Rabi sowing faces water shortage

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

By Mohammad Hussain Khan

GROWERS have started Rabi sowing on the right bank of the Indus amidst the flood ravaged irrigation infrastructure. They are hoping against hope to get the required water for the crop. Sindh irrigation officials claim that work on plugging of breaches in various canals on the right bank is being undertaken, and they will be able to provide water by December and January. However, the growers are sceptical about their claim. Wheat sowing has started in katcha area of the Indus down and upstream on right and left banks which would get the advantage of silt deposits brought by floods. The crop would be sown on soil`s moisture. The right bank, which is otherwise known for paddy production, also produces wheat. Other crops like oilseed, pulses and gram are also grown here. Growers say that this year Rabi crop cultivation in flood-hit areas would be a daunting task where water availability is the main problem.

The irrigation department had initially assessed an expenditure of Rs13-14 billion to bring the canal system to pre-flood position in the right bank area. The department had shared details of the expenditure with the World Bank on the work to be started immediately including expenses required for raising the heights of the bunds and their pitching at a cost of around Rs51-52 billion.

Abadgars of upper Sindh are poised to get water for cultivation of Rabi crop. Some of them approached over phone said that provision of irrigation water was an uphill task as far as damages to main canals, their distributaries and minors were concerned in areas fed by Sukkur and Guddu barrages. Thatta is the only district which is hit by floods on the left bank of Indus and is fed by Kotri`s barrage system.

Sindh`s irrigation secretary Rafiq Memon, who visited the area, said that the first water for Rabi cultivation would be made available in Guddu barrage`s areas by January as work on Begari-Sindh (BS) feeder, an off-taking canal of Guddu barrage, is going on. “Similarly work has also been started in Keer Thar and Saifullah Magsi canals system of Sukkur barrage,” he said.

He hoped that 30 to 40 per cent of water would be made available to growers in perennial areas during the current Rabi season. He said priority would be given to plug breaches in the main canal and their branches to make water supply possible. “By January and February the required cycle of water will hopefully be ensured,” Memon said.

Irrigation officials argue that for Rabi crop the required quantum of water is not that big and the positive aspect is that the soil has the right moisture needed for the cultivation of the crop. Growers, however, are not convinced by such official claims..

Imdad Sarki is one such grower of right bank. He irrigates his lands through Naseer branch that emanates from BS feeder in Thull taluka – worst hit in floods – of Jacobabad district which depended on Guddu barrage system. “We don`t see any prospect of getting water for our crop as no repair work has started in our area,” he said.

This year he is not cultivating wheat as he is sure of not getting water. Last year he had cultivated wheat on 1,200 acres. Now he has decided to grow oilseed and gram taking advantage of the existing moisture in the soil. “I don`t see any chances of water in our area before June and July`s Kharif,” he said confidently.

A paddy grower Arif Mahesar, who represents paddy producers as well as rice millers of Sindh, is also not sowing Rabi crop on the right bank of Indus fearing water shortage. “Water channels are completely destroyed and I see no repair work in the area,” he said.

Situation in Thatta district, fed by Kotri barrage, is the same where Pinyari and its branch Daro canal are lying dry. Sunflower is being sown in katcha area and is giving positive results. Haji Nadeem Shah, who owns land in the area, said that lateral and sub-lateral canals of the two canals – Pinyari and its branch Daro – needed water because growers sow pulses, wheat and rapeseed there. “We will be in a difficult position when we need water after sowing the crop. Irrigation officials must accelerate pace of work to ensure availability of water on time,” he said.

When irrigation secretary was asked whether any issue of logistics was being faced by the department, he said no and replied confidently that machinery has been mobilised. He said water level was receding fast. Irrigation officials would work hard to ensure availability of water so that growers were able to have a good Rabi crop.

However, Sukkur barrage right bank chief engineer Agha Ejaz has ruled out the possibility of Rabi sowing in Keer Thar and Saifullah Magsi canal systems before December 31 given the fact that countless breaches were to be plugged there. “People are, however, sowing the crops on the strength of soil`s moisture,” he said.

He described access as the main issue in plugging breaches, adding that floodwater is receding in 230 kilometres stretch gradually where work would be started soon.

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