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Water woes force farmers to grow fodder, lose lands to urbanisation

Budho Baghal, an octogenarian farmer from the village Fazal Baghal, located near Hyderabad city, wonders why farmers are cultivating maize as fodder when they should be growing food crops like grains and vegetables.

“We still have fertile lands, which can produce crops like wheat, pearl millet, sorghum, mustard, other oil seeds, and almost all seasonal vegetables, but we are harvesting animal feedstuff, which is highly unfortunate” Baghal said.

“Hardly 20-25 years back, there were mango, lemon, papaya, and other fruit orchards, now they are no more there. We used to sell vegetables and flowers in the big markets. Life was good. But things have changed now as forage is being grown here instead of staples.”  Besides being known for its rose gardens, the village, located in Hatri union council, also happens to be a great producer of seasonal vegetables, grains and fruits.

Having been around for around eight decades, Baghal is eyewitness to a lot of changes in terms of depleting natural sources like forests, water, missing wildlife species, and unrestrained expansion of cities boundaries because of uncontrolled urbanisation. He also links the change in the agriculture and destruction of natural resources to acute water shortage.

“Many farmers have sold their fertile lands to builders because they are not able to cultivate them owing to the unavailability of irrigation water,” the senior grower said.

Being at the tail-end, farmers in Hatri have been receiving water from Rohri canal through tributaries and watercourses since generations. But presently, due to political maneuvering small-scale farmers are left at the mercy of influential landlords, who deprive them of their share of water.

“Akram Wah (canal) was build before my eyes in 1960s. It’s hardly one or two kilometers away from here, but that’s not where our water comes from. We get it from Rohri canal, which begins hundreds of miles away,” Baghal said terming it a case of bad water governance and mismanagement of resources.

“Farmers are disposing of their fertile lands because they don’t have an alternative. In fact, in this situation urbanisation has swallowed many lands and villages in the area,” he said. Despite his deteriorating health, Baghal visits his cultivated fields early in the morning daily, stays there for some hours and returns back to see his friends in the neigbouring villages. Meeting his peers and discussing the changes taking place around them is his favourite pastime.

Sikandar Mangwano, a local councilor and grower from Village Kako Mangwano of the same area, also complained against water shortage and termed it the main cause that has forced the farmers to grow fodder.

“The major chunk of lands has been abandoned because of water shortage. This land may be used for commercial purposes sooner or later,” Mangwano said. Mangwano is among those farmers who cultivate maize for fodder and send truckloads of the commodity to Karachi grass markets every day.

“Almost all the farming families of the area used to grow a variety of flowers, but now hardly a few of them are left to keep the tradition alive,” Mangwano added.  He, however, was unable to explain as to why as well as how the local variety of food crop seeds disappeared and high yielding varieties and hybrid seeds replaced them.

“They cultivate hybrid maize the whole year round. The sowing starts from September. December, January, and February make the peak season for this grass,” Mangwano said adding, the farmers get 600-800 maunds (40 kilogrammes) per acre yield in winter and it is sold at around Rs200-250 per maund in local as well as Karachi markets.

In summer, he added, the farmers expect to have hardly 200-300 maund per acre yield of the same grass. “But despite this, they do not have an option other than producing this grass variety,” Mangwano emphasised. He said this change took place in hardly around 20 years. “Previously, they were cultivating all grain crops, vegetables and had orchards over hundreds of acres of land,” he said.

Earlier, researchers had always been quoted as saying that up to 70 percent of the rural population in Sindh province depends on agriculture and livestock rearing. But the recent census has exposed the population ratio in rural-urban divide, which shows the urban population has increased to 52 percent leaving rural people to only 48 percent. It is because of an increasing trend of migration from rural to urban areas, a phenomenon that has never been checked. After Karachi, Hyderabad is the second largest city of the province, which has experienced the most influx of population from the countryside.

According to elderly farmers of the villages in the union council Hatri, many flourishing villages have been engulfed by the urban sprawl. Some researchers believe that it is a global phenomenon that agriculture meets the demands of rapidly growing urban population by producing food in rural areas; however, despite this contribution a large number of rural dwellers are undernutritioned. Rural populations have been left in the lurch at the time when they are facing acute shortage of water. The looming uncertainty is forcing farmers to get rid of their lands for peanuts.

Ghulam Raza Shah, another small landholder from Mangwano village, said farmers were given hybrid seeds of grains, which they cultivate only for markets and do not use themselves. “There is no concept of producing organic food to avoid threats to peoples’ health,” Shah said. It has been witnessed that farmers cultivate hybrid rice forcommercial purposes. For their own consumption they purchase locally produced rice varieties from market.

About the visible change in his village, Shah said local farmers, who were known vegetables producers now are unable to cultivate these food crops because of the dearth of water. “Today, it is a common practice everywhere in the area,” he said. Farmers say there is no future planning to meet the challenge of wasteful land utilisation and help the rural population, which have been engaged in the agriculture and producing variety of foods.

“The shift from producing food to cultivating grass is an example to understand the change,” a famer said adding,” It is an extreme disappointment and a matter of profound regret for the local farmers to sell off their gold-growing lands for commercial or urbanisation purposes.”  Farmers believe that at least water governance should be improved promptly to save the fertile farming grounds for the future generations.

Khaskheli, Jan. Water woes force farmers to grow fodder, lose lands to urbanisation. The News, November 11, 2017.

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