By Syed M. Aslam
Apr 09 - 15, 2001
Despite the declining contribution to the GDP over
the last 25 years, agriculture still contributes over 25 per cent to
the GDP, employs 44 per cent of the work force and remains the major
source of foreign exchange earnings for Pakistan.
The persistent water shortage over the years has
resulted in acute water availability across the country at present. It
has affected the arid province of Sindh in a more pronounced way. The
summer crop season, Kharif, started on the first of this month on a
precarious note with only one-fourth of the water available in Sindh
which is not even enough to meet the requirement of the cotton
cropping season which also started on April 1. The present water
availability will be insufficient to meet the needs of cotton cropping
beyond the 15th of this month.
By early this month only 10,000 cusecs (cubic feet
per second, a unit to measure running water) was available in Sindh
compared to a requirement of 40,000 cusecs. The demand will increase
to traditional 125,000 cusecs over the next few months when rice
cropping season starts on May 15.
PAGE talked to Secretary Agriculture, Livestock
and Fisheries Sindh, Hashim Leghari, about the impact the acute water
shortage is expceted to take on the province. The following are the
excerpts of the talk.
The tentative target for wheat crop has been
reduced by 30 per cent this year — from 3 million metric tonnes to
2.5 million tonnes initially and 2 million tonnes recently with the
beginning of harvesting season in many areas of the province early
this month. The reduction in tentative target is based on the study
conducted last year, which also witnessed a water shortage, though not
as severe as is the case presently.
The government monitors one representative crop in
each of the two main seasons — wheat in Rabi (winter crop season)
and Cotton in Kharif. The study showed that despite 60 per cent less
availability of water last year, the wheat cultivation area in the
province decreased by only 29 per cent — bad but still less severe
proportionately. In theory, the 60 per cent water shortage could had
resulted in a similar reduction in the wheat cultivation area.
However, water conservation plans, and alternate water supply measures
such as tube wells, judicious use of water and information imparted by
the agriculture department over Radio/TV/pamphlets to the farmers
helped avoid the major disaster.
Sindh plays a significant role in the cultivation
and production of wheat. Of the record 21.078 million tonnes wheat
produced in the country during 1999-2000, 3 million tonnes or 15 per
cent came from Sindh which also contributes over 13 per cent to the
total wheat cultivation area of 8.463 million hectares in the country.
Sindh is the second top wheat cultivating and producing province after
Punjab which contributes 72 per cent in terms of area and 78 per cent
in terms of production of the commodity respectively.
With the beginning of wheat harvesting season last
week in many areas of Sindh it is too early to say anything about how
much of the tentative target, revised downwardly twice, would be
achieved. However, the province is expected to produce the revised
tentative target of 2 million tonnes or two-third of the initial
target of 3 million tonnes.
Just as wheat is monitored as the representative
Rabi crop, Cotton is monitored as the representative crop of the
In 1999-2000 cotton, the all important cash crop,
was cultivated over 3.002 million hectares in the country. Like wheat,
Sindh plays a significant role in cotton- not as much in terms of area
but in terms of production. This is primarily due to high per unit
area yield compared to Punjab, the biggest cotton growing province
both in terms of area and production.
Over 78 per cent or 8.804 million of the record
11.240 million bales (35 pounds each) of cotton produced in the
country during 1999-2000 came from Punjab. The second biggest share or
20 per cent or 2.3 million bales was contributed by Sindh. Despite
being cultivated in a comparative smaller areas, the per hectare yield
of cotton in Sindh far exceeds the national average as well as that in
In 1998-99 per hectare cotton yield in Sindh was
576 kilograms per hecatre which was far above the national average of
512 k/hectare and 494 k/hectare in Punjab. Despite the acute water
shortage the next year, the per hectare cotton yield in Sindh still
managed to increase to 638 kilograms though remaining marginally below
the 643 average in Punjab. The substantial increase in per hectare
cotton yield in Punjab was attributed primarily to better pest
management measures while the comparative low increase in Sindh was
due primarily to acute water shortage and low inputs.
With the beginning of cotton sowing season April 1
and the acute water shortage which is feared not enough to last beyond
April 15, the cotton cultivation in Sindh is looking at a imminent
disaster. This has resulted in the proposed delayed sowing of cotton
beyond the prescribed dates which differ from area to area for as late
as May. The delayed sowing, needless to say, will result in low yield.
