Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bumper wheat crop likely in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

February 21, 2011

HEAT sowing in Sindh has surpassed the target, and chances for bumper production are bright provided the standing crop receives final doses of water and urea preferably before the end of February.

Wheat harvest usually begins from mid-March in lower Sindh, and is in full swing in April in upper Sindh districts.

In October, the Federal Committee on Agriculture had set production and sowing targets for Sindh at 3.682 million tons and 10,31,000 hectares respectively for the ongoing Rabi season.

Sindh Agriculture Department officials claim that wheat sowing in the province has crossed the target. “Till February 10, the crop had been planted on around 10,81,000 hectares, while cultivation will continue till mid-March, easily touching 11,00,000 hectares,” said Ashfaq Ahmed Soomro, additional secretary, Sindh Agriculture Department.

Officials say that owing to vigorous wheat cultivation activities in districts on the right bank of Indus River, wheat production target would be easily achievable. “We are expecting some 3.8 million tons of crop against 3.682 million tons for the current Rabi season,” they said.

For the ongoing Rabi season, per acre yield target was set at 36.1 maunds. But, Bashir Thebo, Director Statistics wing, Department of Agriculture, said average per acre yield was expected between 40-50 maunds; An average of 60 maunds in some areas, where quality of land was better, and farm inputs were timely available, was also being expected.

“Favourable climatic conditions, availability of quality seeds and fertilisers and luckily no viral attacks are other major positive factors behind vigorous sowing and higher acreage.”

There are also other factors behind the robust sowing such as: “Plans drawn up carefully for achieving the target were implemented in time. All farm inputs and other facilities were made available to growers at market price in proper manner to facilitate cultivation in maximum area,” said Asfaq Ahmed Soomro, additional secretary of the department.

Additional general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) Muhammad Hussain Khushik warns that the crop may post a decline of 25 per cent if the crop fails to get essential last doses of water and urea in time.

“The recent 23-25 per cent increase in prices of urea and DAP, may leave no option for the growers – particularly small farmers – but to avoid the essential doses,” he feared.

According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS), in December a urea fertiliser bag of 50kg was selling at Rs850 in most of the wheat growing districts of the province.

But, at present it is being sold at Rs1,200 per bag and reportedly at Rs1,250 per bag in some upper Sindh districts. Besides, DAP prices have also gone up by Rs150-200 per 50kg bag in the past two months. At present, a DAP bag is selling at Rs3,200, the FBS reports says.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Viral attack hits tomato crop in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

Published on February 20, 2011

KARACHI, Feb 19: Ripen tomato crop has come under severe viral attack in Badin and other tomato growing districts of Sindh.

Tomato growers from Badin and Thatta districts said that almost 50 per cent of the standing crop had been affected and production was likely to drop by over 40 per cent.

Tomato crop in Sindh is sown on 61,000-65,000 hectares annually.

Although the tomato is cultivated in Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Shaheed Benazirabad districts, the Badin and Thatta together account for more than 60 per cent of the total tomato production of the province.

Growers said that the viral attack had caused the stems to shrivel and the plants to topple over, while others said that the leaves of affected crop had turned black and were shedding the fruit.

Badin District Officer (Agriculture) Mohammad Yousuf confirmed reports of the viral attack.

“Almost 50 per cent of the standing crop in Badin district has been hit by the leaf curl virus, which is carried by the white fly,” he said.

According to statistics wing of the provincial agriculture department, the tomato crop had been sown in Badin alone on 14,541 hectares and 14,372.4 tons production was expected. “The tomato crop has been affected by the leaf curl virus, the post-production losses estimated at 7,000 to 8,000 tons in Badin district alone,” said Amin Memon, Chairman Lower Sindh Growers` Association.

The official in the agriculture department said that once the disease attack on the tomato crop surfaces, it is very difficult to prevent it from spreading to other tomato growing areas in the province.

He said that no pesticide could help overcome the viral attack at this stage. But, such attacks on the tomato crop were possible to be avoided if the farmers use pesticide sprays at the early stage.

