THE farmers of the Potohar region usually sow their wheat crop before November, and the agriculture department has set Nov 5 as the deadline for wheat sowing so that a better crop can be ensured. This year, though, with December nearly upon them, the farmers still find their land uncultivable.
“Sowing should begin possible by the end of December provided it does not rain too much,” says Mohammad Dorez, visibly distressed. Some eight kilometres to the west of Chakwal city, his grass-laden field is being ploughed. Dorez, who never had an education, does not know the expression ‘climate change’, but he blames his predicament on the unusual monsoon rains. In many parts of the region, there was very heavy rainfall up to October; but other parts of the region got lower than average rains.
Know more: Response to climate change impacts
Besides the delay in the sowing of wheat, the harvesting of the peanut crop — which is considered the sole cash crop in the region — has also been badly affected either by the unusual heavy rains, or the continued dry spell in the belt of Talagang, a tehsil of Chakwal district. The peanut crop should have been harvested three weeks ago but it is lying rotting in many fields because the drenched soil means the harvest cannot be undertaken.
“This is happening due to climate change,” says Dr Mohammad Tariq, director of the Barani Agricultural Research Institute in Chakwal.
Geographically, Pakistan is located in a region that is likely to be affected most by climate change. “As per vulnerability to climate change determined by Germanwatch [which compiles a climate change performance index], Pakistan is among the top 10 vulnerable countries in the world,” says Prof Dr Abdul Saboor, chairman of the department of economics and agri-economics at the Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi. “There is a continuous increase in temperature, due to which we have observed the heavy melting of ice, leading to floods in addition to a rise in sea level, which causes the degradation of mangroves in Pakistan. We have witnessed the devastating flood of 2010; the same pattern continued in subsequent years. Also, this rise in temperature is reflected in the drought in Sindh and Balochistan. Tharparkar is a classic case.”
A recent study conducted in Chakwal and Attock districts by Intercooperation, a Swiss non-governmental organisation, predicts horrible consequences of climate change. The report, jointly authored by Dr Mohammad Hanif, director of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, and Dr Jawad Ali, director of the Climate Change Centre of the University of Agriculture in Peshawar, predicts that the region is going to lose its spring and autumn seasons. “There will be only two seasons: summer and winter. The summers are going to be wet while the winters are turning into a dry season as we are facing an increase in summer rains and a decrease in winter rainfall,” says Dr Tariq, quoting the findings of the study. Due to the decrease in winter rains, the chances of the wheat crop failing are increasing while the crop has also become more prone to getting infested with weeds. The increase in summer rains means more soil erosion, more land degradation and more floods.
The agriculture sector, which is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, is going to suffer badly. The change in the weather pattern is already having an impact on crops.
“The agricultural sector of this region is vulnerable to both temperature and rainfall,” says Dr Saboor. “The rise in temperature is hampering the per acre yield of the wheat and maize crops. There is also a serious impact on fruit and vegetables. The net farm revenue, as gauged from farming business, is the lowest in the region which is substantially attributed to climate change given all the other factors. There is an element of micro-climate change in the Barani region. For instance in Fateh Jang, it has been observed that some insects have started attacking livestock, thereby reducing the growth of animals and milk production. The frost phenomenon is also shaking the very fabric of plantation in some regions.”
But policymakers here don’t seem overly concerned. “India set up eight different institutions to tackle the climate change trend in 1971,” says an expert on agriculture. “But we have done nothing practical. We’ll be facing the worst sort of situation if we don’t take steps urgently.”
Published in Dawn, November 25th , 2014