing emissions

THE announcement by SAPM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam that carbon emissions in the country came down by 9pc...
No need for NAB
Updated 15 Oct 2021

No need for NAB

THE National Accountability Bureau has sent instructions to its regional bureaus to stop processing cases that fall...
Forced conversions
Updated 15 Oct 2021

Forced conversions

THE majoritarian view has once again prevailed in the matter of bringing about legislation against forced conversion...
15 Oct 2021

Transgender rights

MEMBERS of the transgender community in the country are often at the receiving end of both their families’ and...