Director-General of the Agriculture Extension Abdul Waheed Shaikh said that he had already research teams to the affected areas to study the problem, its nature and causes. “Once the problem is properly diagnosed, farmers will be prescribed pesticides accordingly to lower the crop losses,” he added.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

47,743 tons wheat seeds distributed in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

February 15, 2011

KARACHI, Feb 14: The Sindh government has distributed tons of wheat seeds and urea among the flood-hit farmers free of cost under its Rabi assistance plan.

However, the officials in the provincial agriculture department hope the step would help to rehabilitate the agriculture in flood-hit right bank districts and pave the way for robust Kharif sowing.

The federal Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) approved the plan worth Rs3.36 billion in December last year. According to the plan details, the federal government agreed to pay the half of the amount, Rs1.68 billion to the Sindh government while the rest was to be raised by the provincial government.

According to officials in the agriculture department till February 1, around 47,848 tons of wheat seeds and 14,030 tons of urea fertiliser had been distributed against requirements of 60,460 tons and 38,900 tons, respectively among the bona-fide flood-hit farmers.

The districts where the free farm inputs had been distributed are: Jacobabad, Kashmore-Kandhkot, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Dadu, Thatta, Jamshoro, Larkana, Khairpur, Ghotki, Sukkur, Nausheroferoz, Shaheed Benazirabad, Matiyari and Tando Mohammad Khan, said Ashfaq Ahmed
Soomro, Additional Secretary of the agriculture department.

The department’s spokesman said that although the process of the distribution of free farm inputs was almost over, it continued in upper Sindh flood-hit areas.

“Because, the upper Sindh districts have late wheat sowing pattern, the flood-hit wheat growers can still obtain the free inputs,” he added.

The spokesman said that the provincial government was providing the fertilisers and seeds to each eligible farmer worth Rs30,000 on the basis of
area of affect land.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Managing dyke repairs before Kharif season

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn, February 14, 2011

THE cash-strapped Sindh government has not been able to fully restore damaged irrigation network despite passage of almost six months since the devastating floods hit the province last year.

Irrigation experts are worried that if the damaged river embankments are not rehabilitated and breaches plugged before the coming monsoon season in June, the problem may worsen.

The federal government has agreed to release Rs2.5 billion on an urgent basis.

A senior official in the provincial irrigation department, meanwhile, told this scribe that the Sindh government had released a sum of Rs2 billion from its own resources to re-start the rehabilitation work. The work would gear up once the promised funds start flowing in from the federal government.

The provincial irrigation secretary Rafique Memon said that he had already told the meeting of the Federal Ministry for Inter-provincial Coordination held in Islamabad few weeks back that Sindh urgently needed Rs8 billion for repairing river dykes.

He warned of far-reaching implications on the province’s agricultural economy, if the required funds were not released before mid-February.

Irrigation officials said the Sindh government was now waiting for immediate release of Rs5 billion for rehabilitation of dykes and canals to their original shape for its Kharif sowing.

If the provincial government will not manage the daunting task of rehabilitation in a short span of three months, the Kharif sowing that starts from April 15, will suffer.

“The Sindh government is very much aware of the dangers the broken river dykes and breaches pose to the provincial economy, but it is handicapped by the financial constraints,” said a senior official in the department.

After approval of the Provincial Development Working Party (PDWP), the provincial government had submitted 76 schemes worth Rs16 billion to the Central Development Working Party (CDWP) for its approval. But, only Rs14 billion were approved in the CDWP meeting held on January 22 for implementation of 64 schemes of urgent nature.

After the modus operandi for the release of the funds was being considered by the ECNEC, the federal government announced on February 2 to give Rs5 billion for priority projects .

Officials in the provincial irrigation department said that undue delay in the release of the approved amount of Rs5 billion was further delaying the rehabilitation work.

Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said Tori Bund and Kot Almo breaches were not plugged with conventional irrigation department methods. These were plugged initially on emergency basis by stone-dumping to halt floodwater flow from there.

He also said that these breaches were still open and efforts were yet to be made to plug them properly. But it was not possible until the centre released the approved funds.

According to reports quoting official sources, around 1,946 breaches out of a total of 2,515 that occurred in different waterways, had been plugged at a cost of Rs1 billion.

Irrigation expert Idris Rajput said that floodwater enters Sindh in June. Therefore, rehabilitation of dykes and plugging of breaches should be completed before it, or else, the province would face yet another devastation.

