Monday, December 27, 2010

Flood-hit growers in wilderness

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 27, 2010

WHILE the Rabi season is drawing to a close, a vast majority of poor growers in all flood-hit districts of Sindh are yet to get the government`s promised farm inputs free of cost.

When contacted, provincial agriculture department officials said serious efforts were being made to provide the required farm inputs to affected growers free of cost as the government was well aware of the consequences of delayed sowing. Free distribution of fartilisers and seeds have started in some districts.

“As the recent floods had inundated standing crops on 2.2 million acres and caused losses to the tune of Rs102 billion to the agriculture sector, a hefty amount is needed to put things in place,” remarked a senior official in the finance department.

However, they said that delivery of farm inputs was being delayed for want of funds while a provincial minister said that the federal government has given the pledged sum of money.

Meanwhile, growers have cautioned the government that wheat acreage would shrink if the pledged free farm inputs were not distributed among the genuine and deserving farmers without further delay.

The wheat sowing season in Sindh begins from first week of November and ends on December 30.

The provincial government had recently announced to have drawn up Rs3.36 billion Rabi Assistance Plan (RAP) for the recovery of badly hit agriculture sector in flood inundated areas. But, delay in implementing the plan has been adding to the misery of the growers, who want to cultivate their land that remained unaffected or where the floodwater has receded at the earliest.

The growers of Kamber-Shahdadkot, Dadu, Khairpur Nathanshah, Naushero Feroz, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sukkur Ghotki and Jacobabad districts, who suffered heavy flood losses, badly need assistance. They have also fulfilled the necessary requirements and have completed all requisite paperwork.

“Yet, the government officials are making all sorts of excuses to avoid delivery of inputs to these farmers for reasons best known to them,” said Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

“It is a `do or die` situation for the poor farmers, who have lost everything in the floods but the government officials are dragging their feet on the issue,” he remarked, urging them to have pity on the hapless farmers.

A senior finance department official said that the estimated cost of the Rabi Assistance Plan was Rs3.36 billion, to be equally funded by the federal and the Sindh governments.

“Though the federal government has released its share of fund for initiating RAP, the distribution of farm inputs has started only in some districts,” Sharmila Farooqui, Advisor to the Sindh Chief Minister, told this scribe.

Meanwhile, reports of mismanagement and embezzlement have started coming in from the districts where the disbursement of free seed and fertiliser has started.

Some growers of Rabi crops, waiting to obtain the farm input, have alleged that farm inputs were being distributed among undeserving growers.

Having failed to get the Rabi assistance from the Jacobabad district government, Rustam Khoso, a poor farmer from Ghulam Mustafa Khoso village, attempted self-immolation outside the Jacobabad Press Club, but was saved by a police personnel.

Khoso alleged that “instead of distributing farm inputs among flood-hit small landholders, the agriculture department officials are giving inputs to landholders and those with political clout.”

Members of the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) in Jacobabad told this scribe on phone that wheat seed and fertiliser were distributed among some affected farmers during the first two weeks of December, but the supply was later stopped by the district revenue officials for reasons best known to them. Nevertheless, the process of distribution of farm inputs among influential large landholders continues secretly during night hours, they alleged.

The alleged injustice on the part of the district government officials also led to highway blockades during the third week of this month.

Agha Jan Akhtar, provincial agriculture secretary, rejected the allegations of embezzlement in distribution of free farm inputs. “A few complaints have been received about enlisting of some fake farmers. The government has formed a committee to probe such cases and resolve such issues on a priority basis,” he said.

Meanwhile, reports of sporadic protests of farmers still continue to come from different parts of Sukkur, Ghotki, Kambar, Shikarpur, Shahdadkot, Larkana and Dadu, against delay in supply of promised relief.


Sindh’s damaged roads hamper rice trading

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 13, 2010

BECAUSE of standing floodwater and broken road networks, paddy growers in Sindh are facing enormous problem in transporting their produce to rice mills.

Consequently, the rice mill owners have also not been able to gear up rice processing on account of slow arrival of paddy at their mills.

This year paddy was cultivated over 1.15 million acres in Sindh, which is 72 per cent of the sowing target of 1.6 million acres. The production target for rice was set at 2.052 million tons..

According to the provincial government, around 30 per cent of the paddy crop survived the recent floods. “Paddy crop worth over Rs60 billion cultivated over an area of around 0.7-0.8 million acres was completely washed away,” said a provincial agriculture department official.

Agriculture department officials have estimated a shortage of around 1.7 million tons of rice this year, as production expected from the unaffected paddy crop on 0.3-0.4 million acres will be around 0.3 million tons.

