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Potato crop delayed by climate change

Updated December 02, 2013

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- File Photo
- File Photo

The delay in early harvesting of potato crop in Punjab, which led to an extraordinary hike in its prices across the country last month, has been attributed to the impact of climate change.

The crop’s cultivation in autumn, which begins in September, has been delayed due to precipitation and high temperature.

For the agricultural sector, October is of crucial importance, for it is in this month that the temperature fluctuates. Because of changing climate, cultivation and harvesting timings have changed and farmers who are able to adapt themselves to the changed timetable remain less affected. But most of them are unwilling to take adaptation measures and prefer to follow the traditional timetable, which may lead to a decline in production and a rise in food prices.

Some farmers in central Punjab expect reduction in the yield up to 10 per cent in their crops in view of the major changes they are witnessing in weather. Extreme weather events, however, cannot be described as disasters. If at all, it will be determined by the capability of farmers to adapt to climatic changes.

Some potato growers are of the view that the potato crisis is basically the result of government’s inconsistent policies which has compelled many fellow growers to shift to other crops.

Last year, they claim, they sold their commodity for an average price of Rs8 per kg against the production cost of Rs15 per kg. Besides, bulk import of vegetables from India, sold at higher prices, has discouraged the local farmers.

Results of some studies recently conducted at an Impact Studies Centre to assess the impact of climate change on the productivity of major food crops showed that the growing season length (GSL) of wheat crop was on decrease in all the ecological zones with each degree rise in temperature.

The GSL of Basmati rice also decreased in the semi-arid zone of central Punjab which is the main Basmati rice growing area in Pakistan. The grain yield of wheat also decreased with rising temperature in all zones except the Northern Mountainous zone where the yield increased. Like wheat, the paddy yield of Basmati rice also decreased with rising temperatures in the semi-arid region of Central Punjab.

The fact remains that climate change is a reality and that the agricultural sector is most vulnerable to it. Any changes in sowing and harvesting periods will, no doubt, affect the poor rural communities. Pakistan’s economy, and its food security, is largely linked with agriculture. Owing to high population, there is already a heavy pressure on land and other natural resources. Additional pressure due to climate change will be difficult to sustain.

Global Climate Risk Index produced by Germanwatch, an NGO that works on global equity issues, had placed Pakistan on top in 2010 showing the country was worst affected by disasters caused by extreme weather events. This year’s report puts Pakistan on number three preceded by Haiti and the Philippines as being hardest hit by weather disasters in 2012. Fast melting of glaciers, floods and droughts are causing suffering and loss of life, in addition to economic losses.

What is irritating to observe is the government’s lukewarm attitude towards tackling climate change and the issues related to it. For bureaucrats and politicians, climate change is essentially a priority matter for the western world, and not for Pakistan.

Since it is a relatively new phenomenon, there is very little knowledge in the provincial environment departments on how to deal with it. After the passage of 18th amendment, environment and climate change has been transferred to the provinces which are only dealing with environment-related issues and would like the federal government to address climate change.

The government’s policy on this important matter is not very clear although the country has already ratified the UN Framework convention on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol. The National Climate Change Policy, launched in February this year by the previous government, is being ignored by the present government.

The ministry of climate change has also been demoted to the status of a division of the ministry of environment, with the prime minister himself being its minister in-charge. The government has allocated only Rs58.8 million to climate change division for 2013-14 as compared to Rs168.1 million in 2012-13 which is a big drop.

The lead author of the National Climate Change Policy and an expert on climate change Dr Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry says Pakistan may face isolation in the international community if it doesn’t take effective measures to cope with changing weather patterns.

Some countries in the South Asian region, such as India, Bangladesh and Nepal, are taking significant measures to address the issue. At this point, Pakistan receives around $3 million for a climate adaptation fund and $3.5 million in Glacier Lake Outburst Funding through international aid which is too little.

To cope with climate change, developed countries have established a ‘Green Climate Fund,’ the objective being to raise a $100 billion per annum by 2020. Pakistan has no share in this, mainly because of its inefficiency in dealing with the environmental challenge.

According to 2006 Pakistan Strategic Country Environmental Assessment Report, the annual cost of environmental degradation in Pakistan was estimated at Rs365 billion ($4.2 billion). This cost has now reached around Rs450 billion ($5.2 billion).

India and Bangladesh, aware of the long-term consequences if they ignore the climate change hazards, have been spending a lot on tackling the effects of changing weather patterns. As a result, they are receiving big grants from developed countries for climate aid. India is spending over 2.6 per cent of its GDP to cope with climate challenges. It is also one of the biggest recipients of climate change aid.There is enough scientific evidence available now to confirm the ever-growing threat to the world’s population caused by continued emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

During climate summit in Warsaw last month, a group of scientists from the Climate Action Tracker released a report saying that if current trends continue, the likely warming will not be 2 °C, but 3.7 °C and possible as high as 4.6 °C in 2100.

But the participant countries failed to agree on how to resolve the climate change crisis.