There are good reasons why Rahim Yar Khan may have the most number of sugar mills in any district of Pakistan. The land is flat, irrigated, and, there is no shortage of farmers.
As my school friend and I drove through Rahim Yar Khan city, I was amazed by its size, and, level of commerce. From an Arab funded international airport, to a Coca-Cola bottling plant, there did not seem to be a shortage of foreign, or, local, investment.
We drove out to Rahimabad, approximately 20 kilometres out of the city, to my friend’s historic family enclave. Lined water canals, fields of tall sugar cane, and, mango orchards, welcomed us as we neared his home, known as a “Ma’ari” in the local Seraiki language.
Essentially a series of courtyards and squares, “Ma’aris” have an outer courtyard, where guests are received, and, an inner courtyard, where more close friends, and, family are entertained. Some of these structures are close to 100 years old, with carved facades, and high ceilings. Inside, traditional carved ceilings, and, fireplaces, add a splash of colour to all the symmetry.
After a hearty breakfast, and, tucking the boerbels into their room, a much needed nap was in order. In the afternoon, we planned to go take a closer look at what everyone here was most excited about, agriculture!
Only cash crops, no one is dilly-dallying around with just anything, farmers take their produce very seriously here. You won’t find any street-side organic farmer’s market selling a couple of kilos of tomatoes.
One sugar mill goes through approximately 1000 acres worth of sugar cane per day! To set up a sugar mill can cost up to Rs 100 crore (1 billion), or, US $ 11 million.
Chains of supply to customers are infested with middlemen, and buying rates fluctuate daily. Farmers have to stay on top of their game, i.e. produce the maximum from the minimum, to remain competitive. Its a high stakes business dependent on a variety of variables, ranging from the weather to Afghanistan.
It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of agriculture in Pakistan when you see farmers cutting grass around a field of cotton with worn out sickles. But even that grass is used as fodder for a cow that may sell upwards of Rs 100, 000 during peak season.
Every action in farming has purpose, as innocent and meaningless, as it may seem.
Management and supervision of every little action in agriculture is as important as it is in any other business. My friend and I visited his newly planted citrus orchard in Shiekhwan, where cotton was growing in space between trees, to supervise the weighing of cotton bales that had been collected.
He was expecting to harvest an average of 6 maunds/acre. He said, if he wasn’t there to supervise that figure would drop by at least 50%, even though his labour is given a fixed monthly salary, regardless of yield figures.
I would have liked to walk around a little bit more with my boerboels but we had to head home to meet with a young corporate farm manager. He was managing more than 100 farms for the Jaffer Brothers and had moved his young family to Rahim Yar Khan from Karachi. His children were studying at a Beaconhouse school and enjoyed visiting farms with him on their holidays.
Agriculture was the topic of every conversation. But I was surprised to learn that one of the most successful residents of Rahim Yar Khan had made his living by primarily hosting wealthy Arab sheikhs on their annual hunting trips to the area.
You can take an annual lease of an acre of land in Rahim Yar Khan for between Rs 20, 000 and 40, 000, depending on its fertility.
Agriculture was only one of the avenues available for generating wealth in Rahim Yar Khan, but all avenues of wealth in the district lead to the national political highway.
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