Economic activities pick up in rice growing areas of the province during four months of the rice harvesting season, which begins from August every year. But, this time the situation is dismal as rice millers have not witnessed any healthy activity on account of slow and delayed arrival of the produce. There are around 850 rice mills in Sindh, but only a few of them have started functioning so far.

“Nearly 80 per cent or 680 rice mills were fully operational by mid-November last year. But, this season their number was 140-150 by the beginning of this December,” said members of the Sindh-Balochistan Rice Millers Association (SBRMA).

They said that as only 20-30 per cent paddy output was available, more or less 200 mills would be able to go into production.

However, Nabi Khan Brohi, a noted paddy grower in Shikarpur district, said arrival of paddy at mills could improve if floodwater was flushed out and broken roads were repaired without any further delay. But, nothing is taking place in this regard, he complained.

Officials in the provincial roads and communications department estimate that around 1,800 kilometres of provincial (highway) roads and 4,500 kilometres of district roads have been damaged. About Rs38-40 billion is needed for their rehabilitation, for which the required fund is not available.

Rice millers say that they have suffered serious financial losses, their mills were hit by floods and tons of last year’s stored rice and seed in the mills were damaged. Owners of such affected mills are unable to begin rice processing.

“Around 200 rice mills in the province are still under floodwater. The owners of these mills have suffered economic losses worth billions of rupees, ” said Siraj Rashdi, president of the Larkana chapter of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

Some rice millers also complain that paddy arriving at their mills is generally damaged and of poor quality. They also said that it was financially unviable to run these mills because growers were demanding Rs1,000-1,200/ 40 kg for irri-6 paddy, which is unaffordable for them.

Growers argue that since the cost of farm input and transportation charges have soared, they cannot sell their produce at official rate.

The millers are reluctant to pick up paddy at prices demanded by the growers. They are reported to have been buying paddy at Rs800-Rs900 per maund. Each miller, on an average, procures 70,000-80,000 maunds of paddy every year.

According to rice millers’ association, each rice miller employs 80-90 workers on a daily basis during the paddy harvesting season. But, this time thousands of labourers are bound to remain unemployed.


Improving access to safe drinking water

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, December 20, 2010

DESPITE different programmes launched to provide safe drinking water in Sindh, access to potable water for a sizeable population has not improved. Instead, the situation has deteriorated gradually.

A majority in the province are still without safe drinking water. Water experts blame corruption, inefficient planning and implementation, and poor quality infrastructure for the grim situation. “Most of the projects are malfunctioning or have become dysfunctional due to poor implementation and maintenance, and negligence,” they said.

Survey reports of Unicef, ADB and WB show that only 20-25 per cent population of Sindh has access to safe drinking water. About 65 per cent people in countryside and 35 per cent in urban areas have no access to clean drinking water.

But, some local water experts believe the situation more depressing. They say that 10-15 per cent rural people and less than 25 per cent in urban areas have access to safe drinking water.

In Sindh, 87 per cent of households use improved sources for drinking water and 13 per cent unimproved, according to the Unicef`s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).

`Improved sources` include piped water in the household (31 per cent) or from a public tap (eight per cent), water from hand pump (35 per cent), donkey pump/turbine ( six per cent) or borehole ( four per cent). The `unimproved sources` (13 per cent) comprise unprotected dug well, river or stream and other (e.g., tanker truck and tractor- pulled tanker).

The MICS survey, however, points out that the `improved source` of water does not necessarily imply safety. There is potential contamination from pumps and wells, especially outside the household. Even piped water quality can be compromised by leakage and, in certain situations, come from suspect sources such as stagnant water.

There are major differences for sources in urban and rural areas. In urban centres the improved sources account for 93 per cent, of which piped water in the household (66 per cent) is most common. In rural areas this stands at 83 per cent, where the dependence is mainly on hand pumps (53 per cent) followed by public standpipe (11 per cent), piped water (eight per cent), donkey pump (five per cent) and protected well/ponds (four per cent), according to MICS findings.

Consumption of unsafe and contaminated water pushes up expenditures on health bills because of water-borne diseases. Availability of contaminated water to the people, particularly the poor, increases their living costs, lower their income earning potential, damage their well-being and make life riskier.

The continuing deterioration of the surface and underground water sources on which people survive means that water pressures will simply become worse in future,” remarked Munawar Memon.

“The lack of water infrastructure for the poor forces them to buy water from water-vendors at high prices, walking long distances and waiting in long queues at public sources, and incurring additional costs for storing and boiling water,” admits a senior official in the provincial public health engineering department (PHED).

“This lack of suitable and affordable access to water, leaves people consuming less than the optimum amount of water for good hygiene and impacts health and labour productivity of the household members, reducing income-generating opportunities of such households,” remarked Ghulam Haider Birhamani, a water expert.

