This area used to be attractive for hunting migratory birds once that would descend on freshwater bodies and natural waterways. It was around the 1960s when military hierarchy including Gen Ayub Khan used to visit Tando Mohammad Khan, to be honoured and hosted by noted Sindhi landowners, Talpurs and Syeds.

Tando Mohammad Khan had also witnessed rare visits of state heads like Zahir Shah of Afghanistan, the then president of Pakistan Iskandar Mirza and Prince Ali Khan, father of the current Prince Kareem Aga Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who at that time contested polls from Tando Mohammad Khan’s neighbouring Badin district.

The Sindh Tourism Development Corporation lists only one historical site in Tando Mohammad Khan — a Buddhist stupa known as Sudheran jo Thulh — that lies between Khatter and Tando Mohammad Khan railway stations around five miles away from the city which also has the shrine of Shah Abdul Karim Bulri, the great grandfather of the mystic poet, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

Over the years, the area witnessed exceptional growth in the agriculture sector with the increasing population. But then old waterways and sources of freshwater were hit by climate change and now the area needs irrigation to survive.

Wildlife related legislation, to some extent, protects birds against widespread hunting. However, local Syeds maintain private lakes and game reserves and are active in the hunting club.

Sugarcane crop has a 92pc share in the district followed by paddy’s hybrid coarse variety which is exportable

Visiting generals used to hunt waterfowl and partridges in substantial numbers in winter during their stay. Most of the retired soldiers own agricultural lands. They have their acreages in areas like taluka Bulri Shah Karim, one of the three talukas of the district. “My father’s elder brother, Mir Ghulam Ali Talpur requested Gen Ayub to set up a sugar factory in this area,” reminisces an elderly descendent of Talpurs, Mir Mushtaq Talpur.

There is massive potential for sugarcane thanks to the climatic conditions in the lower Sindh region which led to the establishment of Sindh’s first sugar mill in Tando Mohammad — Fauji Sugar Mills of Fauji Foundation in 1961 — during the Ayub regime.

A sugarcane research station, Nukerjee research farm, was also founded by the mill’s management. However, despite the unusual growth in the sugar industrial base in Sindh, the Tando Mohammad Khan sugar mills lay abandoned for around a decade.

Abadgar, Ansari and Faran sugar mills are located in this smaller district — carved out of Hyderabad as an independent in April 2005 — and two more sugar factories Shah Murad and Seri border Thatta and Hyderabad districts respectively. With three functioning sugar mills, the kingdom of sugarcane remains intact by and large. It proves the best agricultural soil for sugarcane cultivation.

Issues, however, hit growers in sugarcane cultivation one way or another. Those losing interest in sugarcane are showing an inclination towards the combination of cultivation of muskmelon and paddy crops in the October-April lag from the point of view of saving inputs. Such combination gives reasonable income and preparation of land is avoided by farmers. “Muskmelon is grown in October and harvested around March. The land remains ready for paddy cultivation without any additional expenses,” says Nabi Bux Sathio, a progressive farmer and native of Tando Mohammad Khan.

He believes farmers are interested in sugarcane and rice cultivation but hastens to add that the sugar industrialists’ indifference when it comes to payment harms farmers economically.

“We are also restrained from cultivating three varieties of sugarcane that had been grown for years and had better yields with over and above benchmark [8.7 per cent] recovery of sucrose. These varieties were banned by the Sindh agriculture department a few years back at the instance of millers,” he says while disputing factory owners’ contention they lack required sucrose content.

The three varieties benefitted farmers in two ways — better yields and ratoon crop advantage. Ratoon is a sugarcane crop that is grown next year from the remainder of the sugarcane crop that was not fully harvested and its roots are left in the soil. “It re-grows with more yields,” he says.

Among all the crops grown in Tando Mohammad Khan, the sugarcane crop has a share of 92pc in the district. Then comes paddy crop that is largely grown here and farmers get impressive yields through hybrid coarse variety which is exportable.

Tando Mohammad Khan also has cotton cultivation but farmers believe its production is declining due to seed quality issues. The BT variety has lost vigour and has become susceptible to pests otherwise it had been largely grown. Cotton acreage dropped from 5,100 acres in 2009-10 (when Sindh had achieved the highest 4.2m cotton bales production in recent history) to 4,000 acres in the just concluded 2020-21 season. Both agriculture officials and growers are optimistic about better cotton production and price scenario in Sindh this year that may encourage farmers towards crop again.

Wheat, of course, is a common Rabi crop grown here like other parts of Sindh. Apart from major crops, Tando Mohammad Khan doesn’t lag behind in smaller or high-value crops or fruits. Those interested in orchard farming commonly grow bananas, mangoes, bair and muskmelon.

Other than this, the area produces sunflowers. Among veggies, Tando Mohammad Khan is known for onion’s phalkara variety. Many believe banana cultivation started from here before the farming became synonymous with Thatta, Matiari and Tando Allahyar.

This diversified agriculture scenario is also largely due to vital irrigation water sources that feed Tando Mohammad Khan. Kotri barrage’s three left bank canals Old Phulelli, New Phuleli and Akram Wah irrigate parts of Tando Mohammad Khan while feeding Badin, Thatta and Sujawal districts.

But there is a drawback as well. Tando Mohammad Khan is the tail-end most district of Sindh. When it comes to the distribution of irrigation water in the Rabi and Kharif seasons amidst anticipated water shortage by regulator Indus River System Authority (Irsa) the growers here suffer badly. Irsa gets unending flak from Sindh’s growers for water distribution under a formula that does not feature in the Water Apportionment Accord 1991 and is known as a three-tier formula.

This year again Tando Mohammad Khan’s farmers are bearing the brunt of irrigation water shortage due to back-to-back dips that the Indus river system flows witnessed during peak Kharif season which delayed their paddy sowing here. Only rainfall rescued them to some extent.

There is another distinction of Tando Mohammad Khan insofar as the livestock sector is concerned. It has the largest cattle farms of Red Sindhi Cow, a rare breed of Sindh that the livestock department struggles to preserve. The Red Sindhi Cattle Farm stretches over 2,800 acres but a large part of it remains under illegal occupation.

According to livestock farms related officer Dr Mubarak Jatoi, the farm spreads over 2,200 acres of which 600 acres remain under illegal occupation. “Locals are bringing cattle farm’s under cultivation of crops or the land remains in their possession,” he says and adds the matter has been referred to the Sindh chief secretary.

A former director-general of Sindh livestock believes inbreeding has affected the cattle’s milk yield. “Red Sindhi breed was taken to Brazil in the late 1950s where animal now gives 25 to 30 litres of milk but in Sindh, it is two to three litres. It is indeed alarming,” he comments. Dr Jatoi, however, points out efforts were underway to ensure purity in the breed and get desired milk yields. He adds trials for measurement of average birth weight are underway. “Milk yields now are recorded at 4.8 litres per day whilst average gain in calf’s weight is 432 grams. It is satisfactory,” he says.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October 25th, 2021

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