THE pace at which Sindh’s farmers have adopted modernisation has been pathetically slow. As a result, the desired per-acre productivity has not been achieved despite the fact that Sindh has huge potential.
It is only some progressive farmers or those with large landholdings who tend to adopt advanced practices.
But small and medium size farmers are not able to keep pace with changing agricultural practices for one reason or the other. They cite lack of finances as one of the main reasons that hampers their growth potential.
Advanced farm practices are an essential prerequisite to ensure better productivity. Among them are the lining of watercourses, use of laser land levelling technology, high-efficiency irrigation systems, preparation of raised beds in land, mechanised harvesters, etc.
The use of laser-levelling equipment or lined watercourses is quite common in other countries, but in Sindh it has only been introduced in the recent past.
The lining of watercourses started on a large scale a decade and half ago when the National Programme for Improvement of Watercourses (NPIW) was launched to line 65,000 watercourses. Nearly 16,000 watercourses were lined in a single project against Sindh’s share of 29,000. The remainder were dropped due to resource constraints.
A lined watercourse saves 30 per cent water losses and improves the speed of flows.
Sindh started a foreign-funded project in which 30pc length of 1,421 watercourses were lined until January 2014 on a cost-sharing basis. Around 47,000 watercourses exist at that time in Sindh. Newer ones have added as well. Now, additional lining is planned for 739 watercourses whose 30pc length was previously lined under the annual development programme (ADP) for the previous fiscal year.
Climate change factor has placed Pakistan among water-stressed countries and Sindh, being a lower riparian province, faces severe water shortage more often than not
Separately, 5,500 watercourses would be lined by 2021 under the Rs18.7bn World Bank-funded Sindh Irrigated Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Project (SIAPEP). Officials say that against the target of 800 in the 2016-17 season, 817 new watercourses were lined with 76pc-to-24pc cost-sharing between farmers and the government.
In the current season, 1,035 watercourses are to be lined. Climate change factor has placed Pakistan among water-stressed countries and Sindh, being a lower riparian province, faces severe water shortage more often than not. This makes watercourse lining all the more essential here.
“I remember that when I started lining at my farm, labourers resisted it on various grounds. Today they press me to have watercourses lined first,” says Imdad Nizamani, a progressive mango and banana orchard owner. “If development in other countries like Australia is any yardstick, we are far away from technological advancement.”
Likewise, laser land levelling was not preferred by farmers in Sindh until a decade ago despite the fact that it was a precursor to soil and crop management because it enhances productivity.
As compared to conventional land-levelling practices, laser levellers reduce time, save irrigation water in land preparation, ensure uniformity water distribution, help increase per-acre productivity, lead to better germination ratio and fertiliser application, etc.
Under conventional land levelling practices, the land remains uneven, whereas the decades-old practice of flood irrigation leads to over- or under-irrigation of land.
“We are slow in adopting technology. Developed countries have now started using satellite-based technology for fertiliser application and water, getting information for weather patterns driven by climate change,” says Mahmood Nawaz Shah, a progressive farmer and growers’ leader from the lower Sindh region.
Laser levellers are being distributed under the SIAPEP on a cost-sharing basis. Around 890 of levellers were distributed until August 2017 against the target of 1,100. These 1,100 were to be distributed until 2021 and it shows that farmers have started using this equipment. Given its increasing demand, project authorities are seeking finances for another 400 levellers.
According to them, demand for levellers is mostly coming from areas like Mirpurkhas, Badin, Sanghar, Tando Allahyar and Matiari districts which are left-bank areas and fed by the perennial system of irrigation.
“In upper Sindh, landowners have yet to show inclination for it. Unfortunately, we have absentee landlords in Sindh and their lands are managed by others or their managers,” says a senior agriculture engineering officer.
Ahmed Zeeshan Bhatti, an Islamabad-based official of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, says farmers in Punjab have made levellers’ use mandatory as they save 50pc water and give equal moisture to soil and reduce farmer’s cost of production.
Similarly, drip and sprinkler system also saves water to a considerable extent because it provides water. However, farmers believe that one reason why growers are not using it is perhaps its operation and maintenance cost. Drip system’s provision is a part of the SIAPEP for 35,000 acres in Sindh, but farmers believe that their share of cost is unrealistic.
Haji Nadeem Shah, a farmer from Matiari, installed the drip irrigation system on 14 acres around seven years ago at a cost of Rs1.4m on a cost-sharing basis under a project. However, he had to discontinue it on account of energy crisis, electricity tariff and cost of wear and tear.
“We can’t afford it. Sometimes there’s no electricity for 16 hours on an average and we also don’t get spare parts,” he said.