Thousands converge in Larkana on 27th of December every year to pay homage to their leaders from the Bhutto dynasty. Two former prime ministers, including the Muslim world’s first female prime minister, lie buried there in a beautifully built mausoleum. The late Z A Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto are from this district.

Many bureaucrats that serve in different positions also find their roots in Larkana. Besides Bhuttos, Larkana is home of Kalhoros, Chandios, Khuhros, Bughios, Magsis, Unnars and Rashdis who all come from the landowning class. Many among them are tribal chieftains, for upper Sindh’s districts are also known for tribal culture and jirgas which settle disputes and bloody feuds privately between parties. These are, however, families who also matter in Sindh’s politics. Sheikhs — an important community of Larkana — are business-oriented and dominate the area’s urban landscape.

Chandka pargana is said to be Larkana’s old name in the Mughal period. It remained a centre of trade in the Kalhoro regime and was once considered the Eden of Sindh because of its famous orchards and greenery. Britishers focused on the area’s development, building the Sukkur barrage around 1932 and creating three major canals on the barrage’s right side to feed Larkana and other areas from the mighty Indus.

With 450 out of Sindh’s 630 mills located in the district, the urban areas are a hub of rice production

Larkana got status of divisional headquarters in the late 80s but it was divided in 2004 and Kambar Shahdadkot was carved out as an independent district. Sukkur’s barrage’s Rice, Dadu and Kirthar (North Western) canals feed Larkana and other districts with the last one feeding Balochistan as well. Initially, better water flows from the canals lead to prosperity in the area but soon faced silting from River Indus.

As evident from its name — Rice canal — is a large irrigation channel that feeds rice-growing areas of Larkana in Kharif period. Dadu and NWC also irrigate areas of Larkana and its neighbouring district. These canals are about to become part of the feasibility studies of the $480 million, World bank-funded Sindh Agriculture and Water Transformation (SWAT) project. The Larkhana division is a hub of rice production with a large number of mills.

The division is known for rice cultivation and production. It is grown in Jacobabad, Kashmore, Kambar-Shahdadkot and Shikarpur districts falling in the division. Sindh’s share in Pakistan’s rice production is estimated to be 28.6 per cent in terms of area and 38.6pc in production in 2017-18, according to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research. In Sindh, around 38pc of the area remains under cultivation of the coarse variety or IRRI-6.

Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) says Pakistan is the world’s 11th largest rice producer, accounting for 8pc of the global rice trade. This is why REAP chairman Qayyum Piracha underscores the need for introducing mechanised farming to achieve the required growth potential in exports.

Sindh agriculture officials say area under rice cultivation in Sindh was reported at 516,900ha (five years’ average of 2000-01 to 2004-05) which reached to 828,292ha in 2017-18, showing 60.24pc increase. Production-wise, Sindh had 1,414,700 tonnes of clean rice previously (five years’ average of 2000-01 to 2004-05), which increased to 2,850,524 tonnes in 2017-18, indicating a 101.5pc increase in production.

Yield per ha in Sindh was 2,737 kg (five years’ average of 2000-01 to 2004-05) which reached to 3,441kgs in 2017-18, and 3,493kgs per ha (five years’ average i.e. 2013-14 to 2017-18). It shows an increase of 27.62pc in per ha crop. In 2018-19, per ha yield was achieved at 3,725 kg — highest in the last two decade. Sindh got the highest yield per acre of rice at a national level. Average yield per ha of crop nationally was 2,339kgs (5 years’ average of 2010-11 to 2014-15), correspondingly, it was 3,495kgs in Sindh in the same period thus recording an increase of 49.4pc in yield per ha over national yield. During 2019-20 season, Sindh surpassed the acreage target of 770,000ha by achieving 775,862ha acreage.

The unusual increase in area, production and yield is because growers use imported hybrid variety instead of Sindh’s indigenous varieties like subdasi, shandar, KS282, DR etc. This variety gives higher yields and can be used as a late-sowing variety as well. Late Z A Bhutto had established the Dokri Rice Research Institute in Larkana to boost to rice production. Growers, however, remained dissatisfied with the institute’s performance as far as the quality of rice seed is concerned. The institute needs strengthening.

According to the institute’s head Wali Mohammad Baloch, the hybrid variety of seed has destroyed growers. He said the institute has produced DR-60 and DR59 varieties with matching yield potential as far as the hybrid variety is concerned. “It is the hybrid variety that is now hit by a sterility problem due to climate change and growers are unable to cope with it,” he says. The institute is pursuing a scheme of ‘seed production enhancement technology’ which awaits government approval. “We also want to promote Sindh’s indigenous varieties to lessen reliance on imported hybrid seed,” he remarked.

Growers themselves realise that the hybrid variety has become a major problem for them and are paying the price for opting for it blindly. A progressive grower and Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) representative from Larkana, Irfan Jatoi aptly describes this. “Larkana faces a water shortage. Hybrid seeds can be sown as late as possible therefore growers opted for it as the late sowing variety initially. When it increased yields, they naturally inclined towards it further to make an extra buck in the last decade,” he says. Lately, however, they faced problems of sterility thus incurring losses and are having second thoughts. “Adulterated hybrid variety is being marketed so growers are less inclined,” he says.

Arif Ali Mahesar, a rice miller and grower, subscribes to Jatoi’s views. “Hybrid was late variety but when growers started using it for early sowing due to better water availability they didn’t get the desired 80 to 90 maunds of yields they had become accustomed to,” he says. Hybrid seed is expensive and needs massive inputs by farmers.

Post-harvest losses during milling is another factor. With the upgradation of machinery in mills, at least 30,000 tonnes of rice production could be increased by offsetting post-harvest losses.

Larkana’s industrial sector mainly revolves around rice mills. It has one sugar mill — Naudero — and a few flour mills. Business leaders including Larkana’s ex-mayor Khair M Shaikh and Larkana Chamber of Commerce president Mohammad Ali Shaikh contend that most of the industrialists own rice mills. They say Dokri Rice Research Institute needs to put its foot down and come up with new seed varieties and improve Sindh’s indigenous varieties. “Broken ratio in rice during milling is around 45pc to 50pc due to seed quality,” says Mr Shaikh.

The Sindh government’s Sindh Enterprise Development Fund (SEDF) is struggling to promote mechanised farming in rice. For the last seven years, it is supporting rice millers as far as the upgrading of their milling system is concerned. According to Mehboobul Haq of SEDF, out of around 630 rice mills, 450 were located in Larkana. “What SEDF is doing is to absorb markup of bank loans offered to rice millers for upgrading their systems. It is a markup subsidy which Sindh government is providing. We are supporting growers at farm level for promoting mechanised farming,” he says.

A consortium of leading companies in the agriculture sector joined together to provide specialised machinery services to rice farmers in lower Sindh for nurseries, transplantation and harvesting.

In terms of orchards, Larkana is famous for its guava production. Around 3,200ha are brought under guava cultivation in winter, followed by mango and watermelon on around 160ha each. Wheat, cotton, barley, sugarcane, mustard, gram, sesame etc are also produced throughout the year on a minor scale. Larkana’s share in cotton production is 0.3pc and wheat’s share is 4.3pc, according to a district profiling figure, compiled by Hina Shahid. In the livestock sector, the share of cattle and buffaloes is calculated at 3.1pc and 7.2pc as per the 2006 livestock census.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 11th, 2021

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