All washed away in the rain

Updated 21 Sep 2020


FARM workers picking remainder of cotton crop from submerged fields in Mirpurkhas district. — Photo by Umair Ali
FARM workers picking remainder of cotton crop from submerged fields in Mirpurkhas district. — Photo by Umair Ali

Assessment of major crops like cotton and paddy in lower Sindh is underway but authorities believe the overall losses to major crops and vegetables are heavy. A survey to determine losses is being conducted by the revenue department in Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Sanghar, Badin and Sujawal districts that are all left bank areas in Sindh.

These districts received an unusual amount of rainfall, chiefly in August. The rainwater is still standing in fields and farmers are struggling to dispose of the water to different saline water drains. Losses can be assessed after either the fields are dewatered or the rainwater recedes as crops remain submerged. Accumulated water is bound to affect the farmers’ produce where lands are located in low-lying areas.

Cotton and chilli crops are vulnerable to lodging in these conditions. Insofar as the cotton crop is concerned, farmers had luckily made a couple of picking before it rained. More pickings were to follow when it rained heavily.

The left-bank districts are known for cotton and rice, vegetable production and large-scale orchards. Hybrid variety of chilli is largely grown in Mirpurkhas, Umerkot and Badin districts as farmers have shown a tendency to replace cotton with chilli due to the germination problem with cottonseed.

Given the current price trend, losses amount to roughly Rs20bn in Sindh’s cotton sector if 500,000 bales are lost due to flooding in the riverine area

Sindh’s director general of agriculture Hidayatullah Chhajro anticipates 70-75 per cent losses in the chilli crop, apart from onions and tomatoes. He says two pickings in cotton had been done before the rainfall but it is a foregone conclusion that 30-35pc of the cotton crop has been damaged.

After the Sindh government notified 20 districts as calamity affected, the ruling party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari urged the federal government to declare an agriculture emergency in the province though without any response. Sindh’s Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah put a figure of rain-affected people at 2.5 million. Given the scale of disaster the rains had spelt in the lower region, the chief minister wants international assistance through the federal government on the pattern of 2010 and 2011 when flooding triggered by rainfall rendered millions displaced and wreaked havoc on the crop sector. Such assistance is not seen this time round.

Sindh’s dilemma is that its cotton sector is already facing a decline in production. The province had last achieved 4.2m cotton bales production a decade back i.e. 2009-10. And since then it has hardly gotten close to the production target of 4-4.2m cotton bales as per the agriculture department figures.

The director general of agriculture confirms that the problem of poor germination ratio in cotton’s seed has become a perennial problem and is taking a heavy economic toll on growers. He says the matter was taken up by the relevant federal government agency of seed certification and registration that works under the national ministry of food security to check it. He regrets that seeds with a 55pc germination tag on seed bags are being sold in the market when seeds with a 90pc germination tag have not yielded desired results.

Sindh agriculture department’s final cotton production figures show that 2.6m bales were produced in 2019-20 which is 43.5pc less than the target of 4.6m bales. Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA), however, claimed production of 4.14m bales in 2019-20.

An agriculture official points out that the under the federal government law, the Sindh agriculture department measures a bale’s weight at 170kg, and 40kg seed cotton processing leads to the production of one-third lint cotton. But PCGA measures the weight at less than 170kg thus the difference in bale production.

Cotton ginners like senior vice chairman PCGA Haresh Kumar are anticipating huge losses in cotton bales production. He says the ginners are meeting needs for lint cotton production by procuring cotton from Balochistan and other areas after lower Sindh lost a large chunk and quality of the remainder crop.

Given current price trend, he calculates roughly Rs20 billion in losses (100 bales of cotton worth Rs3.4m as per today’s market price) in Sindh’s cotton sector if 500,000 bales are lost due to rain and flooding in the riverine area.

PCGA, he says, had reported 1.2m bales last year in the corresponding period (Sept 2020) but this year so far 0.9m bales have been produced. Cotton is grown in riverine areas (katcha area inside River Indus where water flows) similar to wheat, vegetables and sugarcane but such production is, however, not reflected in figures by the agriculture department officially. It is counted in overall production.

Colossal losses are seen in chilli. Many farmers in Mirpurkhas district and its surroundings have switched over to the hybrid-chilli variety that was also hit by rains as it remains a sensitive crop like cotton. Since the hybrid seed has more yield potential and rates were attractive growers opted for it, says Karamullah Sand from Mirpurkhas district.

“Chilli, which was grown in April, was at the harvesting stage when heavy rainfall visited this region. If water remains standing in fields where chilli is grown, it will destroy the crop,” he says. Last year, dehydrated chilli was sold for Rs22,000-23,000 per maund and a grower was getting 30-40 maunds an acre, he added.

Declining cotton yield potential — 15 to 20 maunds an acre — prompted growers to switch to hybrid chilli because growers were not able to cover the input cost of cotton owing to its lower yield.

Paddy crop had also matured when it got battered in the left bank districts of Badin and Sujawal. In the 2018-19 season, rice production (2.571m tonnes) was recorded at 5pc less than the target of 2.71m tonnes. But in terms of acreage, Sindh lost 10.36pc of the area (690,24 hectares) when compared with the target of 770,000ha.

A Sujawal-based paddy grower, Nadeem Shah estimates considerable losses in the paddy crop. Farmers whose coarse variety crop survived the rainfall, and quality remained unaffected, might fetch a price of Rs1,450 to Rs1,500 per 40kg otherwise crops that were severely affected would be sold for Rs900 per 40kg which is inadequate to even meet input cost.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 21st, 2020