Replenishing Sindh’s food basket

By November 28, 2022Pakistan

Most of Sindh’s farmers on the right bank of Indus are back on their feet and set to sow winter crops
Despite the mental and physical crises he went through after the catastrophic floods earlier this year, Moheb Ali, a farmer from the village of Sobho Khan Loond, in Sindh, is happy that he has started to cultivate his land for winter wheat crop right on time.
In September this year, Ali had lost his mud house, when a breech occurred in Manchhar Lake, inundating scores of villages in Jamshoro and Dadu districts. To save his family, he was forced to leave everything behind, and stay with them in relief camps until two weeks ago when things were safe enough to return back home to his village, some 30km from Sehwan.
“It was a nightmare,” he says, trying to control his tears as he points to the damaged houses nearby. “Even though we have lost everything we had in the rains and floods, at least we will harvest our wheat in the coming months,” Ali smiles as he looks at the green fields.
“The nightmare is not over as yet,” says Rafique Loond, Ali’s relative, as he leaves for the fields. “We have to work hard and fight with the harsh weather. The poor have always had to fight, but this too shall pass. God is Great.”
Ali explains that wheat is the only crop that will save his kids from hunger as the harvest will bring him money.
Devastated by the floods, the villagers of Sobho Khan Loond were uncertain about sowing the winter crop. “We thought we would not be able to sow the winter crop in time because of water standing in the fields,” he says. “But the land is now sufficiently dry and I am hopeful that we will have a good crop this year.”
Except two most affected talukas, Mehar and Khairpur Nathan Shah located on the right bank of the Indus River, the situation has improved in this area. The Sindh government claims that over 90 per cent of agriculture land which remained submerged under rainwater is now ready for wheat and other crops.
Presently, the flood situation in the districts located on the right side of the river seems to have improved. According to the satellite images of Sentinal 2A, flood water reduction in Kashmore district was 98.46 %, in Jacobabad it was 77.38 %, in Shikarpur it was 90.14 %, in Qambar-Shahdadkot it was 89.18 %, in Larkana it was 91.83 %, in Dadu it was 60.11 %, and in Jamshoro, 83.48 %.
“I do not see any improvement,” said Abdul Wahid, a farmer from Gozo Sharif, a village of over 800 families. “It is not receding the way we expected it to. I do not understand how we will have wheat and mustard this season.”
Most of the areas near Wahid’s village are still under water and the villagers are worried about missing the wheat planting season. “There is about eight feet of water standing on my land, and I doubt it will be drained out easily,” he says.
Since the damaged road from Gozo and adjacent areas to Khairpur Nathan Shah has become visible after water receded, the residents of the nearby areas are trying to commute on their bikes, cars, rickshaws and tractors.
The displaced families who have started returning to their villages are not sure if they will be able to grow this season’s crops.
“The situation in most parts of Sindh has improved except for two talukas of Dadu district,” confirms Sindh’s Irrigation Minister Jam Khan Shoro. “Water will recede, but it will take a few more weeks for dry land to appear that farmers need to sow the next crop. We hope to achieve this target soon.”
The right side of the Indus River has mostly been affected by rainwater coming in from Balochistan through Hamal and Keenjhar Lakes, while on the left side of the river, heavy rains devastated public and private properties.
The farmers on both sides of the river lost their cotton crop, a ‘cash crop’ from which that they earn a good income, during August to December, by working as cotton pickers on daily wages.
Commuting on the National Highway from Hyderabad to Sukkur, it is now difficult to imagine that all that land was under at least knee-deep water and the residents were displaced for two months from August to October.
The remains of the damaged cotton crop are visible as are the fruit orchards with bananas, guava, mangoes, dates and other trees, which were also been badly damaged by stagnant water.
In districts such as Khairpur Mirs, Naushehro Feroze, Sanghar, Matiari and others, the farmers helped each other to get rid of flood and rainwater through water channels.
Like other famers in the Nawabshah area, Fida Hussain Baloch has also lost the ready-to-pick cotton crop that was damaged due to flood water, but he has managed to cultivate the seasonal crops including wheat and mustard on time.
“The government response to floodwater removal was very slow,” says Baloch. “It was through our own efforts that water was drained out so that it would be possible for us to sow the winter wheat crop.”
Akram Khaskheli, who works for the rights of peasants fears food insecurity next year. “Mostly, the peasants or landlords with less than 50 acres of land suffered from the floods and the cotton crop was completely destroyed,” he says.
