The Many Cultures of Hafizabad – Journal
Former tehsil of Gujranwala, the district of Hafizabad covers 2,367 km² and is located 109 km from Lahore. It includes a flat alluvial plain suitable for most agricultural crops and is divided between low-lying alluvial cones and an upland area.
Tube wells are a major source of irrigation, while a small part of the land is watered by the lower Chenab canal. Due to the proximity of the hills, rainfall is higher in the east than in the west of the district.
Folk tales say that the city of Hafizabad, the seat of the district, was built by Hafiz Meerak, adviser to Mughal Emperor Akbar, at the request of Faqir Sarmast. The emperor had been impressed by the great generosity of Faqir Sarmast during the first visit to the region.
According to the 2017 census, the total population of the district is over 1.15 million. A secular caste system still dominates the social fabric. The main castes included the Bhattis, Kharals, Tarars, Mughals, Maliks, Arain, Jandrans, Mohals and Cheemas who own most of the local industries and land. The political field is however under the influence of Tarars, Arain and Bhattis.
A sign indicating “The city of rice” greets motorists as they pass through the Hafizabad district on highway-2. It is the largest rice market in the country. Its importance in the rice sector can be measured by the fact that at least 23 rice mills were operating here at the time of independence. It is also an extension of the textile industry of Faisalabad and many manual and power looms operate here, adding to the economy of the district as well as the country.
The PTI government increased the price of cane by just Rs 20, from Rs 180 to Rs 200 per maund, but allowed the price of sugar to double.
Rice is the main crop and the underlying area increased from 211,000 acres in 1993, when Hafizabad was granted district status, to 346,000 acres in 2020. Half of the rice sown is non-Basmati, mainly varieties 386 and Supri. A new seed named 1509 is also gaining popularity among farmers as it ripens in a relatively short time but with higher yields. Hybrid varieties are also being tested, but not on a large scale as they are more expensive and only large landowners are able to buy. Many growers, interested in growing forage crops after the rice harvest, opt for early sowing of the Basmati Super Fine variety.
Rates for non-Basmati varieties, however, have fallen from Rs400 per maund this year, leading to protests from growers. Arguing that the prices of agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizers, diesel (for tube wells) as well as labor increased during the year, protesters demanded a minimum support price for the rice like wheat and sugar cane. They blocked the road from Gujranwala to Chan Da Qila on September 8, and it was only opened to traffic after the commissioner of Gujranwala held talks and assured them that their voices were heard by the provincial authorities. Another protest rally was held on October 2 in front of the Hafizabad press club.
Kisan Board Pakistan vice chairman Amanullah Chathha, who is from Hafizabad, said agricultural authorities provided subsidies for rice dryers until the Musharraf era. It helps rice farmers dry their produce and store it for sale at a better rate when the market improves about a month after harvest is finished. He calls on the government to reintroduce the program in the wider interest of the farming community.
Mr. Chathha also criticizes the recorded cases and arrests made over the burning of rice stalks left in the fields after harvest. He argues that the burning of paddy stalks is responsible for only 12% of smog, and the rest is caused by ovens, factories, automobile traffic and the incineration of household waste in urban centers. But action is only being taken against farmers, he laments, suggesting that the government stop action until a new harvester, which shreds the stalk into small pieces, becomes mainstream. Current machines, he says, leave most of the rod intact and this hinders the work of tractors during plowing, while manual labor, although expensive, is not available in villages because most laborers farmers have migrated to cities in search of greener pastures.
Wheat in popularity comes second but in terms of acreage first in the district. It was once seeded over 283,000 in the mid-90s, but its land cover passed the 400,000-acre mark for a few years between 2014 and 2018 to drop to 361,000 in recent years.
Saifullah, a wheat farmer from Kot Panah, complains that the “flawed” sourcing policy of Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation Ltd, which has the exclusive right to purchase wheat from the district, allows middlemen to exploit Farmers. Alleging the use of political influence in the distribution of jute bags and the vote for the selection of farmers for the purchase of grain, he says that the federal entity does not buy all the products and does not let them producers transport their wheat to other districts to sell it for Punjabi food. department. This puts them at the mercy of the arhti middlemen, who buy the grain at a rate much lower than the official support price because producers lack the space and resources to store their produce longer, he says.
On the other hand, if there is a wheat crisis and when there is a wheat crisis, the grains kept by farmers for domestic use are forcibly removed from their homes.
Sugar cane is cultivated along the Chenab River which flows along the western boundary of the district separating it from the districts of Mandi Bahauddin and Sargodha. Its surface area fluctuates depending on the treatment reserved for planters by the sugar factories. The area cultivated with sugarcane hovers between 13,000 and 23,000 acres, although its yield has increased from 405 maunds in 1993 to 705 maunds per acre by 2020. Chathha says middlemen are also exploiting cane growers. sugar. He regrets that the PTI government has increased the price of cane by only Rs 20, from Rs 180 to Rs 200 per maund, but has made it possible to double the price of sugar, from Rs 58 to Rs 110 per kg. He asks that the rate of sugar cane be fixed in proportion to the price of sugar.
Maize is also cultivated in the district but mainly for silage and not for human consumption. It was planted on 4,000 acres in 1993. The area increased to 12,400 acres, but gradually fell to 2,300 acres despite a fourfold increase in yield per acre. Forage crops are sown after the rice harvest on approximately 14,600 acres. Forage area increased to 20,000 acres in 2005-06, but fell to 12,100 acres last year as the crop is planted for domestic animals and not for commercial purposes.
Waterlogging and salinity are two threats facing farmers. The level of the Qadirabad-Balloki connecting channel is higher than that of adjacent lands, causing water infiltration and excessive irrigation damaging plants. The region’s economy had already been hit hard by the problem, but the situation improved with the construction of drains. However, the drains are not properly cleaned, explains Haji Nasrullah, victim of the problem of waterlogging and salinity. The government had provided gypsum at subsidized rates to overcome the salinity problem, but the project ended about eight years ago. He calls for restarting the project and making pure gypsum available on the open market.
Some farmers have tried unsuccessfully to cultivate kinnow orchards, which are found in abundance along the north side of Chenab in the districts of Mandi Bahauddin and Sargodha. The kinnow produced here is poor in taste and color. The director of horticulture, Dr Muhammad Basharat, says that the soil in Hafizabad is not suitable for kinnow plants due to the moisture in the soil. Since growing rice requires too much water, it deteriorates the soil composition required for kinnow plants, he adds. However, watermelon is sown on a large scale. But the plants only bear fruit for growers when the Afghan market is open. Guava orchards have been cultivated on approximately 2,000 acres. But this fruit is also not of great quality.
Posted in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October 11, 2021