SUKKUR: Despite restrictions by the government, rice is being planted in the province's largest cotton belt. Rice is now being grown illegally on 500,000 acres of cotton fields in Sukkur and Ghotki.
In October last year, the government had imposed Section 144 in some districts, especially in rice-growing areas, to ensure availability of urea for cotton crops.
The belt on the right side of the river is already facing an acute water shortage and rice farming, taking place on the left side of the belt, will worsen the scarcity.
The cotton crops situated near the rice fields are being damaged. According to agriculturalists, rice farming increases the water level below the earth's surface which burns the cotton plant and causes waterlogging.
Sukkur EDO revenue Akhtar Ali Qureshi said that they have not received a notification regarding the enforcement of Section 144 in the cotton-belt area. "The home department, on behalf of the Sindh government, notifies the department concerned. We will take action against the farmers only after we receive the notification," he said. Section 144 is imposed on the left bank of the river and accordingly, the officials of the revenue department take action against the farmers who are not complying, the EDO explained.
Meanwhile, the farmers had a different story to tell. They said that nobody grows cotton anymore which has forced them to grow rice instead. "The pesticides and seeds are expensive and the return and yield for rice is more than cotton's," farmers told Express News, adding that the overall cultivation of rice is cheaper.
One farmer wanted to grow cotton, but he was run down as he was outnumbered. "The rest of the farmers here were not ready to cultivate cotton because they said they would be at loss. Because of them, I could not plant cotton because cotton and rice can't grow together," he said.
Another farmer admitted that he was breaking the law and that water was extremely scare, but that this was a waterlogged area and so it was profitable to only grow rice.
Up till five years ago, the 500,000 acres of land was covered by cotton. But since then, cotton cultivation has gradually gone down every year and has now been completely replaced with rice.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd,
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