The provincial chief minister has issued orders to the irrigation department to immediately kick off the strengthening of all damaged embankments and plugging of breaches by May this year. For, which he has released Rs2 billion from province’s own resources.

Irrigation experts doubt whether the hefty amount of Rs5 billion, released in installments by the centre to the provincial government, would be utilised efficiently and in a transparent manner.

“There is also a deep suspicion in the federal government about the Sindh government’s inability to efficiently utilise Rs5 billion before May this year for the quality rehabilitation work,” said Fazullah Qureshi, a former federal secretary planning and development.

Conceding to such doubts, he said that spending such a huge amount in a span of just three months was really a great challenge for the irrigation department in view of lack of capacity and efficiency.

He suggested: “If the government wants to restore the irrigation network in such a short span of time with transparent utilisation of funds following release of more funds by the federation, then it should first start plugging all breaches immediately and simultaneously, launch dykes repairing and strengthening work on them.”

He said that the government’s top priority should be quality work on the damaged irrigation network, with focus on monitoring of the rehabilitation work. Otherwise, the next possible flood would sweep away the irrigation system again and cause more massive damages than it caused last year.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Shortage of agriculture inputs in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn
February 12, 2011

KARACHI, Feb 11: Representatives of farmers of Sindh have complained of shortage of agriculture inputs which has caused an abnormal hike in their prices and black-marketing by unscrupulous traders.

The officials in the provincial agriculture department refute the claims.

According to leaders of farmers’ associations, severe shortage of inputs has affected Rabi sowing. They said if the shortage persisted, it would have serious implications for the Kharif sowing as well.

“Reduced use of the urea fertiliser and DAP by farmers as a result of shortages and escalation in prices during Rabi season will cause decline in per acre yield,” said Dr Nadeem Qamar, president of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA).

Sindh Abadgar Board president Abdul Majeed Nizamani said that the urea fertiliser prices had escalated by nearly 23 per cent in the past two months.

The sudden hike in fertiliser prices was bound to lead to decline in production of Rabi crops, particularly wheat, between 20 and 30 per cent of the total production, he said.

“In December last year, a fertiliser bag of 50 kg was selling at Rs850. But, at present it is being sold at Rs1,200 on black. There are also reports of fertiliser being sold at Rs1,250 per bag in some upper Sindh districts. Besides, DAP prices have also increased by Rs150 to Rs200 per 50kg bag in the past two months. At present, a DAP bag is selling at Rs3,200, which sold at Rs3,100 to Rs3,150 in December last year,” he said.Sindh requires around 552,063 tons urea fertiliser and 196,000 tons DAP for Rabi sowing.

According to latest figures of the agriculture department, till Dec 31 last year some 268,845.560 tons of urea fertiliser has been supplied to local traders by some prominent fertiliser manufacturing companies to meet needs of the province’s Rabi crops.

Statistical data about DAP supplies could not be made available by the provincial agriculture department.

Mohammad Arif Khairi, deputy secretary of agriculture, said that supplies of urea fertiliser and DAP for the Rabi crops from manufacturers has remained smooth and there was no disruption from them throughout the Rabi season.

He did not rule out what he described ‘an artificial shortage’ by some profiteers who also manipulate prices in local markets, who sell farm inputs much above the prices set by the government.

Nabi Bux, additional general secretary of the SCA, alleged the dealers and fertiliser manufacturers took benefit of the prevailing situation of the fertiliser and DAP and earned millions of rupees in profit in a matter of a few months by creating the artificial shortage.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Undernourished labour with low productivity

February 7, 2011

AN under-nourished worker is unable to maximise production. The nutrition level, if improved as required, can add 2-3 per cent to the GDP growth. Experts attribute low productivity in agriculture to malnutrition of farm labour.

The appalling state of malnutrition in the countryside of the resource-rich and fertile Sindh is the result of grinding poverty and low productivity in all economic activities.

Many complain that while tons of grains and other farm produces go waste due to official negligence and mismanagement, millions in the province have to sleep without enough food.

