There are few districts in Sindh that can be credited with a role in the freedom struggle against Britishers. Sanghar is one of them. Its history sans the powerful Hur Resistance Movement — titled watan ya kafan (our land or a coffin) — would be incomplete.
Sanghar, area wise one of Sindh’s largest districts, had forests of Makhi which had pastures with valuable production of ghee, butter etc. Britishers imposed ‘panchari’ tax (grazing tax), forcing Hurs to leave which eventually led to the resistance.
Sanghar is now part of Shaheed Benazirabad division, a newly created setup. Previously, it was part of the Mirpurkhas division. Its sprawling arid region of Achro Thar faces India. The district has been under the strong political influence of the Hur Jamat for a long time until PPP dented stronghold in the last two general elections.
Nizamanis, Bugtis, Chandios, Junejos, Rajars, Deros, Maris are also big agriculture landowners. Haji Khuda Bux Rajar is one of the partners in the only sugar factory, namely Sanghar sugar mills of the area.
While the freedom struggle of Sanghar is rich in essence, the story of the agriculture economy and declining cotton acreage is disturbing. It is incomplete if the Chotiari reservoir is not discussed whose implications on farmlands in its catchment spelt economic disaster for farmers. Those having lands around it have lost their soil fertility in a painful unending saga. Most of the farmlands in the area were under cotton cultivation and are now waterlogged.
Due to salinity, growers switched over to paddy crop sowing that is otherwise legally banned on the left bank of River Indus. Paddy is also largely grown in those areas not affected by Chotiari’s reservoir. “Everyone is growing paddy here regardless of the Chotiari issue because paddy is less expensive, doesn’t need as much labour and is giving better returns. Paddy cultivation can be seen right up to Mirpurkhas which is also fed by the Nara canal. This trend is rendering otherwise better lands as water-logged,” claims Khalid Kaimkhani, a local grower.
Historic Makhi forests are part of the reservoir, fed by the perennial Nara canal system of Sukkur barrage. Chotiari, off-canal storage built northeast of Sanghar with $6 billion World Bank funding in the late 90s and completed in 2003, was once considered a complex of natural lakes like Makhi, Baqar etc.
It has storage of around 0.71 million acre feet of water encompassing an area of 78 square miles but did not attain optimum storage levels. Locals still cultivate lands inside the reservoir. It is fed by the Ranto canal of the Nara canal system with Aujo escape off-taking from Jamrao head and Makhi complex. It was to store rainfall’s runoff for supply to Sanghar and Umerkot during Rabi season through the lower Nara canal. An estimate shows 290,000 acres of barren land were to be irrigated through it.
A recent study by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published in May 2019 termed the reservoir a disaster. The study was done in collaboration with the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology. “We can’t grow crops other than paddy in the land located in the reservoir’s catchment,” says an affected farmer Majeed Mangrio. “Wetlands with saline and freshwater were made part of the reservoir that resulted in water-logging,” he says.
Khair Mohammad Junejo, who served as the federal food and agriculture minister in Pervez Musharraf’s regime from Sanghar, recalls opposing the Chotiari project because the resultant seepage would render lands barren. “That is what is happening now. Large swathes of land are barren and only paddy can be cultivated there. A considerable amount of acreage is not fit for cotton cultivation. Irrigation officials have not fixed problem”, says Mr Junejo, himself a large landholder of Sanghar.
Britishers had built Sukkur barrage to cash on agriculture potential in 1930 in Sindh and to strengthen the empire’s industrial base — Manchester textile industry — by capitalising on cotton production in the left bank areas of the Indus river. Sugarcane, wheat, vegetables are produced in Sanghar on a big scale as the area is linked with perennial canal water supply. But cotton is Sanghar’s sole identity in agriculture dynamics. It is the single largest cotton-producing area in Sindh and one of the top-ranking cotton-producing districts nationally.
But cotton is losing its kingdom here too due to policy and governance issues, seed quality, inadequate cotton crop price and land degradation. The area witnessed a mushroom growth of ginning factories thanks to Bt cotton production when farmers went crazy about it. Of 341 factories in Sindh, an overwhelming 122 units were setup in Sanghar. Cotton production here is almost 40pc of Sindh’s total production. When Sindh produced 4,270,682 bales in 2009-10 from 634,714ha, Sanghar’s share was 1,052,455 bales from 135,615ha. This acreage was highest across Sindh then. Ten years down the road (2018-19), Sanghar’s share in cotton production was 526,886 bales on 76,190ha.
“Unfortunately, the prime minister’s Agriculture Emergency Programme doesn’t cover cotton sector’s issues. All Pakistan Textile Mills Association aims to follow the Bangladesh model which doesn’t grow a single cotton bale yet its textile exports stood at $37bn last year when compared with Pakistan’s $13bn, says an agriculture expert, Dr Yusuf Zafar. “We are not investing in research & development and even can’t decide how to manage vital bodies like Pakistan Central CottonCommittee (PCCC) on cotton crop. PCCC keeps shunting between different ministries. Cotton is bound to suffer across Pakistan,” argues Dr Zafar, the outgoing chairman Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.
Sanghar is witnessing the execution of Rs10.61bn project of the construction of Makhi-Farash Link Canal/Realignment of Nara canal that passes through the area in a zig-zag way. The project, slated for completion in June 2020, is delayed. It is supposed to provide 200 cusecs of freshwater for the Thar coal power plant in Islamkot.
Achro Thar — a white sandy desert — in Sanghar and Khipro talukas which touches Khairpur district is lately connected with Nara canal’s water through a pipeline in 2018 thanks to efforts of the area’s parliamentarian, Shazia Mari. It is heartening to see a large population is getting freshwater through the Jamalabad storage scheme. It caters to the needs of approximately 30,000 human and 25,000 livestock population in 101 villages through 5.85m gallon storage capacity with two settlements tanks and ponds. This is connected to a solar-powered system.
Sanghar has one of the highest population of goats as per livestock 2018 projected figures, showing goats to be 5.16pc of Sindh’s total goat population with 238,624 sheep. But research-oriented measures that may help ensure increased milk yields elude Achro Thar.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 5th, 2021