The monsoon rains in August have spelt disaster for the agriculture sector in rural Sindh. The economy of medium- and small-size farmers has been dealt a serious blow at a time when crops were at the harvesting stage. Besides cotton, vegetables, onion and tomato crops have been destroyed. Substantial losses are reported in the sugarcane crop according to initial assessments.
The expenses incurred by farmers have been wasted and growers will have to reinvest in other crops once the rainwater has receded.
Growers are likely to meet the prime minister on his scheduled visit to Karachi in the backdrop of torrential rains that sank the metropolis. The Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) and Sindh Abadgar Ittehad (SAI) have urged the Sindh and federal governments to write off kharif loans obtained by farmers in 20 districts which were already declared calamity hit by the Sindh government.
The president of SCA Miran Mohammad Shah, SAB vice president Mahmood Nawaz Shah and SAI president Zubair Talpur want interest-free loans for three years. The SAI president wants the restoration of the old natural waterways so that rainwater is drained out easily otherwise rains will keep on wreaking havoc every season.
The left bank districts of Sindh are considered to be the breadbasket of the province where all major and minor crops are grown around the year. While rains have stopped in rural Sindh the growers are still reeling under the impact of the downpour. The breaches in saline water drains that carry agriculture runoff proved disastrous as water that overtopped the drains inundated several villages.
The last leg of the monsoon season has caused widespread damages to the farm sector in Badin, Sujawal, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Sanghar districts
Most of these drains end up falling in the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD) where two main breaches were reported, one each in the Mirpurkhas and Badin districts in the third week of August. The wider breach in Badin has been plugged but the one in Mirpurkhas near Naukot could not be plugged until Sept 3.
The LBOD that takes water to the Arabian Sea in the Badin district has not been a success story with experts expressing reservations over its design. It spelt disaster in the Sept 2011 showers of rain in lower Sindh as well as in all the districts that are connected with it to drain out rainwater and agriculture runoff. Some rehabilitation work was done after 2011 in different reaches of the LBOD. And that’s why Mahmood Nawaz Shah also wants the federal government to revisit LBOD which was a federal structure. “The prime minister should ensure across the board subsidy for farmers on fertilisers,” he proposes.
Cotton crop is grown in all the left-bank districts. Of them, Sanghar is home to cotton production as more than 50 per cent of Sindh’s ginning factories are located in this district. Sindh had achieved 98pc of its cotton sowing target (640,000ha) for the 2020-21 crop season. This year’s crop production target is fixed at 4.6 million bales. Given damages to Pakistan’s overall cotton bales, production is likely to be undermined.
Factories in Sanghar remained at a standstill as cotton has not reached since the rainfall. Rainwater that is standing in fields would damage the cotton plants that are sensitive and prone to pests in such conditions. Water blackens the plants, forcing farmers to terminate them.
“We initially paid Rs4,200 per 40kgs for the cotton crop to farmers and then the rate dropped to Rs3,700 per 40kgs. Till it rained, crop was being purchased at Rs4,000,” says Mr Haresh, senior vice chairman Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA). He says that cotton production is facing a decline all over Pakistan and this year’s rainfall in Sindh has been very damaging for the crop.
“Our farmers are already affected by substandard cottonseeds and this calamity proved to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he contends. Out of 275 ginning factories, he explains 140 are located in Sanghar and almost all have been shut down for the want of cotton.
Mirpurkhas-based progressive grower Sarfaraz Juneno points out that his Rhodes grass crop has been completely destroyed on 1,200 acres in Mirpurkhas which was worst affected in terms of rain damages to the agriculture sector. The downpour damaged sensitive onion and chillies crops, he says.
About 98pc of the sowing target of the paddy crop has also been achieved but growers are set to lose their produce. It was cultivated on 757,467ha against the target of 770,000ha. Sugarcane was grown on 286,090ha against a target of 310,000ha and it was 92.3pc achieved against the sowing target. Despite being a high delta crop, sugarcane always faces lodging if such intensity of rains continues for a few days as was seen in 2011.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 7th, 2020