Before the heavy rains, rapidly increasing water scarcity had put a strain on the richest rice-growing region. The yield is expected to be lower than last year.
In Sindh, the paddy (Kharif) planting season started after April and is now about to end. However, the Qader Bux Soomro rice field is not yet ready for cultivation. The Soomro land is located near the main Karachi-Islamkot Thar coal road in Badin district, southern Sindh.
Due to climate change, water scarcity has become a growing concern in southern Sindh. In the districts of Badin, Thatta and Sujawal, fertile land is turning into desert. “I had a lot of trouble growing the seedlings for the 20-acre field. After the settlement, we found that there was not enough water available,” says Qader Bux Soomro, 50, who grows various crops including upper delta crops on 200 acres of land. He says, “The severe water shortage has been devastating. “The seedlings were drained before they could grow.” Rain remains the only hope, but it will not be enough for such agriculture.
Zohaib Ali Bughio, researcher and gold medalist, investigates the possible enhancement of zinc and its bioavailability in rice grains in relation to zinc malnutrition in human sustainability at the Department of Soil Science, University of Sindh agriculture, Tando Jam. He is also pursuing a doctorate at Nanjing University of Agriculture, China. Bhugio says the paddy crop situation in Sindh is alarming. “Due to the worsening of the climatic situation, the areas of paddy are decreasing. Farmers lose their assets.
“The rice farming community is under double pressure. On the one hand, the government has stopped paddy cultivation due to the unavailability of water. On the other hand, growers face disastrous natural events,” says Bughio. He adds that “where water is accessible, rice cultivation has been banned”.
Pakistan is listed as the world’s 11th largest rice producer. Sindh is one of the major producers of non-aromatic rice varieties. Rice is an essential cash crop in national savings after wheat cultivation and the textile industry. The worldgrain.com reports that according to a report by the Global Agricultural Information Network, Pakistan grew a record rice crop of 8.9 million tonnes in the 2021-22 marketing year, up from 8.4 million tonnes in the year former.
Southern Sindh was once recognized as a hub for red rice fields. Soomro who owns 500 acres is not alone in his struggles. Tens of thousands of rice farmers are disappointed. They fear that the water shortage will cause a drought-like situation and devastate agriculture. Rice is a water-consuming crop. It must stay flooded to survive. This is why the Sindh government banned the cultivation of paddy last year.
Water scarcity is also an important factor in the global climate crisis; ultimately, this impacts crop production, especially rice yields. “We know that rice is a crop from the upper delta. It needs plenty of water. Previously, there was a severe water deficit all over Sindh, mainly in Lower Sindh,” says Riaz Dayo, Deputy Secretary of Department of Agriculture, Supply and Prices, who retired there. a few months old. “When water is not available for drinking, how will farmers farm?” he asks. He is hopeful, however, and says, “An improvement in water availability is expected. We will overcome this crisis.
The Indus River is an important irrigation system, a source of supply for agricultural fields as well as drinking water for around 40 million people in Sindh. The people of Sindh have depended on the river for thousands of years.
In Pakistan, more than 90% of water is consumed by agriculture. The country is the third country on the planet to experience considerable water stress. According to the IMF, UNDP and the Pakistan Water Resources Research Council, there is a high chance of water scarcity by 2025.
Abdul Sattar, another small landowner from Sallar Soomro, lives in uncertainty. He says, “We are already facing risks growing other crops due to severe water shortage. If the situation worsens, we will have an absolute shortage of water.
Sattar complains, “There are a lot of flaws in the water distribution. In addition, our entire irrigation system has become obsolete. It does not support small producers. He adds: “The big landowners in the region are depriving the small producers. Poor water management aggravates the crisis and must be addressed quickly.
Bhugio says, “Previously, the water table was within the normal range, and the absorption and movement of water was balanced. Now the water has been pushed lower from the ground surface due to temperature fluctuations and less rainfall. It’s because of climate change. »
The researcher fears that the climate crisis will further aggravate the situation. He urges all stakeholders to understand that the country is on the brink of food shortage.
In the old days, one could tell from the scent of Sugdasi that biryani was on the menu. Sindh has already almost lost its local varieties, mainly Sugdasi rice harvested in Dadu and Johi regions. Bhugio thinks there is no alternative to this rice crop. He adds, “Sindh is a big producer of non-aromatic rice varieties, such as Erri 6, Erri 8. Aromatic varieties, especially Basmati rice, are widely grown in Punjab.
Changing weather conditions and extreme temperatures have led to a decline in average rice production. “In the past, the average was 50 to 60 mamond yield per acre, now it’s dropped 30 mamond. This is not only due to a shortage of water, but also due to the availability of fertilizer absorption,” says Bhugio. Disappointed, he adds: “Pakistan is an agricultural country. Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy. Despite the fact, there is a lack of incisive agricultural policies.
In Sindh, the rice belt is divided into upper and lower regions. The upper region is a monoculture area and depends on rice. The lower region, comprising Badin, Thatta and Sujahal is an area of multiple cultures. Rice represents 2.7% of the added value of agro-industry and 0.6% of GDP. It is the main source of income for farming communities.
Rice is a heat-sensitive crop requiring close monitoring, according to the researcher. All stages are crucial and require care and perfect conditions to produce a good yield.
Sajjan Meghwar, a landless local, says his ancestors were rice farmers. He used to farm in the fields where we met. He grazes goats now because the once fertile fields have become barren. Taking a few clay stones and small wooden sticks in his hand, he points to the arid field and laments that it is too difficult to survive under such circumstances.
“At the beginning it was quite difficult to do something new, but now I have completely accepted it”,
Qader Soomro says “we need equitable and timely water distribution”. He adds that “agricultural spending has increased. Seeds, machinery, urea fertilizers, pesticides and other related expenses have not been in our hands. Farmers are worried. Many will not be able to continue rice cultivation in the coming seasons. »
Farmers are hoping the weather will show them leniency this time.
The writer is a Based in Hyderabad environmental journalist