FOR the shortage-stricken agriculture sector the third rain spell in the first 37 days of the New Year has come as a huge relief. According to the meteorological department officials, another substantial spell will visit Pakistan this week and February will have above normal rain and snowfall.
Riding these spells, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) on Jan 29 revised water shortage downwards from the previously calculated 38 per cent to the current 33pc. The percentage maybe revised further down in days to come, depending on the next rain spells and improvement in river flows.
The five per cent drop in shortage, in quantified terms, means an additional availability of 1.7 million acre feet of water in the system.
The Irsa system now has additional 1.7maf water from the system. With more to come in the rest of February, savings are bound to go up
These rain spells have already benefitted the system in three ways: additional water, decrease in demand and extension in canal closure resulting in further savings.
The Irsa system now has additional 1.7maf water from the system already arrived and exhausted; with more to come in the rest of February, savings are bound to go up.
River flows became healthy as well: total river flows last Thursday were 49,000 cusecs against 35,000 cusecs on the corresponding day last year. Due to the additional availability, the storage position improved to 1.8maf — the same as it was on the corresponding day last year.
At one point, in the beginning of the year, the gap between current and the previous year’s position was of 2maf, which now stands closed as a result of these spells.
Due to these happy signs, the Irsa thinks it may be able to substantially reduce early Kharif shortages, which historically run in the 40s.
Sindh will be particular beneficiary of early Kharif water.
Owing to the rains the provinces have been able to bring their water demand down: for example, Punjab had planned to run its canals at 21,000 cusecs on Feb 7, but the total demand it received for the day was 18,000 cusecs.
As far as extended canal closure is concerned, Punjab, which used to open its canals after Dec 25, now plans to start them on Feb 12. Currently, only 20pc of its irrigation system is running.
Wheat and gram crops are expected to be major beneficiaries. However potato and maize may potentially face some kind of trouble if rains turn torrential and their period extends beyond the current forecast.
For wheat, the current rains have been a boon. With water shortages running at around 40pc farmers were forced to supplement water through expensive tube well pumping, where subsoil water is sweet, and miss it where underground aquifer is brackish.
The other deficit was a shortage of application of Di-Ammonia Phosphate (DAP) due to price factor — its price has gone up by almost Rs1,400 per bag in the last two months. Rain water could meet both these critical requirements.
Gram is the next biggest crop that is totally dependent on rains owing to it being a barani (rain-fed) area crop.
Its statistics underline the importance of the crop: as far as acreage is concerned, gram is the fifth largest crop after wheat (22m acres), cotton (eight million acres), rice (six million acres) and maize (three million acres).
It is sown on 2.7m acres and constitutes 60pc of the cereal import bill. Experts think that rain is as critical for gram as it is for wheat at this stage. If wheat can take care of food security, gram can help reduce the import bill as well as provide the poor with a cheap source of protein.
The two crops, which may possibly face some kind of risk due to the rains, are maize (for sowing) and potato (for harvesting). Farmers are preparing for maize sowing but persistent rains have deterred the effort.
If, as predicted, it rains next week as well, the farmers would be forced to delay maize sowing, especially in Punjab, where the crop covers over 1.8m acres. Though its sowing can be delayed into March, doing so will reflect in the yield. Maize farmers are thus keeping their fingers crossed.
In trouble is the potato crop, which is still 60pc underground and needs to be dug now. If next week’s rains cause water to remain standing in the field, it would block aeration and could damage the yield. Farmers are now de-capping the crop to keep it underground.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 11th, 2019