“Most of filtration plants installed under the multi-billion rupees `Clean Drinking Water for All` (CDWI) have failed to provide relief to the intended beneficiaries.

According to official reports, most of the filter plants in different parts of the province are mal-functioning, because these developed faults in their first year of installation. Besides, some have become entirely dysfunctional because of poor maintenance and negligence.

As many as 1,108 plants of different treatment capacities (2,000 and 4,000 gallons per hour) were approved for Sindh at a cost of Rs2.4 billion under Rs23.8 billion CDWA project.

The CDWI progress report available with this scribe shows that so far 360 water filter plants have been installed in different union councils of the province, but 227 of them are inoperative.

Conceived in 2004 and executed by the federal environment ministry in 2006, the CDWA project was launched in the year 2006 and was to be completed in November 2010 to provide clean drinking water to the residents of 40 districts across the country, 23 districts of them in Sindh. Relevant officials said that unnecessary delay in procurement of specified water filtration plants has harmed the efforts for timely implementation of the project.

Director Provincial Project Implementation Unit (PPIU) of CDWA, Abdul Raheem Shaikh, said: “A contract for setting up plants in different parts of the province was awarded in 2007, but those responsible failed to procure the specified water filtration plants in time, which caused undue delay in the initiation of work on the CDWA project. Only 360 plants could be set up in three or so years. In fact, all 1108 plants would have been installed and in operation by now.”

“At the time of awarding contract, it was agreed with the contracting firm that Italian filtration plants would be procured. But, it failed in doing so and provided local plants, which were poor in quality and much cheaper than those made by Italy,” he explained.

Financing Rabi Sowing

By Saleem Shaikh

Monday, 18 Oct, 2010 | 01:14 AM PST |

THE Sindh government’s efforts to boost Rabi cultivation may receive a setback if banks do not fully cater to the credit needs of the flood-ravaged growers.

Farmers complain that banks are risk-averse facing financial squeeze, particularly due to the recent sharp increase in their non-performing loans in agriculture sector, which has been devastated by the floods.

While significant amount of standing Kharif crops, farming machines, seed stocks for Rabi crops and fertilisers have been washed away, the farmers are less likely to be able to undertake Rabi sowing on their own. And, therefore, “financial assistance for the flood-hit farmers is a must,” the agriculture economists believe.

Displaced by the ravaging floods, the financially-battered farmers are willing to go back to their fields and get engaged in Rabi sowing. But, they need seed, fertiliser, DAP, pesticides and farming tools for ploughing and land leveling, for which they should have an easy access to financial support.

Reports that growers are facing obstacles in obtaining credit loans from banks in flood-ravaged districts of the province have surfaced recently. Farmer leaders say, “when they visit banks for farm credit they are discouraged in different ways.”

“Bank officials tell farmers that they have been directed not to sanction any credit without valid guarantees,” said a farmer. “Other than government, who else can provide guarantees to such hapless farmers who have lost everything and are now penniless,” he questions.

“In this hour of need these farmers are looking towards the government to rescue them from the misery with financial support for raising their crops,” said Akhund Ghulam Mohammad, general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture.

On September 24, following deliberation on reviving flood-hit agriculture in Sindh between the provincial government and the State Bank governor, banks were approached to provide agriculture loans to flood-hit farmers. But the banks, in a reply to the provincial planning and development department’s request, questioned the government’s proposal and said it did not meet (banks’) certain criteria for sanctioning loans.

“They ask for surety measures,” said an official in the economic planning section of the provincial P&DD.

Another official in the provincial finance department said that the provincial government had brought the matter of banks’ reluctance to farm credit to the notice of the SBP and asked it to help sort out the matter.

Meanwhile, the provincial government has also tried to know banks’ viewpoint through the SBP if they would provide loans to farmers against ‘Form VII’ (ownership deed) and possession certificates supported with guarantees and undertakings from the provincial revenue department; and that the farmers’ passbooks would be issued to them within specified time, a senior official in the provincial revenue department said.

But the banks, an official told this scribe, have declined to accept such proposals. Instead, they have demanded record of average sales value over three years, number of produce index units (PIUs) and credit history of borrowers, which would help the lending banks to evaluate value of farm land to be offered as collateral.

An official in a bank’s main branch in Karachi said the banks had refused to accept the ownership deed on the ground that it was not possible to verify it as the revenue record of the flood-hit farmers might have been destroyed.

He said that banks feared default on such risk-prone farm loans and subsequent litigations against the defaulting farmers. The proposed undertaking by the provincial Board of Revenue (BoR) would not have any legal validity in establishing their claim over a property in a court of law.

