Fear of low yields, poor seed quality haunts Sindh farmers

HYDERABAD: It is the second consecutive year that cotton growers seem worried, as substandard seeds have again flooded local markets.

Farmers have observed that these seeds grow nothing or the germination rate is as low as 30-40 in the fields. Advances cotton cultivation has started in the southern parts of Sindh, and farmers seem troubled because of the availability of substandard seeds, water scarcity, and locust swarms.

Sindh Growers Alliance (SGA) President Nawab Zubair Talpur told The News, “These problems have become continuous and constant, and that has forced them to not prioritise cotton and sugarcane crops.”

On top of that, he lamented that farmers have not been getting the provincial government announced support price for cotton and sugarcane for the past three-four years, pushing them into a helpless situation.

“Due to the approach adopted by the government authorities, we are receiving low productivity of these major cash crops. The government itself should review the target they fix every year and see why they cannot achieve it,” he questioned.

Talpur predicted that if the provincial government’s attitude remained the same towards farmers, Sindh might lose cotton and sugarcane crops in future. He said sugarcane growers were still waiting to receive arrears from the sugar industries.

“Besides this, cotton growers are experiencing substandard seeds, which do not grow and leaving them to face losses again and again,” he added.

Talking about the Rs56 billion relief package on agriculture in terms of subsidy by the federal government, he said, “SGA has rejected this package, which would not benefit common growers.”

The agriculture relief package was part of the Rs100 billion earmarked out of the Rs1,200 billion coronavirus relief package, for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the agriculture sector approved by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on May 13, 2010. Ministry of National Food Security and Research had proposed relief worth Rs56.6 billion.

Pointing out that the government had made many restrictions and conditions to avail relief, Talpur said many farmers were unable fulfil these limitations to benefit from the package.

SGA has demanded the government to give money to small farmers directly. “Besides crops, fruit orchards, vegetables and livestock are the integral parts of this major economic sector, agriculture,” he reminded.

Dr Dost Muhammad Memon, ex-MPA and leading grower in Kunri, Umerkot district in his reaction said that this relief package would only benefit larger landlords and service providers instead of common growers. Thus, he suggested that there was need to strengthen a proper monitoring mechanism and providing scratch cards to the farmers of Sindh, directly.

Altaf Mahesar, who leads farmers’ network in Dadu and has also applied action research in traditional crops said, “Pakistan has already lost major textile industry, which is moving out of the country to get incentives there due to lack of government interest here.”

This might also affect the overall cotton crops in future. Secondly, he said there seems fully dependency on hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seeds. In the beginning, for around two-three years, these hybrid seeds were giving higher yields, but later on the companies offered new varieties, which did not give the same yield, leaving producers in a helpless situation.

Mahesar said this happened because there was no regulatory authority to monitor seed-providing companies, and setting price control mechanism for all agriculture crops to avoid uncertainty among producers.

Presently, he said the sugar industry dominated, and the government seemed reluctant to take action against them and provide incentive to sugarcane growers. This approach deprived sugarcane growers of their right in terms of prices. For the last several years, many growers have not been given arrears to recover losses and live safe.

He said hybrid and GM seeds like BT Cotton have also contributed to the woes of growers, causing soil infertility in many areas.

Tail-end growers in Badin and Mirpurkhas districts were protesting against water scarcity in their areas at the time of cultivating cotton and preparing rice nurseries. They demanded the government to release water share instantly so they might cultivate cotton and prepare rice nurseries on time.

Farmers also accused the government authorities of benefiting only a few leading growers, who enjoyed political backing while mercilessly depriving others of their share.

Reports from different areas show that the changing varieties of crop seeds have also affected soil fertility. Gradually, the lands might turn infertile, creating mysterious crop diseases, which sometimes seem incurable.

Frequent crop diseases also force many farmers to resort to excessive use of pesticides, which depleted biodiversity and increases human diseases.

This makes poor farmers more vulnerable to the impacts of substandard seed varieties and chemical input.

Research suggests that the government should take immediate action to get rid of these hybrid and GM seeds; otherwise the agriculture economy might cause colossal loss to the country, creating food insecurity in future.

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