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Rice growers face water shortage

July 02, 2012

WATER shortage has put rice growers in a tight position with the Sukkur Barrage — the largest source of irrigation water in Sindh — showing 40 per cent lower discharge.

The off-taking Rice Canal from the barrage recorded 55 per cent shortage on June 25. Against 14,400 cusec of water flows allocated in the Water Accord 1991, it was receiving only 6,500 cusec. Rice growers need water for soaking their land and to prepare nurseries.

Nurseries’ preparation needs around 25 days or so before the crop is transplanted. However, the Sukkur Barrage authorities hope the situation would improve by early July.

The Rice Canal on its right bank feeds areas in Mehar and Khaipur Nathan Shah talukas of Dadu district which are at its tail-end reaches.

In the corresponding period last year, the upper Sindh growers had prepared nurseries on a big scale and transplanted crop by mid-July. Irri-6 is the coarse variety rice and is mostly grown in upper Sindh. Then the DR-82 and DR-83 come as late varieties.

Farmers fear if preparation of nursery is delayed until July, it would lead to belated transplantation in August. In such case the crop would face low yield with fear of pest attacks. To ward off pest attack they would have to use pesticides which mean more expenses on per acre cost of production.

“We are told that water ‘might’ be made available by July 1, which means we will transplant crop in August. I am traveling in the command area of Rice Canal but I don’t see nurseries and water anywhere,” says Gada Hussain Mahesar, a rice-grower from Larkana. “Then there is the serious issue of non-availability of late variety seeds like DR-83 and DR-82,” farmers say.

As time for cultivation of other varieties of paddy seeds has already passed, the growers would have to depend on a mixture of seed to grow their rice crop, he adds.

According to him, water is normally to be provided to the Rice Canal by May 10 to prepare nurseries and transplant it in time. After plantation, the crop is to be provided water for around 130 days until it gets ready for harvest.

Rice is grown on around 2.6 million acres in Sindh. Out of which 1.7-1.8 million acres are cultivated in upper Sindh alone. The rest of the land is brought under rice cultivation in Tando Mohammad Khan, Badin and Thatta in lower Sindh region which is the command area of Kotri barrage. Whatever water is available is provided through rotation programme.

“Growers in Shahdadkot district are not only victims of water shortage but also of unjust decisions,” farmers say. Ishaq Mughairi, a representative of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) of the district says: “the Sindh Chief Minister has sanctioned direct outlets from Saifullah Magsi Canal and that too for supplying water in areas of Balochistan.”

The situation in lower Sindh is not different where rice is grown earlier than in upper Sindh. But farmers didn’t get water through the Kotri Barrage too. At the Kotri Barrage water shortage was 50 per cent until June 25 where upstream flow was recorded at 15,340 cusec against the allocation of 33,600 cusec as per Water Accord.

Water shortage is badly affecting rice, cotton and sugarcane crops besides fruits and vegetables in the area. Sugarcane needs water at the crucial time of its growth. Sugarcane would be ready by September and October. Cotton is in the flowering stage in lower Sindh. Temperature was also very high in June which had accelerated the pace of evaporation.

According to Nadeem Shah, a cotton and cane grower from Matiari, cotton is now in the boll formation stage. “Lower Sindh growers this year couldn’t capitalise on early Kharif sowing because of non-availability of irrigation water.