The farmers’ plight

Published February 22, 2015
A farmer field school in action
A farmer field school in action

Farmers in Pakistan, the majority of whom are considered “small farmers”, already know that the weather is changing and they are trying desperately to adapt to climate change without much help from the government. Considering that farming is the country’s largest economic activity, our economy is at exceptionally high risk as experts say that higher temperatures will lead to greater climatic uncertainty.

At the recent conference on ‘Climate Change, Social Vulnerability and Food Security in Pakistan’, Dr Pervaiz Amir, a water expert and a farmer himself pointed out: “Farmers are most stressed and operating without government support … they will do what they have to do but we do expect a planned response to help us out.”

Hosted by WWF-Pakistan, the Lahore University of Management Science (LUMS), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), LEAD-Pakistan and others, the one-day conference held in Islamabad also provided a forum to launch important research on adaptation to climate change.


Government support in revamping traditional farming practices to suit climate change could improve our economy


Dr Musadiq Malik, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Water and Power, was invited to the morning session. “If you improve agricultural productivity by three per cent you save as much water as could (potentially) be stored by Kalabagh Dam,” he said.

According to Ali Dehlavi of WWF-Pakistan who presented the findings of a study on climate change adaptation in the Indus Ecoregion in a later session, “Teaching farmers to adapt is the first thing the government should be doing rather than focusing on the building of reservoirs or the lining of canals.” In his view, “People have confused adaptation with disaster risk reduction; farmers can’t become resilient just with disaster risk reduction.”

After three years of research at seven different sites in Punjab and Sindh on household adaptation and food security, his team came to the conclusion that based on a 0.5 degrees increase in temperature in the coming years due to climate change, there would be an eight to 10pc decline in agricultural productivity by 2040. “In other words, 25 years from now one acre of wheat will produce eight to 10pc less, and that fall will cost farmers Rs30,000 per acre”.

These findings are for what he described as “non-adaptive farmers”. Those who practiced on-farm adaptation techniques (already in use by some farmers in Sindh and Punjab) like altered sowing/harvesting dates, shifting crop patterns, changed levels and composition of inputs, increased soil conservation investment and increased water conservation would, in fact, see productivity gains of 49pc increase in wheat yield and 52pc increase in cotton yield (in maunds per acre); though for rice it is negligible. “We need this information as planners; the training of farmers in these techniques could be done at a very low cost … building capacity is what is really needed to tighten productivity.”

WWF-Pakistan has already had many years of experience in teaching farmers adaptation measures through Farmer Field Schools (FFS). In late 2014, they organised three FFS from November to December. Instructions on agricultural practices required to adapt to climate change covered three crops: wheat, sugarcane and rice. FFS were conducted on sugar cane production in Jhang, rice production in Rahim Yar Khan and wheat production in Bahawalpur. Around 200 farmers were trained on adaptation strategies, including a few additional farmers living in the coastal areas of Pakistan. FFS are, in fact, a proven low cost method of educating farmers using flyers and radio messages with a high pay off. The agricultural departments of the provincial governments could easily provide these trainings as well.

The government under the newly elevated Ministry of Climate Change has now finalised a framework for the implementation of the National Climate Change Policy from 2014-2030. According to the environment lawyer and professor at LUMS, Rafay Alam, who also participated in the research, “It is an instructive document and a way forward but there is a question of enforceability.” Overall, he finds little concern for adaptive measures shown by the federal government that retains the authority to formulate climate change policies. The capacity has been diminished by austerity measures and there is considerable confusion in the post-18th amendment legislation. Even at the provincial level, no steps have been taken towards provincial climate change policy or adaptive measures.

According to the new secretary of the Federal Ministry of Climate Change, Arif Ahmed Khan, who took charge a month ago, “There is a perception that climate change is not a priority but now the message is there, that it is an important matter which has reached the politicians and the common person. I have heard many people say that the weather is changing although they don’t have the vocabulary or jargon to describe it as climate change … We plan to implement the National Climate Change Policy in due course and hope to show good results”.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 22nd, 2015

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