In most parts of Sindh, the peasants rely on the seasonal wheat crop which they store for a whole year, and it is consumed until the next season.
In Nawabshah, wheat is considered the major crop, followed by cotton. “The farmers are pleased to be planting the wheat crop on time,” says Khaskheli. “It had seemed almost impossible to have dry land ready for seasonal crops but now more than 80 per cent land has been cultivated. Some peasants are still struggling for the remaining water to drain out, but I am sure we will have 100 per cent wheat crop season this year.”
In most areas, Sindh’s farmers are under debt burden. The government, they say, did not help the calamity hit farmers promptly and the rescue and relief operation was slow.
“The provincial government promised to help farmers with seeds and fertilisers,” says Abdul Shakoor, a farmer from Matiari district. “But we are still waiting for that promise to materialise. I got seeds from a shop for a much higher price.”
Although the situation on the left side of the River Indus has improved, at least four union councils in Saeedabad taluka of Matiari district are still under rainwater. Several villages, including Malook Khaskheli, Ibrahim Kaka, Bachal Kaka, Ramzan Khaskheli, Mole Dino Hajano, Faiz Mohammad Sehto, Soomar Bremani and adjacent villages of union council Sikandarabad, Baledino Kaka, Zahir Pir, and union council 8 are still under water.
Likewise, most of the villages in Saeedabad taluka along Mehran Highway are still struggling to drain the rainwater out. “It will take at least one more month to have our land ready for crop,” says Izhar Kaka, a local farmer.
Like Izhar, Aziz Kaka is also upset over stagnant rainwater in the fields which he believes will not be drained out before the end of December. The farmers and landlords, he says, are disappointed with their persistent miserable state of affairs at the hands of government apathy.
“The floods have had a long lasting impact on us,” says Kaka. “No one can compensate or even understand what the farmers have lost because of these heavy rains.”
On the right side of the Indus River, the authorities and local landlords have an option to drain out the rain water either in the Manchhar Lake or the Indus directly.
But, on the left side, the authorities, especially the irrigation department has realised that the only way is to restore the natural water ways which are occupied.
“In this area, the natural way is the Markh Wah distributary,” Izhar says. “But it has become an encroached bottleneck since years. We are stuck with flood water because we do not have a proper drainage system.” He explains how except this part of the district on the left side of the Indus, all the land that was being cultivated promised prosperity for the communities living here, but the left side is still suffering the impact of the devastating floods.
The rabi or winter season in the upper and lower districts of Sindh varies, from mid-October to mid- December. Hence, the farmers in areas where water has not been drained out keep their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to cultivate later in the year.
Ghulam Hussain Shah, a landlord from Shaheed Benazirabad district, says that most of the farmers in this area have cultivated their land and started to sow wheat in time for winter harvest.
“The potency of the land is affected by accumulated rainwater,” Shah explains. “This will affected the yield. The situation is not 100 per cent perfect for all the famers of the province. Water is receding slowly, but in some pockets, it will remain for the next two to three years.”
In Shah’s area located near the left side of the Indus, about 2,500 acres of agriculture land was under rainwater since mid-September. “Instead of rains, my land was impacted by mismanagement,” says Shah. “But at least we got some of our sowing season and that will keep the fear of food insecurity away.”
Majority of the displaced families living in different cities, including Karachi and Hyderabad, have left for their native villages. The process of the rehabilitation such as construction of damaged houses has not started yet, but farmers with the help of landlords have started sowing different crops, including tomatoes and vegetables.
Allah Rakhio Mallah from Badin says that although parts of his district were affected by the floods, the seasonal crops, especially wheat, has not been affected by rainwater.
“Everyone thought that after floods followed by heavy rains, there would be no crop or a late crop this time,” says Mallah whose district is known for four major crops, including tomatoes, wheat, sugarcane and cotton. “Tomatoes from my district appeared first in the market and now we are sure the winter wheat crop will harvest on time,” Mallah says, adding that the seasonal crops will help the poor peasants to overcome most of their financial issues and debts within the next two to three months.

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