Officials in the provincial food, agriculture, rural development and planning and development departments argue that many plans have been put in place to fight the underlying causes of poverty, create employment opportunities and boost people`s income.

But those, who critically look at such government`s initiatives, say the situation on the ground refuses to improve รข€“ perhaps because of official inefficiency, corruption and under-utilisation of development budgets and absence of effective monitoring and evaluation of such uplift plans.

Senior economic planning officials in the provincial planning and development department (P&DD) opine that factors such as mal-distribution of income, transfer of resources from the agriculture to urban areas and unemployment, are some of the causes of low-intake of nutrition by the impoverished people.

Poor households across the province spend around 75 per cent of their income on food and healthcare. A study found that 36.3 per cent of the people surveyed in Sindh consumed less than 1,700 calories a day and another 25 per cent consumed between 1,700 to 2,100 calories per day.

According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-7, a vast majority of rural households are more than 10 kilometres away from basic services that include district administration headquarters, ambulances and maternal and child healthcare centres and hospitals.

Rural populations` access to drinking water through a range of methods such as tube-wells, boreholes or hand pumps account for more than half of such sources. But only 2.8 per cent of rural households in the province use an appropriate water treatment method, such as boiling or filtering.

An independent development economist, Dr Javed A. Ansari, said poverty and rural-urban disparities in the province continue to spiral up because of bad governance, rampant corruption, inadequate budgetary allocations and their misappropriation or poor utilisation.

He, however, believed that the soaring poverty, which had intensified malnutrition, was unlikely to improve until there was increased investment on health, education and basic infrastructure.

“Besides, there is a strong need to finally put nutrition at the centre of development so that a wide range of economic and social improvements that rely on nutrition, can be realised,” said a senior rural development planner in the provincial rural development department.

The province`s fertile farmlands yield surplus grains and vegetables, but these remain unaffordable for millions of people on account of soaring prices and falling incomes.

Escalating food prices have forced financially-battered families to divert funds utilised for education and healthcare of their children to kitchen bduget,” remarked Dr Fawad Ali of the P&D department`s health section.

Pakistan People`s Party MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur claims that he has often drawn government`s attention towards people`s social and economic hardships, without no positive outcomes as yet.

“I`ve raised issue of massive grain losses and worrisome state of education, health and ruptured basic infrastructure on the floor of the Parliament. I have asked the public representatives, on a point of order, whether they are destined to ruin fertile and resource-rich Sindh, which contributes more than 70 per cent of the country`s total revenue, accounts for some 65 per cent of oil and more than 70 per cent of gas,” he said.

He recalled that he had also highlighted issue of non-availability of quality storage facilities for farm produces during the last budget speech of the federal finance minister.”

Officials in the provincial food department said: “There are some nefarious elements in the government who foil efforts for building modern silos because they get heavy kickbacks and bribes when renting spaces for storing grains.”

Dr Khalid Pervez, who is providing healthcare services at a health facility in Al Jamkanda village of Karachi`s Bin Qasim town, believes that adequate spending on health, education and rural development could turn around the situation of poverty and malnutrition in the province. But, unfortunately such social spending gap had translated into the grinding malnutrition, rise in health diseases, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and unsafe water and sanitation.

Sadiqa Sallahuddin, a prominent rural and health development expert of the Indus Resource Centre, believes that remedy to malnutrition in the province lies in increased spending for alleviating, what she described, `wild poverty`.

She remarked: “Despite so many socio-economic uplift initiatives and whatever health budget allocation and spending, Sindh remains the most backward in all walks of life. It is because there are some pro-active forces having mala fide interests, who want to keep the province trapped in a socio-economic mess. However, nefarious designs of such unscrupulous forces are only aimed at watering down/bog down endeavours of progressive forces, because, they are those who want to see the province driven on the path of socio-economic development.”

Landlords, so-called public representatives sitting on treasury and opposition benches, corrupt bureaucrats, mafias, among others, were, among the tough challenges to the province`s overall development. These forces hamper every initiative taken for uplift of education, health and political empowerment of the masses, she believed.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Canals` Closure Creates Water Scarcity in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

Daily Dawn

January 31, 2011

THE scarcity of both irrigation and drinking water in many parts of Sindh has sparked protests and rallies by farmers, traders and the people whose day-to-day socio-economic lives and standing crops have been affected.

