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Paddy growers’ worries   
By Mohammad Hussain Khan

June 27, 2011: PREPARATIONS for rice cultivation in Sindh are underway amidst fears that flood-ravaged canal network — recently repaired by the irrigation authorities — will not be able to carry water to their farms.

Growers on the right bank of Indus River were dealt a severe blow by the floods last year which washed away their Kharif paddy crop. Thy were not able to have a normal Rabi crop as well.

Now, they fear drought-like conditions in their areas that may hit paddy crop this Kharif. Farmers are ready to grow paddy despite imposition of 16 per cent GST on all agriculture inputs including seeds, urea, fertiliser, and pesticides, making it a costly ride.

It was August 7 Tori dyke breach that had ravaged the irrigation network of the province; more breaches followed in upper Sindh on Indus right bank which is known for paddy cultivation. Similarly, August 26 breach on left bank of Indus in Thatta – a paddy growing area destroyed a large swath of the district.

Breaches were plugged in and canals network was repaired by the irrigation authorities. But growers are concerned about the quality of dykes’ repair work and the recently repaired flood-ravaged canal system. Besides, they also hint at non-availability of quality paddy seeds for cultivation.

Sindh Abadgar Board’s Vice-President Gada Hussain Mahesar, who is also a paddy producer, says that seed availability seems to be a serious issue because the government had initially announced provision of free paddy seeds, but later on said the seeds would be provided at subsidised rates. According to him, the government has been trying to procure paddy seeds.

Around 69,000 tons of seeds are required for paddy cultivation in the province.

 

“I am really sceptical about quality of canals’ work and I am not sure whether these water channels will be carrying water safely to our lands”, Mahesar says. Water is available in River Indus and there is no shortage at all but if branches and minors don’t carry water or develop breaches, the growers will suffer. He specifically mentions Begari canal where repair work remained questionable.

 

This makes total requirement of 5,000 officers. Even if another 1,000 is added for supervisory role in different layers, the total requirement comes around 6,000 officers.

The Extension Directorate performs the same functions that the Crop Reporting and the Information Directorates do. The Water Directorate is surviving on foreign funded projects and has nothing to do locally. Once these projects complete their lives, and some of them already have, the directorate would be left with nothing.

To make the matter worse, farmers are now buying almost everything – fertiliser, pesticides, seeds, machinery – from the private sector, which has developed huge paraphernalia of extension services. What the government employees are doing?

Just overlapping the effort at best, and working as private sector agents at worst.

Currently, these 35,000 employees are being used as a workforce for the provincial chief executive and are involved in almost everything non-agriculture – from packing of subsidised sugar to administering polio campaign.

In the last few months, the Urea price had hit an unbearable Rs1,600 per bag. Though the company price is still Rs1,250 per bag, the receding writ of government enables everyone to make money at the cost of others. Despite this sheer black marketing of Urea, not even one dealer has been proceeded against by the Punjab government.

Another example illustrates how non-serious the department and the government are dealing with the sector. A new wheat variety was introduced in the province in 2007. This particular variety now covers around 40 per cent of wheat area in the province. But within three years of its operation, the variety has become susceptible to all kinds of bacterial attack.

Most of the discoloured wheat that the province produced this year was result of rust attack on this wheat variety. The farmers allege that the variety was not properly tested before offering it for the sale; it was released prematurely.

The Punjab government is tight lipped on the issue and has still not moved to study the varietal character, find loopholes, fix responsibility and punish the guilty. The farmers blame that it is departmental employees who promoted the seed. The government has not moved so far. It is also because these 35,000 employees have created huge overlapping in the system and devised a system where buck does not stop.

Given the acreage (around seven million acres) that this variety has gained in the last three years, the farmers and the government would be in real trouble to replace the seed on these fields next year. Where would the government arrange fresh seed for it? If it does not and farmers use the same variety as seed, crop on this area would be in a greater risk.

The Punjab government needs to get its act together. Agriculture is now assumed added significance because that even planning part is now being devolved to provinces after the 18th Amendment. The Punjab has to replace federal planning and truly play the role of national food basket. If it continues flounder on basics, it would be increasingly hard for it to help the country achieve food security.

Courtesy: The DAWN

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