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Hailstorm Wreaks Havoc: Farmers Await Compensation in Bajaur

The calamitous event not only affected Abdullah's farm but also plunged the entire agricultural sector of Bajaur into turmoil, leading the government to declare the region a disaster zone.

by Shah Khalid Shah Jee - 05 Apr, 2024 1527

40-year-old Abdullah, hailing from the Baro area of Salarzai Tehsil in Bajaur, leased 70 kanals of agricultural land annually, alongside his two younger sons and nephew. Despite their concerted efforts, their farming venture faced a devastating blow last year when a severe hailstorm ravaged their fields, decimating crops including vertical tomato, capsicum, brinjal, cucumber, and coriander.

The calamitous event not only affected Abdullah's farm but also plunged the entire agricultural sector of Bajaur into turmoil, leading the government to declare the region a disaster zone. While a survey was conducted to assess the losses suffered by affected landowners like Abdullah, compensation remains elusive for all victims.

Abdullah recounted investing three lakh rupees in seasonal vegetable cultivation last year, sourced through loans from various vegetable market vendors. With their livelihoods entwined with the success of their crops, the sudden onslaught of the hailstorm shattered their hopes and financial stability.

Despite their tireless toil from dawn till dusk, the catastrophic weather event snatched away their means of sustenance, leaving them grappling with immense losses.

Reflecting on the widespread devastation caused by consecutive hailstorms in May, July, August, and September last year, Dr. Subhanuddin, an Agriculture Department officer in Bajaur, highlighted the staggering impact on the region's agricultural landscape.

The ferocity of the storms wreaked havoc on wheat crops, vegetable patches, and fruit orchards, with damage levels reaching unprecedented heights. The lingering repercussions of last year's losses continue to cast a shadow of uncertainty over the agricultural community, posing significant challenges for recovery efforts.

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According to data from the Agriculture Department in Bajaur, the district boasts a total agricultural land area of 129,036 hectares, with 77,062 hectares deemed cultivable. Wheat cultivation spans 34,522 hectares, yielding 25,410 tons, while vegetables cover 1,572 hectares, producing 13,098 tons. Orchards occupy 767 hectares, yielding 5,865 tons annually. Notably, tomato cultivation occupies 60 hectares, with a production output of 462 tons, signaling a gradual increase in yield over the years.

Meanwhile, Malik Fazal, cultivating wheat and maize across 450 kanals of land, faced a drastic reduction in yields following last year's calamitous hailstorms. Despite typically yielding 700 maunds of wheat, the adverse weather conditions saw production plummet to a mere 40 maunds.

To offset shortages, Fazal resorted to purchasing 80 maunds of wheat from the market, marking an unprecedented occurrence in his farming experience. Despite joint assessments by the agriculture department and district authorities estimating losses at five million rupees, Fazal and others await the long-overdue compensation promised by the government, underscoring the urgent need for support to alleviate their hardships.

Nawaz Khan, the former president of the Tehsil Salarzai Farm Services Center and an Inspector of the Agriculture Department in Bajaur was among the members of the survey team tasked with assessing losses incurred by the hailstorm. Alongside him were representatives from farmers' organizations and the Tehsildar from the district administration. The Tehsil Salarzai bore the brunt of the hailstorm, resulting in losses amounting to crores of rupees.

Expressing his concerns, Nawaz mentioned that whenever he visits the affected fields, landlords inquire about the compensation payments. Despite assurances of imminent action, there has been little progress, leading to a loss of trust among the landlords.

Among the hailstorm-affected landowners is Saleem Khan from the Naguman area of Peshawar district, who has been cultivating vegetables on annual rent in various parts of Bajaur for the past fourteen years. He introduced the vertical tomato variety in Bajaur, significantly contributing to its widespread cultivation in the district. Last year, he cultivated various vegetables across approximately 100 kanals of land, incurring expenses of Rs. 28 lakh. However, before reaping the benefits of his efforts, a devastating hailstorm obliterated his crops, leaving him financially devastated. Salim estimated potential earnings of ninety lakh rupees if not for the destruction caused by the hailstorm.

Salim highlighted significant changes in weather patterns over the past three years, with hailstorms becoming a recurring menace during the typical cropping season. The unprecedented severity of last year's hailstorm exacerbated financial strains, compounded by his children's medical expenses totaling Rs. 6000 monthly due to skin diseases. Despite government promises of Rs. 10,000 compensation per acre, the funds have yet to materialize, leaving him and others in dire need of support.

Addressing concerns over the delay in compensation payments, Dr. Subhan-ud-Din explained that the district administration cited challenges in verifying eligible recipients due to erroneous registrations. The magnitude of the damage, estimated in billions of rupees, has strained government resources, necessitating a thorough investigation before disbursement. Dr. Subhan-ud-Din pledged to raise the issue with higher authorities and the district administration following Eid, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the plight of affected landowners.