Rice growers in KP devastated

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa farmers await relief

By Tahir Ali
Monday, 25 Oct, 2010

PADDY growers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly in Malakand division, hit hard by floods and soil erosion, are waiting for government support.

The loss to rice crop and land, farmers say, carries risks of food security, price-hike, decreased exports, low incomes and increased poverty. The worst hit are the subsistence farmers.

The government would have to reclaim the fields and canals to facilitate cultivation of Rabi crop. KP agriculture minister has said the provincial administration would do everything possible to reclaim the 35,000 acres which had been rendered uncultivable by the floods. But farmers are skeptical of seeing it done any time soon as the task requires huge funds, machinery, personnel and strong commitment on the part of the government.

Abdur Rahim Khan, secretary general of the KP chamber of agriculture, said rice farmers were badly hit. “They should be provided free or subsidised agriculture inputs. Their agriculture loans should be written off or at least the interest thereon should be waived. Easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers should also be arranged,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation says rice is the worst-hit crop in KP. An official from the agriculture ministry said 71 per cent rice crop standing over 55,000 acres was washed away by floods, inflicting loss of over Rs2 billion to farmers. The loss will have serious implications for the impoverished farmers.

Four districts of Malakand division – Swat, Dir upper and lower and Malakand – were home to 68,000 acres or 88 per cent of province-wide paddy crop. But the destroyed crop of Malakand Division constituted 95 per cent of the total devastated crop. The floods also washed away 90 per cent of paddy crop in Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda but due to mere cumulative acreage of around 1,500 acres, its impact was very little.

“Around 35,000 acres in Swat and Dir districts have been rendered uncultivable by around three feet of sand and mud and concentration of pebbles and stones. While the loss of standing crops is also huge, the soil-erosion caused by the floods has been especially horrific. The affected farmers need immediate relief,” said Muhammad Khan, a resident of Batkhela.

Rice is of an important diet for people in MD who use Begumay variety in their evening meals daily.

“Rice is the favourite food and one of the biggest businesses of farmers in Swat, Malakand, lower/upper Dir and Chitral. The low-intensity monsoon floods in the last century had made this land more fertile and suitable for growing rice. Unfortunately, the mud layer is no more there on the fields situated on river banks. It will take 15 to 20 years to spread another layer of fertile mud over the bald land surface,” he added.

Muhammad Naeem from Swat said rice fields on river and stream banks in Dir, Swat and Chitral have been made uncultivable by floods. “Floods have eroded vast lands. I have lost paddy crop on 102 canals on my land. Rich farmers may bear the loss but where will the poor go? They need immediate relief and a vigorous rehabilitation plan and immediate reclamation of their lands,” he said.

“While rice crop in other areas has matured and is being harvested, it is still unripe in Malakand Division and the government should work closely with farmers to save the crop,” added Naeem.

For lack of rice mills in the area, most of the work in different phases of paddy cultivation, harvesting and milling are done manually. It consumes more time, energy, resources and lessens the profit margin for growers.

Haji Niamat Shah, a farmer leader in KP, said per acre yield in most of KP was just around 400kg which was less than the potential of 800kg. “This is because no quality local/hybrid paddy seed is provided to farmers. While the crop requires abundant water, the destruction of irrigation network and soil erosion in the area means still lesser per acre yield in the region,” he said.

Rice growers also face shortage of paddy seed for next year crop as a huge quantity of their stored seed was washed away by the floods.

“The KP seed industry should provide the farmers with sufficient stock of paddy seed for next year,” said Shah.

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