In the first week of October, an official in the central bank’s farm credit department conveyed to provincial P&DD secretary Naheed Durrani that the banks would sanction loans to farmers only if the government furnished a ‘provisional credit surety’ to banks up to the loan amount in conjunction with the markup till the time the charge was created on the passbook in favour of the banks in conformity with the Commercial and Industrial Purposes Act 1973.

One of the major reasons behind the banks’ evident wariness towards loaning the farming sector is that recent floods have raised the NPLs, said a senior bank official.

The central bank estimates these NPLs to be over Rs28 billion, according to the preliminary data of the SBP.

The bankers say that the flood-hit agriculture sector is in the worst shape, which needs a hefty amount for revival. “Not only have the infrastructure but also the land been ravaged by the deluge. It means preparation of the land for cultivation would be a difficult task and will not be possible without huge financial investments. However, it is not going to happen until the government ensures its increased and active participation,” they opined.

Officials in the provincial agriculture department state: “We have chalked out a plan for the revival of farmlands in the province from where over 60-65 farmers took refugee after the deluge battered their crops and villages. But, the ‘agriculture revival plan’ will be of no use if the farmers fail to get hassle-free access to farm credit on low markup.”

Available on Dawn Newspaper's website:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Water and Sanitation problem in Coastal Village on Western Sindh border

By Saleem Shaikh
THE Dam fishing area of Lasbella district, some 90 kilometres northwest of Karachi, once used to be a busy fish-landing site and a scenic eco-tourism point in Balochistan.

It was also the centre of economic activity, with the lowest level of poverty and unemployment in the province. Thousands of tons of fish catch was unloaded every day at the area’s only jetty, known as Dam Jetty, and transported to Karachi and other parts of the country.

In the past, over 2,000 large fishing vessels and hundreds of small boats would berth at the Dam Jetty every week and unload tons of fish catch. Over 30,000 locals used to earn their livelihood from the economic activities at the jetty, according to official reports.

Many local people were also involved in the profession of boat-making and earning their livelihood. Unfortunately, the demand for boats is at its lowest ebb owing to the dwindling fishing activities. Around 85 per cent of boat-makers have lost their jobs and switched over to other professions, Ali Ahmed, a former boat-maker, said.

“This is due to, among other reasons, the depleting stocks of fish in the sea as a result of excessive catch and use of nets of prohibited bore,” said Salam Maheri, an official of the federal marine fisheries department.

Because of damaging fishing practices, the coastal waters which had enormous marine fish, have very little stock, said Ali Hasnain, a WWF – Pakistan’s Marine Coastal Development consultant.

The fishing boat owners estimate around 70 per cent drop in fish catch over the last two months. They said: “The situation grew alarming since the big investors stepped in the fishing activities at the cost of small fishermen. They particularly used prohibited nets, commonly known as Bullo, Gujjo and wire net, wherein even the smallest fish would get caught,” he said. A visit to the area indicates that restricted nets were being used by fishermen as heaps of small fish are littered around the landing site and being destroyed.

“When we small boat owners go for fishing only small fish are netted,” said Nabi Baloch, a fisherman of the area. “Although small fish never fetch good prices in local markets, they are in high demand by chicken feed factories.

Pir Bux, member of the MIT, said that a 40kg container of Pomfret of small size usually fetches around Rs6,000-8,000. But the same quantity fish when one-foot large, would fetch Rs80,000.

“In fact, small nets are banned in the area but big investors, with strong links with political clout, use them with impunity,” he said.

Many of them hold the area fisheries department officials responsible for unlawful fishing practices. Fisheries experts say that because of inappropriate fishing practices, some of 350 fish species of high economic value found in the coastal waters of the area, are gradually becoming extinct.

At present, pomfret, shrimp, Indian threadfin, black seabream, mullets, spotted croaker, barramundi, requiem, shark, grouper, croaker, crab, species of jellyfish are found in these coastal waters.

“Absence of basic facilities, modern speeding boats, proper roads and cleanliness in the area have dealt a hard blow to eco-tourism activities and only a few people visit the area now,” said Master Abdul Rasheed of Sonmiani Development Organisation.

Non-availability of potable water is a major problem for some 10,000 families living in the Dam fishing village. “We have to spend a hefty amount of our hard-earned money for buying drinking water, which is brought from Karachi through tankers,” said Rafiq Baloch, a local fisherman, who hardly earns Rs140-160 a day.

Master Abdul Rasheed believed the lost economic activities and eco-tourism growth potential of the area could be regained if Balochistan government invested in the basic infrastructure of the area including provision of potable water, sanitation, drainage, schools and health facilities.

Published in daily Dawn on October 11, 2010
Available on the newspaper's webslink