As improved seasonal water flows start flooding river beds and threaten to break banks in certain areas, the farmers in Punjab are holding their breath: more rains in the upper parts of the country, as predicted by the metrological officials, means more water downstream.
This, coupled with a week of heavy rains all over the country, could create a flood-like situation, sweeping standing crops, threatening the growth of others and impacting quality of still more.
The water is still within the banks of rivers. Wherever it has reportedly breached a ‘bund’ it has done it within the beds, where local farmers, who have been sowing crops, have erected the bunds for the safety of their crops and livestock.
That is another matter that their tenants had also started living there as well, adding human cost to crop damages so far.
Since a huge quantum of farm produce also comes from these beds, agricultural losses may mount in the next few weeks.
They may not impact the national output figures, but individual losses would certainly make life difficult for suffering growers.
There are reports that the quality of the early-sown cotton crop, which has started yielding lint, is being affected by rain
The crop so far reported to have suffered the most in Punjab is pulses. It is sown within the river beds, especially in the lower Punjab areas. It is highly sensitive to water and could hardly stand some heavy downpour in a season, leave alone flooding and standing water for a few weeks. It is especially true for moong.
Punjab produces around 80,000 tonnes out of the total national output of 90,000-100,000 tonnes. In Layyah and Bhakar districts, the crop may have suffered the most.
Though some farmers have claimed that, expecting floods, they had harvested their crops in Rajanpur and Rojhan areas, all of them were neither so well-informed nor lucky. The damage to pulses would especially hurt Punjab, which has been running a full-fledged pulses promotion project for the last few years and made a huge allocation for it in the last budget.
Maash might have also suffered in other areas. If pulses suffer even 4-5pc losses, as earlier estimates suggest, and there are no further damages, the national picture for the crop could change drastically.
The 80,000-90,000 acres of farmland that have been affected so far also include the areas under cultivation of rice, sugarcane and cotton.
The rice zone is normally the first to suffer whenever River Chenab swells; the topography of the area is such that dozens of small and big nullahs carry water from the Kashmir hills to the plains and also create flash floods. They all run through the rice zone before falling into the Chenab, making it banks burst.
Fortunately, it is still July and the rice nurseries are still being sown in the area. The crop thus might escape the major brunt of the rainwater and the sowing may get delayed.
Similarly, sugarcane might also escape losses because of its high resistance to water, unless the crop remains submerged for 4-5 days.
Fortunately, the water has already started receding; River Indus has seen a drop of 100,000 cusecs in the last 48 hours and the Chenab more than 20,000 cusecs. However, were rains to join flood water, the situation could become worse for the cane crop. Provincial officials are keeping their fingers crossed.
The biggest threat is to the cotton crop, which is expected to suffer either way: floodwater in the south or rains — both could create hot and humid conditions and impact the crop.
The potential for damage varies from the complete sweeping of the crop to some small impact on the quality of lint.
There are reports that the quality of the early-sown crop, which has started yielding lint, is being affected by the rains. But the real threat to the crop has not gone away; the met office has predicted 4-5 days of more rains in the cotton belt.
These rains, coupled with flooding, could create ideal conditions for a pest attack. Even before these rains and flooding, many kinds of pests were reported from all over the belt.
These hot, humid and rainy conditions not only invite pests, but the pesticides also often get washed away.
The farmers thus wait for the rains to be over at least two weeks before they start investing in the crop.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business July 27th, 2015