Farmers in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts are expecting low produce as standing wheat crop on over 100,000 hectares in irrigated and arid zones has suffered slow growth due to water shortage.
Wheat growers from Dera Ismail Khan told Dawn that wheat crop had not matured until now in the absence of irrigation water and further damage had been caused by the windy conditions that had gripped the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the past few days.
The scarcity of irrigation water, they added, had badly affected the growth of crop in Dera Ismail Khan and the nearby Tank, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, and Karak districts as well.
Wheat fields, according to the farmers, had been irrigated last time in the canal command areas some two months back, whereas, in arid zones the crop continued to be without water since October last year.“Wheat crop yield in the irrigated areas is likely to stand at five times lower than the last year’s produce and in the arid zones farmers would get a produce only sufficient for meeting their next season’s seed requirements,” Samiullah Khan, a wheat grower from Mauza Gundee Umer Khan, Dera Ismail Khan, said when contacted.
Except for 1 mm rain recorded in Dera Ismail Khan some 15 days ago, this southern district and its adjoining Bannu, Tank, Lakki Marwat and Karak districts had received no rains since early October last year, affecting standing crops, including wheat, sugarcane and fodder.
Standing wheat crop in the canal command areas in these districts has suffered due to the longer-than-the-scheduled closure of irrigation canals, since January 1, 2012, for carrying out the annual cleaning drive.
Weather experts said the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been experiencing dry conditions.
“In terms of agriculture, the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts are experiencing drought,” a Peshawar-based meteorologist said, when contacted.
He, however, said in line with the meteorologists’ definition of drought, Dera Ismail Khan’s dry spell ended two weeks back when it received 1 mm rains.
The traces of rain in Dera Ismail Khan, he added, were far less than the wheat crop’s requirements. Some 4 mm to 5 mm rains a month would have been sufficient to help the crop grow in November and onwards, he added.
“Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, and Karak districts, too, received only traces (of rain),” said the meteorologist.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa annually produces slightly over 1 million tons of wheat of which around 175,000 tons are produced in its seven southern districts, including around 75,000 tons in Dera Ismail Khan (the 7th highest wheat producing district in the province), according to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Development Statistics-2010.
Sheikh Mukkaram, president of Aiwan-i-Zarraat (Chamber of Agriculture), told Dawn from Dera Ismail Khan that closure of Chashma Right Bank Canal for the last two months and ill-planning on part of the provincial irrigation department had jeopardised wheat growers, pushing thousands of them to the wall.
“It means a difficult year ahead for most of small growers,” he said.
Growers have been crying for 20 years but the irrigation department never took note of their requests for planning well in advance of the canal cleaning season, said Mr Sheikh.
Since the department, he added, closed down canals from January 1 every year, it should advertise tenders for awarding construction works’ contracts in December or at least one month prior to closing the canals.
“Its planning process is flawed,” he said.
They (irrigation department officials) advertised the tenders in January every year only after the closure of canals took effect, he said, adding that it caused wastage of 10 to 15 days (of the canal closure period) as the government process took a lot of time before awarding contract to the private parties, said Mr Sheikh.
He said the Chashma Right Bank Canal – a federal government project – was scheduled to become functional from February 1, 2012, but it had not been restored by 100 per cent even until February 24, 2012. The canal had partially been restored, he added.
According to him, water has partially been released in 11 of the 23 distributaries fed by CRBC, leaving the remaining water bodies without flows.
“The 170 kilometers long stretch of CRBC that passes through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will fully become operational by March 15, 2012, which means a majority of the farmers, particularly small ones, at the tail end of the tributaries would get only marginal produce,” said Mr Sheikh.
Farmer Samiullah Khan said last year, he made good money, producing 980 wheat sacks of 100 kilogrammes each. “I’ll be lucky if could get 120 sacks of wheat from 375 acres under wheat crop in the arid zone,” he said, adding that the quantity would only help him repay his interest-based loan that he had taken to buy wheat seeds at the start of the current cropping season.
Scarcity of water is not the only source of concern for the southern districts’ farmers. Adding insult to injury, windy conditions prevalent for the past couple of days have also greatly disturbed them.
The Peshawar-based meteorologist said strong winds entering from Afghanistan into Pakistan after being caused by high pressure in Russia and Central Asia were expected to continue at least for two more days in the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa districts.
Farmers said winds had damaged wheat and gram crops alike.