Measures have been taken to introduce new varieties
of cotton from Punjab on trial basis such as FH 900, 901 and DH 118
for the first time in Sindh. Measures are also taken to expand the
area under cultivation of such varieties as Nayab 78, CRIS 9 (a new
variety developed by Cotton Research Institute), Chandni, Marvi and Shahbaz.
A water conservancy plan made by the Department of
Agriculture Sindh proposes reducing the supply of water for various
crops. It suggests reducing the availability of water for cotton from
36 acre inch to 24-26 acre inch — the level of water standing in the
cotton field throughout the season. Similar proposals to reduce the
availability of water for Rice and Sugarcane — from the traditional
76 acre inch and 96 acre inch respectively. The farmers of Sindh has
to make do with the lesser quantity of water to lessen the otherwise
The crisis has forced the relevant authorities to
take all possible measures humanly possible to lessen the agricultural
damage from the severe shortage of water. Rice and sugarcane requires
much larger quantities of water compared to wheat and the measures are
aimed at ensuring that water is available for the approaching cropping
season — Rice in middle May and Sugarcane later.
The water crisis has also forced Sindh to reduce
the tentative target for rice cultivation area by almost 80 per cent
from 630,000 hectares to 500,000 hectares. While Basmati, the aromatic
rice known for its flavour the worldover, is grown only in Punjab,
Sindh contributes significantly in the production of IRRI, an
inexpensive variety which enjoys great demand in many price-driven
markets around the world.
Of the total 5.1556 million tonnes rice, another
record, produced in the country during 1999-2000, 41 per cent or 2.123
million tonnes was produced in Sindh. This primarily comprised of IRRI
6 variety. The importance of IRRI, despite lack of demand in the
domestic market, can be attributed to two factors primarily. Number
one, its wide spread use as flour by the people in rural areas and
huge surplus available for exports. According to an estimate some
500,000-600,000 tonnes of the total 2 million tonnes of IRRI produced
in the country is used as a flour domestically while another 1.2-1.5
million tonnes was available for exports.
With the rice sowing season still a good two months
away, and the relevant authorities preoccupied with the cotton season
at present, the measures are also taken to enforce the long-placed but
hardly implemented ban on rice cultivation on the Left Bank of Indus.
This is aimed at ensuring the best possible water availability for the
crops under the existing circumstances. However, farmers will be
encouraged to sow cotton, jawar, sun flower, onion and other
vegetables in the perennial areas to help lessen the resultant
shortfall in rice cultivation. The ban will be strictly implemented
this time around in the said area which totals some 100,000 acres.
The water crisis is also feared to take a heavy
toll on the fruit production particularly mango — which enjoys
immense demand not only in the domestic market but also fetches top
dollars in the international market. Thousands of many orchards across
the province are suffering for lack of water at a time with the start
of ripening season. The same is true for banana and vegetables like
Lady Finger (Okra), chillies, etc.
The Contingency Plan prepared by Sindh Agriculture
Department has made a suggestion to install a total of 10,000 tube
wells, half of them by the public sector at the head of canals,
distributaries and water courses to supplement irrigation water. As 60
per cent of Sindh lies in arid zone this will ensure the availability
of sweet water necessary for the irrigation needs.
The proposals calls for installation of another
5,000 tube wells in the private sector by providing a subsidy of Rs
40,000 per tube well to the farmers. The government share for this
will be Rs 200 million.
The acute water shortage has made the relevant
authorities to look at other measures including 'zero tillage' —
sowing seeds without the traditional pre-sowing preparation to take
the optimum advantage of the wet soil. 'Zero tillage' technique has
been used successfully for the wheat in Rabi. The farmers in limited
areas of Sindh was encouraged to drill the wheat seeds directly into
the soil without any soil preparation to use the water available in
the field after the rice fields. The water-judicious technique not
only resulted in the saving of water, time and labour but also
resulted in 10-15 per cent increase in per hectare yield. However,
'zero tillage' was done entirely on experimental basis and thus
remained a choice of handful of wealthy landlords as it can only be
done mechanically by adding the drills on the tractors.
The current water crisis necessitates the need for
better informed choices not only on the part of relevant authorities
but also on the part of farmers to make the judicious use of water,
the demand for which is bound to triple with the beginning of rice and
sugarcane cropping seasons a few months from now. The crisis should be
seen as a blessing in disguise to induct technology best suited to
meet the challenge.