Crops at stake as Indus leaves catchment growers high and dry

HYDERABAD: For the first time in over four years, some River Indus catchment growers couldn’t cultivate crops this season, while those who somehow did, were scared of not being able to save them because of low flows, The News has learnt.

The river catchment area does not have any irrigation system and farmers depend on the flow of river water, which increases during monsoon.

When the river water inundates their lands they just wait for the water to recede. The retreating floodwaters leave a good deal of moisture in the soil enough for the farmers to cultivate crops.

When the overflowing river floods the fields, it makes the soil rich with nutrients. Farmers have been using these techniques since ages to take advantage of the floodwater to sow their crops.

Floods help farming communities to grow crops and fodder for their animals.

Pink lentil (dal masur), coriander, split peas, chickpeas, and major crops like wheat and mustard are common in the catchment area.

Moulvi Nazir Khoso, a riverine farmer, living near Unarpur, once a famous forest town in Jamshoro district, said since the river itself could not bring more water this year all the farmers in the area were disappointed.

“I have prepared a 20-acre piece to cultivate daal masur (pink lentil), chickpeas, coriander and wheat, expecting to receive more water through the river, but to no avail,” Khoso said.

The riverine farmers expect to receive water for the traditional crops in August and September.

The riverine farmers prefer to cultivate only winter crops. They don’t risk cultivating summer crops, fearing high floods that inundate standing crops.

Thus, they avoid cultivating cotton and other summer crops.

According to farmers, living along the river they face flood when it brings more water or in case of low flow they see drought-like conditions when the river streams are dry.

In the river catchments area some influential landlords have installed water lifting machines and tube wells along the

river streams and sell water to other growers against a 25-30 percent share in the crops.

But this year the river itself does not have enough water; therefore, only dirty ponds are available at some points, which cannot meet the needs of crops.

The riverine farmers traditionally cultivate organic crops, which do not need more water.

The moisture that floods leave behind is enough to cultivate traditional crops. But in case of other crops, uncommon in the catchment area, like onions, the farmers take water on a sharing basis.

Qasim Khoso, another farmer in the same area, cultivated onions on three acres of land with daal masur, wheat, and coriander as well, but was facing difficulties to save the crops due to water shortage.

Khoso introduced onions in the area a few years ago and continued their cultivation; however, this year there is not enough water in the riverine ponds to run lifting machines.

Khoso is one those lucky farmers, who could afford to buy water lifted by machines from thin streams of the river to continue utilising their lands.

The situation is almost the same for other farmers as well but his is a harder struggle to safeguard the sown crops.

According to farmers once upon a time mustard was a major crop in the catchment area and they used to have cooking oil through this organic oil seed (mustard).

Unarpur town still has traditional oil mills, where from they used to extract oil for consumption and making oilcake for animals.

Farmers said it was the first time in the last four years they were experiencing water scarcity in the river.

Another small scale farmer, Zulfiqar Jatoi of village Mithal Jatoi in Dadu district catchment area, said they had installed tube wells for cultivating wheat.

“Only a few farmers have preserved old wheat seed varieties there, which do not need a lot of water and chemical input,” Jatoi said and added, “They use farmyard manure, which is enough to maintain the soil fertility for improving yield of the crop”.

Several farmers have installed solar-powered tube wells to water wheat, according to Jatoi.

“We have spared a four-acre piece for sowing preserved old varieties of wheat and covered nine acres with new high-yielding varieties.”

He said high-yielding varieties of wheat required water after 15 days for maintaining plant heath and growth as delaying the waters would lower the yield.

Only a few farmers have preserved some amount of traditional varieties for consumption and getting seed for the next season.

A large number of farmers in catchment areas seem unable to cultivate crops on their lands due to water issues.

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