The shortage of quality seeds is a chronic problem in Sindh and growers’ reliance on impure ones is affecting the province’s overall crop productivity mainly cotton, rice and wheat.
In the ongoing cotton sowing season, 9,900 tonnes of certified seeds are needed (15kg/ha) to meet the sowing target of 660,000ha. Of this, around 3,665.26 tonnes will come from the SSC and provincial private companies. The rest is to come from firms registered at Islamabad. Sindh mostly uses Bt cotton seed variety, which farmers say, is fast losing its efficacy.
There appears to be no regulatory check on companies flooding the markets with impure seeds of different ‘brands’ to attract growers
Likewise, for paddy 37,500 tonnes of seeds (50kg/ha) are required for 750,000ha in the ongoing season. Of it, 6,238 tonnes (16.6pc) would be provided by the SSC and private companies. Rest is either sold by companies regulated by federal government or farmers use their easily available seed variety of Irri-6.
There appears to be no regulatory check on companies flooding the markets with impure seeds of different brand names to attract growers.
“No one checks whether the tag of the seed bag matches quality of seed,” says Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA) General Secretary Nabi Bux Sathio. He adds that the Sindh government needs to invest in infrastructure and technology for seeds’ varietal development so that indigenous seed is preserved and farmers are not left high and dry in case of any major viral attack on crop (farmers usually keep their own seed for crop sowing).
The agriculture department officials claim that Sindh has better per acre productivity than the other provinces. This assessment is, however, based on production figures compiled by the department for major crops. Compiling production estimates the department doesn’t count area brought under cultivation of crops like wheat, cotton and rice in riverine area.
But the figures include the production obtained from the katcha area. Syed Zulfikar Shah, Member Board of Revenue (BoR) who is involved in automation of revenue record, says that Sindh has 1.74m acres of riverine area touching right and left bank of the River Indus.
“We strongly believe that if cultivation figures of the katcha area are included, the real statistics of crop production will come to the fore,” points out Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB) Vice-President Mahmood Nawaz Shah. He believes that ratio of certified seed availability in any crop varies between 12-15pc.
A safe assumption among farmers is that 50-60pc of riverine area remains under Kharif and Rabi crops cultivation with impressive per acre yields due to peculiar soil conditions.
Besides, onion has emerged as a major crop in Sindh and is being cultivated throughout the year on around 100,000-200,000 acres. Hardly anyone in the agriculture research department comes forward to disclose how seeds are provided or whether the onion research institute is doing something on it. Sindh DG Research couldn’t be reached for comments despite repeated attempts by this writer.
Farmers attribute the decline in the cotton yield to substandard seed. It is not giving required germination and with re-sowing growers end-up spending more on available seed or losing ideal sowing time. Technically, 70pc germination rate is to be achieved but that is not the case usually.
For addressing these issues, the agriculture department drafted the Sindh Act which has yet to be tabled in Sindh Assembly for legislation. Nothing has happened though.
The SSC continues to face financial and understaffing issues. It has thousands of acres to develop new seed varieties but it buys seed from the progressive farmers to meet growers demand. It is producing 40,000mds of wheat seeds, a sharp decline from 76,000mds it used to produce earlier.