Sindh has achieved a decent increase in rice production this year against last year and is on its way to harvest larger cotton and sugarcane crops despite the fact that the areas under cultivation of paddy and cotton have fallen short of target.
Cotton output in Sindh at 3.234 million bales (up to January 1, 2013) is 34.5 per cent higher than in the same period of last year.
The full season target which has to be achieved by May 1 is four million bales. The province had produced 2.682 million bales in the last cropping year. Sugarcane production in the current marketing year, ending in September 2013, is set to touch 15 million tonnes against that of 13.75 million tonnes of the last year. And rice output is estimated to have risen to 2.60 million tonnes in this season, up from 2.26 million tonnes in the last season.
So, what is actually driving up agricultural productivity in Sindh?
“Our farmers have learnt over time to rely more on their own efforts. They experiment with new seeds and new varieties of crops and they put in all their efforts to get better yields,” said a senior official of Sindh Agriculture Department. He pointed out that the province is all set to produce more of cotton and rice despite the fact that paddy was sown over less than “three fourths of the targeted area and the cultivation target of cotton was missed by at least 10 per cent.” He said that the area under sugarcane cultivation remained more or less in line with the target with a slight increase over that of the last season.
“Besides, government support to farmers through supply of subsidised tractors and certified seeds etc are also yielding results in terms of higher output. And on top of that is the increase in rural income levels that have enabled farmers to put larger sums of money on raising richer crops.”
Progressive growers—defined by the provincial agricultural department as those who get better than average yield on at least 25 acres of land—have always played a role in boosting crop output in Sindh. “And the authorities acknowledge their role in that they consult such growers in policymaking regardless of whether or not they represent growers lobby groups.”
Cotton ginners say that fortnightly inflow of the seed cotton into ginneries keeps falling after hitting a particular year’s highest levels at the beginning of harvesting (between mid-September and mid-October). They say that keeping in view the fact that on January 1 the fortnightly inflow fell to 112,000 bales, meeting the four million bales target would be possible only if the fortnightly inflows average around 100,000 bales in the next eight fortnights (January 2 to May 1).
“That being a rare possibility I believe we’re rather heading towards 3.6 to 3.8 million bales. But total output even at these levels would be remarkable compared to what it was last year and considering the fact that cotton was sown over lesser-than target area,” another senior official of the provincial agricultural department told Dawn. Sindh’s target for cotton sowing was 650,000 acres but farmers could bring under cotton sowing 584,000 acres.
Some progressive cotton growers say that whereas they have achieved higher yields during this season, overall output in the province may fall short of the four million bales target because in some districts cotton crop was damaged by diseases and affected by longer spell of monsoon rains which continued till the end of September.
Sugarcane growers point out that the main reason for higher output during this year is an increase in the area brought under cultivation (240,000 hectares against 229,000 hectares of last year).
They also say that some progressive farmers have reported a higher per-acre yield due in part to soil enrichment after super floods of 2010, fattening of sugarcane stalks due to heavier monsoon rains and better cropping techniques.
Sugar millers operating in Sindh say the mills are receiving larger quantities of cane for crushing. A former chairman of Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) told Dawn the estimated output of 15 million tonnes was no exaggeration, as being stated by growers’ lobby, and pointed out that surveys conducted up to September had shown that the province would produce no less than 14.4 million tonnes.
“Now as we are well into second or third month of cane crushing now all indications suggest that total output this year would be close to 15 million tonnes,” he said but hastened to add: “part of the total output is always consumed for purposes other than sugar manufacturing and part of it is retained by growers as seed stalks.”
Despite lesser-than-targeted area under cultivation, paddy harvest has also been higher than what was originally thought. SUPARCO had forecast rice estimate of more than 2.5 million tonnes back in its November 2012 aerial survey when paddy harvesting of non-Basmati was not completed in some districts and that of Basmati varieties had just started.