With relatively good rainfall during on-going monsoon, Tharparkar has turned into a lush green ecosystem that can feed virtually all trophic levels of food pyramids. However, there is dire need to concentrate on cultivation and preservation of precious species including Mushroom that can be brought to the local market around the country and may also be exported for earning capital.
By Prof Dr Abdullah G Arijo
Mushrooms are considered white meat and a rich source of proteins and are cultivated in 70 countries of the world and are medically recommended food item. Mushrooms contain protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These can have various health benefits. For example, antioxidants are chemicals that help the body eliminate free radicals.
Free radicals are toxic byproducts of metabolism and other bodily processes. They can accumulate in the body, and if too many collect, oxidative stress can result. This can harm the body’s cells and may lead to various health conditions. Among the antioxidant agents in mushrooms are selenium, vitamin C, choline etc.
Scattered on 19,638 km² with a population of 1.65 million, Tharparkar, a district that occurs in the south-east of Sindh desert has the lowest human development index in Sindh province among all districts. More than 90% of the people live in more than 200 rural villages deprived of all facilities except the headquarters of the Thar known as Mithi.
A very large area of Tharparkar constitutes of the Thar Desert with acute shortage of underground and rainwater. The climate of desert is associated with least cultivation of crops, hence district Tharparkar considers one of the least developed regions of the country having a population of 1,649,661 people (301,626 households)1 from diversified socio-cultural, religious and environmental identity. Time and again, Thar has faced short term and long-term drought. However, since 2014, Tharparkar is facing drought-like situation only year 2017 was comparatively better than others. The Pakistan Meteorological office stated the reason for calamity is low rainfall during monsoons in the last three years. This resulted in local crop failure, deaths of livestock.
If problems are enlisted, water availability remains on top. Rarely this desert receives regular rainfall, but most of the years are dry. In Sindh province, the monsoon of yesteryear could not bring enough rain to fulfil agriculture and other needs. Over the last three years, District Tharparkar facing a drought-like situation considers one of the least developed regions of the country characterized by cultural and religious diversity. The largest religious minority population lives in the Tharparkar region one of the most disaster-prone areas where vulnerable communities have witnessed a series of disasters since many decades particularly droughts with devastating impacts. In proposed area Extensive droughts, disaster events especially fire incidents and water shortage affected marginal population who lose whatever assets they have and suffer from social and economic pressure interims of local crop failure, deaths of livestock, downing water table and food insufficiency.
Women are left with no choice but walk miles for collection of drinking water which is available in gallons. Sometimes, it is hard to choose usage of water for drinking, cooking, washing or using animals to have their share.
In Thar desert, over half of the population which is associated with agriculture and livestock rearing. Farmers purchase seed before the arrival of the monsoon season. If it does not rain as per expectations, farmers lose what they wanted to sow. The pack and migrate towards barrage areas to feed their livestock until it rains, which sometimes never rains for years.
The dry spell, with a modicum of rain during the monsoon, is enough for the farmers to cultivate the rain-fed crops, in the geographically largest district of Sindh which stretches across around 22,000 square kilometers. The traditional ways of water harvesting could not work out for people and their livestock because of no rains. According to data analysis, every village has one or more dug well. In recent days, dug well is the only source of water for the 100% families but dug wells are turning into deeper because the water table is declining day by day. Quality of water is brackish and not preferable to drink for human and animals but there is no other source of water that can fulfil all the requirements of the household. There is no death has been reported by the people due to the use of water, but children are suffering from waterborne diseases. As water is a major problem of Tharparkar due to irregularity in rainfalls which caused people to face great challenges to get water, as most water sources are at distant locations in remote areas. The quality of water is brackish thus causing to suffer people in various health hazards, but people have no other options to take water for drinking and another usage of the household.
Mostly children suffer more due to the use of brackish water that causes several deaths, under-five children, every year. The minimum standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO) are not met by any water source in the villages (Fast Rural Development Program FRDP 2018).
With 40 per cent of water being wasted in Pakistan, essentially due to mismanagement and theft, freshwater availability in the country has fallen from 5,200 cubic meters per capita in 1947 to less than 1,000 cubic meters currently, making it one of the most thirsty nations in the world. No wonder, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has come up with a media campaign of Rs155 million for water conservation in the country.
WaterAid which is an international non-governmental Organisation focused on water, sanitation and hygiene reveal that access to water is a key problem for the district of Tharparkar, which comprises an area of 22,000sqkm. More than 1.4 million people and about five million heads of livestock live in the area, where annual rainfall averages can be as low as 9mm, and drought is common.
They further conclude that to cope with this water scarcity, the government and other stakeholders must try their level best to bring a sustainable solution to water needs of Tharparkar. Various approaches including solar-powered reverse osmosis technology, solar pumps, groundwater extraction through dug wells and hand pumps, rainwater harvesting, pipe water supply etc. are being undertaken simultaneously. However, Tharparkar desert is categorically distributed in various ecological zones based on the topography, soil condition and water table. Hence, some different and unique water coping approaches are needed zone wise. All these require an integrated approach for the district Level Water Security Plan.
It is nice to know that, “The Water Security Plan” for Tharparkar was in pipeline and is now submitted to the provincial Chief Minister of Sindh for approval. The plan once approved, will be shared with wider stakeholders and potential donors for its resourcing and implementation to be led by the Government of Sindh.
It is high time to realize that, Tharparkar has great potential. From agriculture to livestock, coal mines to Desert-safari, Tharparkar has much more to offer and may help life going on. There are some leguminous crops that better grow in Tharparkar, guar being one. Experts figure out Pakistan, being the 2nd largest producer of guar, meets 10% to 15% of the world’s supply. It is therefore suggested that there should be a research institute in Tharparkar helping the growers to increase the yield by introducing the promising seeds. Experts estimated total Kharif production of the crop in 2011 at about 7,20,000 maunds cultivated over an area of about 6,00,000 acres. Agriculture experts working are of the view that the production of guar could be increased many times more in the area. There is also a need to set up a guar-gum processing industry in Tharparkar for its direct export. This will help gain optimum economic returns on the product benefiting local producers and may contribute a better lifestyle.
Note: The Author is Chairman Department of Veterinary Parasitology Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam