The vagaries of weather

Published May 26, 2013 05:33am

Zahrah Nasir shares her experiences as an organic farmer in a mountainous region

I get upset when people insist that climate change is not real as, living and working in harmony with nature, I experience the evidence of drastically altered weather patterns that have to be dealt with night and day and all the year round.

Maintaining an organic orchard/garden in the mountains of northern Pakistan has never been easy but, as a direct result of climate change, each year for the last 10 years, it is becoming increasingly harder to maintain healthy plants and acceptable levels of production.

An ‘extreme weather event’ — as climate change-related ‘upheavals’ are scientifically called — can have unprecedented consequences. For example four years back, as a result of drought, there was not a single drop of water available for irrigation for five long months. This was hard to cope with, not a drop of water for household use either and, as after precious water sources in the vicinity ran dry, it became necessary to travel for miles in order to fill containers with just enough water for personal use: this was then recycled for flushing the toilet.

There was nothing for trees and plants and it was absolute hell watching the hard work and tender loving care of previous years, literally shrivel up and die before my eyes and, in respect of trees, shrubs and perennial plants, the effect is still being felt as, for instance, the apple crop has all but failed every year since and both apricot and plum trees have not yet recovered their strength either. The trees do manage to blossom but, depleted as they are of energy reserves, they do not have the necessary strength to hang on to their blossom at crucial fruit set time when, another climate change problem, a vicious hair-dryer wind blows in for a period of seven to 14 days at a time.

Ever since the long drought — as against the shorter ones which have become more common over the recent years — overall weather patterns have been in a confusing spin with periods of relative warmth in the middle of what should be winter followed by bitter chill, even snow, when it is supposed to be spring. This plays havoc with traditional planting seasons and has badly interfered with the previously recognised months of what was the growing season as well.

This year, so far, promises to be a bad one indeed as the winter (it began with the arrival of heavy snow in December) has gone on and on. It was broken by deceptive warm spells now and then, which encouraged the sowing of tomato, aubergine, capsicum, cucumber, bean, pumpkin, etc, seeds in mid-April but, suddenly, at the beginning of May, it reverted to unseasonal cold when sweaters had to be put back on and, come evening, fires lit too which was, until this year, completely unheard off.

Naturally, germination and emergent seedlings were adversely affected and, as seasonal crops rely not just on ambient temperatures but also on the length of daylight hours; replanting will not, even if summer is extended, be feasible for some crops as daylight hours will, approaching harvest, be too short for them to ripen before the onset of winter.

As one topsy-turvy year moves into the next, sowing seeds of anything at all becomes more and more of a gamble and the harvesting of fresh, organic, home-produced food which could, before climate change impacted so badly, be relied upon all the year round and which made the purchase of inferior bazaar items unnecessary, is now a very hit and miss affair indeed.


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