Rising threat to crops from climate

Published February 3, 2014
A Pakistani laborer unloads bananas from a truck at a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. - File Photo
A Pakistani laborer unloads bananas from a truck at a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad, Pakistan on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. - File Photo

Farmers in Sindh are suffering the worst effects of climate change on their banana, tomato, seasonal vegetable and fruit crops in the wake of an unexpected wave of extreme cold.

Growers say the cold spell has destroyed 70 per cent of banana orchards and 80 per cent of vegetable and fruit farms in six districts of the province. Banana produced here has a huge demand in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as well as Iran and Afghanistan. Such an extreme weather was last experienced in 2005.

They accuse the agriculture extension department of lack of interest to help them save their crops sensitising them to the effects of climate change and enable them to make changes accordingly in the crop pattern. The fact remains that because of climate change, sowing and harvesting timings have changed and those who are unable to adapt themselves to the changed situation suffer the most.

The cultivation of the potato crop in Punjab was delayed by a month (from September to October) this year due to precipitation and high temperature. Still, some farmers in central Punjab expect reduction in the yield up to ten per cent. Vegetables, particularly potatoes, are more vulnerable to heat. Punjab contributes almost 90 per cent to the country’s total production of potato.

Agriculture is facing five major risks caused by climate change. These are rise in sea level, glacial retreats, floods, higher average temperature and frequency of droughts. Crop yields are expected to decrease in the years to come not only because of flooding, but also due to rise in temperatures. Some areas may even become uncultivable. Cotton was once an important crop for Faisalabad, but now it is not grown there anymore.

The country, according to federal minister for science and technology Zahid Hamid, contributes only 0.43 per cent (developing countries contribute only 10 per cent) to the total annual global greenhouse emissions, ranking 135th in the world, yet it faces severe effects of climate change. He was speaking at a conference on “Asian Monsoon and Climate Change” in Islamabad on January 20. According to the Global Climate Risk Assessment Index developed by Germanwatch, he said, Pakistan has ranked 8th among the countries most vulnerable to climate change during 1992-2011 period.

On January 15, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) in its annual report on the state of the economy, said climate change was a major threat to Pakistan and a greater risk to food security and predicted a decline in production of wheat by 1.5-2.5 per cent and of rice by two-four per cent by 2020. According to the SBP report, the agriculture sector is also facing challenges: average yields are either stagnant or declining; Pakistan has been identified as a water scarce country, yet little has been done to enhance storage and improve the effective distribution (and use) of canal water fed by the River Indus; the increasing cost of inputs such as fertiliser has reduced the farmer’s ability to use them; agricultural practices remain too traditional or obsolete, as farmers remain averse to modern soil preparation and sowing techniques or mechanisation. In 1949-50, the agriculture sector contributed 53 per cent to the GDP, which during 2012-13, dropped drastically to 21.4 per cent.

Fiscal year 2012-13 was the third consecutive year when adverse weather damaged the crops. Initially, area under cotton and rice declined due to late harvesting of wheat crop, and water shortages. Later in September 2012, heavy rains and localised flooding adversely affected the cotton and rice crops in southern Punjab, and nearby areas in Balochistan.

The growing season length of wheat and rice in Pakistan will be reduced as a result of climate change with negative effects on yield. The reduction is already too pronounced in the semi-arid areas and rice seems to be more sensitive to climate changes than wheat, as evident from higher yield reduction.

According to a World Bank study, as much as 30 per cent of the country’s current water reserves will deplete in 20 years. The cost of production of major crops, as a result, will go up if no timely steps are taken to formulate policies and guidelines on use of water for irrigation.

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