The water shortage has aggravated following closure of canals during the second week of December for de-silting and repair/maintenance work at barrages, canal heads, and regulators.

On November 23, the federal ministry for water and power had announced canal closure schedule for de-silting and repair from December 26, 2010 to January 31, 2011. The provincial irrigation department and relevant authorities were directed to strictly adhere to the schedule and make alternative arrangements for providing water for irrigation and drinking in their respective provinces.

But, alternative arrangements were not adequate in many areas of Jacobabad, Sukkur, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Hyderabad, Tando Allahyar, Tando Adam, Matiyari, Sanghar, Thatta, Badin and Umerkot districts. In these shortage-hit districts, the underground water has also turned brackish because of closure of the canals.

The Sukkur Barrage and its seven off-taking canals were shut in the first week of January for annual repair and maintenance. But, because of lack of coordination between the office of the barrage`s chief engineer and municipal administration, the city and its adjoining areas suffered acute water shortage.

In anticipation of shortage in the Sukkur region, the provincial government assigned the North Sindh Urban Services Corporation (NSUSC) to arrange supply of water to people of Sukkur, Rohri and adjoining areas through tube-wells in a week`s time.

The NSUSC is a public limited company working under the local government. But, a dispute broke out on January 5 over drilling of wells for alternative supply of drinking water when irrigation officials forcibly got the corporation`s drilling work halted and the machinery removed from the sites.

When NSUSC`s Sukkur director Abid Hussain asked as to why they had stopped their work, the irrigation officials told him to approach the Executive Engineer Sukkur Barrage Zareef Khero on this issue.

“But, Zareef Khero when contacted said he had no concern with it,” a NSUSC official said. Meanwhile, this scribe also tried to approach the relevant district government officials to find out their version, but they refused to comment.

A Sukkur town municipal official told this scribe that “against the daily requirement of 16 million gallons of water, the city is getting only nine million gallons.”

The residents complain that much of it is contaminated as it is supplied through leaked and damaged supply lines, which run parallel to the drainage pipelines.

People of different localities fetch expensive water from hand pumps installed in the low-lying areas of the city.

NSUSC Sukkur Assistant Director Manzoor Ahmed Bachkani said the situation was slowly improving in some parts of the city. “Now the closure of Sukkur Barrage is over and enough water is being supplied to the affected residents,” he remarked.

On December 20 last year, Chief Engineer Irrigation of the Kotri Barrage had notified for the information of landholders, cultivators, Hyderabad`s Water and Sanitation Authority (Wasa), civic agencies of adjoining districts and all concerned that the barrage canals would remain closed from December 25 to January 01 for normal inspection, maintenance and necessary repairs. During this period there would be no water flowing in any of the barrage`s off-taking canals namely Akram Wah (Lined Channel) Old Phuleli (Pinyari), New Phuleli (Phuleli), Kalri Baghar Feeder Upper, Wadhu Wah and Fasadi Wah.

But, the Hyderabad`s Water and Sanitation Agency and district government officials and the TMOs of Thatta, Badin and other districts failed to make arrangements for alternate supply.

The people of Hyderabad, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Thatta and Badin districts have held officials of Taluka municipal administrations responsible for their water woes.

According to reports, more than 800,000 people are facing water shortage in the said districts.

Badin, a town of more than 200,000 people, is the worst hit in lower Sindh, facing water shortage for more than 45 days. Standing vegetable and Rabi crops in and around the area are also at the risk of being damaged.

Lar Abadgar Board`s Amin Memon said: “The locals never opposed de-silting and maintenance work at the Qazia Canal, which is the chief source of drinking water for the people of Badin city and its adjoining areas. But alterative arrangements for water supply should have been made by the TMA.”

Water scarcity had equally affected the people and farmers as seedlings of tomato and other vegetables were drying up due to zero availability of water in canals and distributaries. Besides, fish farmers have also suffered massive losses because of short supply of fresh water,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, senior officials at the Kotri Barrage told this scribe on phone that water shortage situation downstream Kotri Barrage districts was unlikely to improve before mid-February as the repair/maintenance work would take another two or three weeks.