Khyber Pakhtunkhwa agriculture suffers from very low productivity, with risks of crop failures owing to persistent weather anomalies.
The Climate Change Centre at the University of Agriculture, Peshawar, has warned the provincial government that the surging temperature will make the land unsuitable for cultivating wheat, maize and sugarcane.
The most alarming side of the centre’s study is that higher temperatures are expected to promote the growth of fungus and pests in the province. Currently, of the two crops, wheat occupies over 45pc and maize, the second important cereal crop grown, about 30pc of the cultivated area.
The total cultivable area of the province is 6.55m acres but irrigation facility is only available for 2.277m acres, hardly 32pc of the cultivable area. Thus 68pc, or 4.43m acres, are arid. A delay in timely rains exposes a large rural population to weather risks.
Given the agricultural landscape of the province farmers suffer from low productivity. Nearly 80pc of the KP population lives in rural and peri-urban areas, whereas about 85pc, directly or indirectly, earn their livelihood from farming. However, agriculture contributes a mere 14pc to the provincial income; far below its potential.
Climate change and uncertain hydrological patterns are expected to affect access to
water … Farmers need to be supported in finding and developing adequate responses
to these challenges
Deputy Director and Associate Professor at the Climate Change Centre, Dr Inamullah Khan says an increase of just one degree Celsius in temperature might cause a rapid increase in the population of insects which will have a devastating effect on crops. The study established a direct link of rising temperatures with falling crop areas.
In the past decade, the increase in temperature was between 0.46 and 0.69 degrees Celsius. In D.I Khan, where the water situation is already alarming, sugarcane will not be able to grow because of depletion in the water table.
Climate change and uncertain hydrological patterns are expected to affect access to water in this highly diverse and ecologically fragile province. Farmers need to be supported in finding and developing adequate responses to these challenges.
Samreen Babar, a member of the research team, also established that a degree increase in mean temperature reduces crop yield by approximately 2000 tonnes. She said climate change has a harsher impact in the southern part of KP, which is already short of water supply and gets low rainfall.
KP Spokesperson, Mushtaq Ghani says his government is aware of the situation and has come up with several steps to overcome the problem.
The KP government will plant a billion trees by the year 2018. Around 190m trees have already been planted over a period of two years.
The plantation in the water logged area was in order to cultivate the barren soil. Mr Ghani further says that the KP government is also working on the re-generation of the forest. “We have taken several steps in this direction”.
Regarding the issue of low crop production, he said poor infrastructure is preventing a lower utilisaton of water.
Water supply will improve after the construction of the Chasma Right Bank Canal (CRBC). The canal will provide water for wheat growing in the D I Khan area. As a result, Mr Ghani says, the province will become self sufficient in food, and end its dependence on Punjab.
In February 2016 the federal government agreed to provide help to KP for developing infrastructure so that it may utilise its full share of water. KP is seeking an amendment in the IRSA Act 1992, to get a payment of about Rs120bn, as a compensation for its under-utilised water.
KP has also been demanding the construction of the CRBC by the federal government, which could irrigate 300,000 acres of land in the province.
Besides, the KP government will have to develop new crops for a changing climate, better farming practices and modern methods to improve yield of various grain crops and fruits.
Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, October 24th, 2016