Gone are the days when Shikarpur used to bask in the glory of its marvellous past. It used to be a famous trade centre for the entire region. This perhaps remains the only walled city of Sindh but unfortunately faces ravages of time. Despite its strategic position, Shikarpur is considered one of the backward districts of Sindh. It is located on the right bank of the mighty Indus.

The history of Shikarpur, once the centre of knowledge and learnings, was influenced by its geography. It was located at the confluence of Mughals in North and East, the Safavids (Iran) to the West and various Afghan and Central Asian kingdoms to the Northwest. Historically, Shikarpur was known for its architectural marvels. Its old inhabitants — mainly Hindus — had contributed to the city’s infrastructure building. Its name is derived from the word shikar (hunting) as it had plenty of forests.

The city has been included in the 2008 and 2010 World Monuments Watch List of ‘100 Most Endangered sites’ published by the World Monuments Fund (WMF). In 2014, it has made the list for the third time in less than six years. The WMF website says Shikarpur became the hub of a major financial network stretching from the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and beyond. Durrani Afghans took control of it in the mid-19th century and fostered the creation of a melting pot for merchants of diverse origins — Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim.

While the district struggles to see its old glory restored, a social stigma, however, remains attached to it. Shikarpur, now, is also bracketed with the infamous jirga system. Some of the leading lights of tribes find their roots in this district and continue to rule the roost regardless of democratic or unelected dispensation in the country. This tribal influence in the area has refused to die down despite repeated court orders against jirgas, a parallel judicial system.

If oilseed issues of research, development and marketing are addressed the area can improve its yield to lessen Pakistan’s import bill of edible oil

“Shikarpur is infamous from the women perspective. Poor women are killed as kari” (honour killings) or trafficked,” argues women rights activist Amar Sindhu. We have reports of imprisonment of lal aurtain —women who seek shelter of some tribal chief after having been declared as kari but later they are sold, she says.

Mahars, Durranis, Bhayyo, Jatoi, Sudhranis and other clans are the second names of Shikarpur’s deeply rooted jirga system. They, of course, are educated men with large landholdings and are cultivating lands in a riverine area known for its soil fertility due to heavy silt deposits by the Indus river.

Shikarpur has also produced men of letters like iconic Sindhi poet Shaikh Ayaz. Sindh’s chief minister Allah Bux Soomro was from Shikarpur before the partition. He was assassinated there in 1943. His nephew Illahi Bux Soomro served as speaker National Assembly. Most Soomros, Shaikhs, Jatois and Mahars prefer living — like many other baronial landlords — in urban centres like Karachi and Islamabad. But they use their native city as their political base to maintain a firm stranglehold over politics and subsequently governance in successive civil and military regimes. But then every cloud has a silver lining.

Shikarpur matters as an important area in terms of agriculture production — mainly rice. Of total Sindh’s rice acreage (750,529ha recently) Shikarpur has a share of 15 per cent with 117,264ha as per statistics compiled by Hina Shahid in EU funded survey 2018.

Coarse and basmati varieties of rice are produced as a mono-crop in the Kharif season. Wheat as a Rabi crop is sown on residual moisture of rice crop as growers lack options for alternative crops. Veggies are grown with okra being transported to Quetta’s market usually.

Guddu barrage’s right bank Begari Sindh (BS) feeder feeds Shikarpur district mainly. It has a designed discharge of 14,764 cusecs to irrigate 1,001,910 acres of land in its command. The large riverine area is connected with Shikarpur which is famous for its achaar (pickles), qulfi faluda (ice cream) and a soft drink. Pickles are Shikarpur’s identity across Pakistan, nay the world.

“Besides rice, we have the potential for oilseed crops as well but we lag only because we don’t have a market here,” says Arsala Seelro. He has been cultivating canola in Shikarpur regularly until five years back but then had to give up after realising that an inadequate price is offered by buyers. “Our produce is taken to Punjab from here for marketing and we didn’t get an adequate price to meet our cost of production and earn some money as well,” Seelro contends. He also believes that monopoly by ricer millers also leads to cartelization that seeks to deny a just price for the rice crop.

A veteran rice grower, Haji Ameer Bux Pahore subscribes to Seerlo’s view. “We cultivate coarse and basmati variety but the price regime isn’t in our favour”, he says. He points out that Shikarpur doesn’t get the required flows. This area is under the non-perennial command of the canal and wheat was sown on paddy crop’s residual moisture. “We feel lucky if we get additional flows after rice crop harvesting,” he says. He also sheds light on the fact that Shikarpur had once witnessed tobacco cultivation. Quality of tobacco was also fine, he adds.

Sunflower cultivation was given some attention in the backdrop of the super floods of 2010 that had led to mass-scale displacement from right bank districts including Shikarpur. Standing paddy crop was badly hit as well. Growers in flood-affected right bank districts were given an opportunity to go for sunflower cultivation under the United States Agency for International Development funded project for the cultivation of corps on 100,000 acres in flood-hit districts in a collaborative effort with Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB). “Later we learnt that sunflower yields are declining fast but no research was conducted as to why it is happening. As a result, growers lost interest in oilseed crops that can serve as an alternative to imported oil, involving expenditures of foreign exchange,” says SAB vice president Mahmood Nawaz Shah.

Shikarpur has the potential for diversified agriculture. For instance, researchers can recommend alternate crops in addition to wheat. Likewise, if oilseed crops issues of research, development and marketing are addressed the area can come up with a better yield of oilseed crops — sunflower and canola chiefly — to lessen Pakistan’s import bill of edible oil. But these areas are not yet given attention.

As per the 2018 project livestock population, the Sindh livestock department estimates Shikarpur’s share in Sindh’s cattle and buffalo population as 1.80pc and 2.18pc respectively and 0.70pc in sheep and 1.21pc in goats.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 22nd, 2021

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