The coastal region of Sujawal seems to be a smaller district rather than a new entity since 2014 after having been carved out of the Thatta district. Indus marks the geographical boundary for the bifurcation of the two districts.

As the tail-end area of the Indus Basin Irrigation System (IBIS), it is the region where the mighty Indus meets the Arabian Sea to form part of the famous Indus Delta, said to be a fan-shaped network of several creeks.

Sujawal was once home to “red rice”, known as “ganjo” in the local language. However, the intruding sea has been devouring farmland in the delta and eroding soil. It has led to large-scale migration as villages shift to new locations.

Researchers believe subsurface sea intrusion, triggered by the absence of sustainable environmental flows post Kotri barrage that are direly needed to keep the delta’s ecology intact, started affecting areas up to Mulla Katyar bridge and set off alarm bells for the community. Sea intrusion has considerably stripped the Indus delta of its hallmark of agricultural biodiversity, riverine ecology and productivity.

The release of Indus river flows Kotri barrage downstream is a permanent cause of discord between Punjab and Sindh — the primary water shareholders — when it comes to interprovincial water distribution under Water Accord 1991.

“Indus delta mainly comprises present-day Thatta and Sujawal districts. The degradation of the delta, with Sujawal on the left side of the river, is more vulnerable to coastal erosion when compared to the river’s right side where Thatta is located”, argues Prof Dr Altaf Siyal, Sindh Agriculture University’s dean of faculty of agricultural engineering.

His research says that in 1833, the delta spread over 3.2 million acres, which has now shrunk to 247,000. It indicates a 92 per cent reduction in its acreage in terms of area. Area-wise tidal floodplains, he explains, in Sujawal are double Thatta’s, which shows fast conversion of agricultural land into tidal floodplains.

“This area is sans adequate mangroves cover that helps absorb wave energy produced in any deltaic region, thus the fast-paced soil erosion. Sujawal’s land is mostly flat, so it is vulnerable to sea intrusion more than Thatta’s,” says Mr Siyal.

The federal government has lately planned Sindh Barrage, 160km downstream of Kotri barrage and 37-40km upstream from the sea, in the Indus delta to check sea intrusion. The proposed barrage’s structure over Indus would be built in Sujawal and Thatta.

However, technical evaluation and debate between Sindh and the federal government have been underway for the last few years. “The final decision over Sindh Barrage is yet to be taken,” contends Haji Khan Jamali, incumbent Kotri Barrage Chief Engineer, who is part of the technical committee evaluating the proposal.

Kotri barrage’s left side’s non-perennial Pinyari canal feeds Sujawal — part of laar (lower Sindh region) to irrigate 586,356 acres of land with a designed discharge of 13,598 cusecs.

Blossoming bright yellow sunflower fields add beauty to the Sujawal region as they line different intra-district roads. Sunflower, as an oilseed crop, is emerging in importance like mustard. Nadeem Shah, associated with agriculture here since 1975, believes sunflower has emerged as a full-fledged crop after mustard.

Growers are switching to oil seeds from sugarcane due to the arrogance or indifferent attitude of sugar factory owners, leaving them dependent on procuring cane from upper Sindh.

“The Gujarati community of Karachi’s Kharadar and Mithadar still like red rice. Its yields are less than the coarse variety, but its rate remains higher. While hybrid rice was preferred until recently, farmers are relying less on it. He points out that sugarcane is an 18-month-long crop, whilst farmers can grow rice, wheat and sunflower in the same period.

Sujawal’s diversified agriculture sector covers, despite land degradation, all major crops ranging from wheat, cotton, rice, sugarcane and banana.

“Cotton was not our crop, but it had become popular in the last 15 years like sunflower and mustard,” says Aijaz Khuwaja, a grower from Sujawal.

Sugarcane acreage was considerable, as evidenced by the presence of three sugar factories including Shah Murad, Laar and Deewan — that fell in the newly created district.

Sindh agriculture department is still compiling Thatta and Sujawal’s figures jointly. According to rice figures, 90pc area was brought under cultivation in the 2022-23 season as against a target of 205,097 acres, rice was harvested on 194,843 acres.

Livestock officer Dr Javed says ratio-wise, Thatta and Sujawal share 60-40pc of the livestock population and milk yields, respectively. According to his figures, the population of Red Sindhi (cattle) is 58,790 with 2.3m litres production per day cumulatively. Kundi (buffalo) breed population is 0.5m with 3m litres of milk production per day.

Despite water shortage, Sujawal is a paradise for fish farms, though largely unregulated. Fish farms draw plenty of water at the cost of the right of others, which is alarming. This author has observed that even during the peak water shortage in April-May, when farmers of this tail-end district cry for irrigation water for their Kharif sowing, fish farms get water unchecked.

The Sujawal forest division covers around 26,000 acres of riverine forest and 15,000 of inland forestland. Vegetation exists on 1,000 acres of riverine forestland and 3,000 irrigated forests. The encroachment issue also affected the forest department as around 2,800 acres remain encroached.

However, under Sindh High Court Sukkur bench’s oversight in 2022, back-to-back operations were carried out to retrieve land. Around 2,500 acres have been retrieved. Sujawal division forest official Madad Ali Shah believes that 90pc plantation is done on retrieved land.

In the coming days, Sujawal’s strategic importance will increase as it will become part of the coastal highway, allowing it to connect with Badin and Tharparkar — the latter being home to coal.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 27th, 2023

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