Kharif sowing faces water shortage

Post Source: Dawn economic and Business Review (May 31 to June 2, 2010)

By Saleem Shaikh


Cultivating Kharif crops in Sindh is posing a daunting challenge for growers, particularly in downstream Kotri Barrage areas due to acute water shortage. Farmers complain that Guddu, Sukkur and Kotri barrages are not getting water flows as per the 1991 Water Accord. On May 24, Sindh Irrigation Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah informed the Provincial Assembly that Irsa had predicted 18 per cent water shortage for Sindh for the Kharif season which has now reached 46-50 per cent.
According to official reports, the average upstream discharge at Sukkur Barrage in May 2010 was recorded at 34,130 cusecs, down from 43,800 cusecs allocated under the 1991 Water Accord. Kotri barrage’s upstream flow during the month remained 5,700 cusecs, down from 21,700 cusecs.
The water shortage is severe in the province, particularly in lower Sindh where Kharif season begins from April 15 and ends on June 15. Growers of Sanghar, Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas, Thatta, Badin and Umerkot have not started sowing so far.
Thatta, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Tharparkar and Sanghar are major Kharif crops growing districts of the lower Sindh and they together account for a lion’s share in the overall cotton, sugarcane and chili production of the province.
Farmers fear that late sowing will not only affect per acre yield but also cause pest attack on the crops, particularly white fly and mealy bug,” said Nawaz Memon, General Secretary of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB). “Cotton crop is more susceptible to a viral attack in case of late sowing.”
Tail-end farmers in Umerkot, Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar districts whose farmlands are fed on the Nara Canal claimed they have not brought even an acre under chili and cotton cultivation because their waterways have not received water as yet.
At present, the Nara Canal is getting 8,000 cusecs of water against the requirement of 16,000 cusecs.
“We are already 45-50 days late for growing chilli, cotton and maize. Even if our farmlands get water now, we will be able to bring only 30-35 per cent of our lands under these crops,” said Karim Rajput, a tail-end chilli farmer in Umerkot district.

In upper Sindh too, it is estimated that Kharif crops sowing may record over 50 per cent fall, where sowing kicks off from May 1 and continues till June 30.
Office-bearers of growers’ bodies say that neither cotton nor the rice has been sown in upper Sindh as yet for want of water. However, paddy farmers in some areas of Larkana, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Shikarpur and Dadu districts have just started plantation of seedlings amid fears that their nurseries would ruin if seedlings fail to receive water any time soon.
Rice and Dadu canals irrigate around 529,000 and 500,000 acres respectively with 14,500 cusecs and 5,400 cusecs respective discharge capacities from the head at the Sukkur barrage.

Although these two major canals in upper Sindh should have started flowing from mid-May, they have not received any water from the Sukkur barrage as yet.
Tail-end areas of the rice belt being fed by waterways originating from the Rice and Dadu canals wear a ‘no-water’ look, which in fact points to the worst kind of Kharif season ever faced by the growers in upper Sindh. Since early Kharif season is almost over, the growers are now waiting to cultivate at least two important crops of the season – rice and cotton.
Sindh Abadgar Board President Abdul Majeed Nizamani terms the water shortage situation as ‘quasi famine’. He says the Kotri Barrage’s Phulelli and Pinyari canals are exclusively meant for paddy and they both require 30,000 cusecs for paddy sowing on 2.1 million acres in lower Sindh. But these two canals are flowing at 20 per cent of their capacities.

He predicts that production of cotton, rice and sugarcane would fall by 40, 50 and 55 per cent respectively in Sindh.
Small farmers are victims of the water shortage because of persisting irregularities in water distribution. Though subsistence farmers are the major contributor to the province’s overall farm and livestock production, they are the worst suffers. Irsa’s Advisory Committee estimated that water availability for the country during Kharif season would be around 99.2 million acre feet, out of which 29.9 MAF water would be available for Sindh instead of 33.4 MAF envisaged in the 1991 Water Accord.
In view water shortage, Irsa also urged the provincial irrigation departments to ensure fair distribution and economical use of irrigation water for achieving the provincial Kharif targets. But Sindh irrigation department officials took no precautionary measures to reduce water theft and illegal diversion.
The acute water shortage can be overcome by water conservancy measures, introduction of modern irrigation technology and application of better crop management practices.

But Idris Rajput, former provincial irrigation secretary, says the government lacks capacity to reduce water losses, which he puts at 30-35 per cent. “Some 15 per cent of irrigation water is lost in canals, eight per cent in branches and 20 per cent due to poor land-levelling,” he said. This can only be done by capacity building of the irrigation department’s officials and revamping of the ailing irrigation network.

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