PUNJAB has so far escaped any major loss to its main crops — cotton, rice and sugarcane — from the impact of heavy monsoon. The rains have caused a few breaches, but they have not resulted in any major flood so far.
Escaping big production loss, however, does not, in any way, mean that there were no individual losses either. There are few farms, especially on the banks of link canals where water level is high, that has seen up to 60 per cent crop damage.
Some growers in the waterlogged areas — a very few left in the province though — have also suffered because of standing water in their fields and have very few options to drain it out but to wait for its evaporation.
The other source of minor trouble was the otherwise dormant Sutlej River, given to India as part of the Indus Basin Water Treaty bargain, which broke its banks and inundated small areas in central Punjab, from where it enters Pakistan to move towards southern part of the province.
Yet another source of individual losses is crops in river beds. Unfortunately, they are not reported in official records either — meaning that any compensation package, even if it comes, would exclude them. They form huge areas as shown by the Sutlej River, which covers from Kasur to Rahimyar Khan District. All along these six districts, people sow crops in river beds. The government needs to consider these losses as well because they form part of the provincial production.
All these individual losses are being calculated by the provincial agriculture and revenue departments. But as far as provincial production targets are concerned, they still look achievable if rains’ cost benefit ratio is taken into consideration.
For example, as per official statistics, so far 150,000 acres of cotton — out of total 6.2 million acres — have been hit up to 25 per cent. Though these statistics are not final, if they could be taken as a temporary benchmark, the final loss may be around 75,000 bales. Considering the 10 million bales target that the province is expecting for this year, the loss may not even be one per cent. But the government must find ways to compensate the individual farmers who have suffered 25 per cent loss of production, as this loss is substantial, perhaps decisive for some, in individual cases.
If rains stop early, as the metrological department forecasts, the province may, in fact, be able to cross its crop targets, especially for cotton, especially if farmers improve their management practices and handle micro changes in climate that rains have brought.
They need to look into three areas. First, the rains would change the pest pattern; they would expand in variety and population. They need to be checked before they reach threatening level. Second, the rains would keep the plant in water. The farmers need to clear their crops like cotton and shift water to water-loving crops like rice and cane. If they are practicing mono crop, they can dig trenches to shift water to them and save their crop.
Third, the farmers must not water their crops only because water is available in canals. They must, as they did last year, follow metrological advisory for irrigating their land and, in every possible way, try to avoid over-irrigation now.
The agriculture experts from Punjab think that if farmers can manage these climatic effects, the province could improve its production figures.
The rains have removed two major problems, which were threatening the Kharif crops. It has ended almost drought conditions, which when all rivers saw their flows dipping abysmally low.
Second, it has contained the effects of urea shortage by providing vegetative growth to crops. The urea shortage, which is still some 350,000 tons short in the province, could have hit the crops very badly but for the timely rains.
Luckily, apart from cotton, both other Kharif crops (sugarcane and rice) love water and can withstand its effects easily. Most of the farmers along link canals and waterlogged areas sow these two crops given their soil character. Most of rice there is Irri-6 or some others varieties that may not hit exports much even if production goes down a bit. It is not a likely scenario though. The 15 districts of basmati belt have by and large been safe so far.
As far as other minor crops like moong or fodder are concerned, it may take a few more weeks for the Punjab government to assess damages to them with a measure of certainty. But, apart from three major crops, all other crops put together may not have much bearing on provincial agriculture picture.
Thus it is only the cotton crop that can alter the provincial, and by extension, the national agriculture picture and that is where provincial authorities and the farmers need to concentrate for the next few weeks.