THE rapid rise in average global temperatures calls for a shift from conventional agricultural patterns to a sustainable and climate-friendly approach. For long, researchers have warned us about the damaging impact of climate change on agricultural productivity. The consequences are particularly dire in the developing world, where most countries are located in regions with already warm temperatures. Increases in temperatures beyond that level are causing a massive reduction in yields and leading to food insecurity. The impact is exponential considering that most of these countries are heavily reliant on agriculture, which makes up a major chunk of their GDP, employment and foreign reserves.
American economist William Cline, in his study Global Warming and Agriculture aptly sums up this disproportionate impact of climate change on agriculture. The study found that a 2.5 per cent increase in global temperatures would slash agricultural productivity by 6pc in America while cutting it by almost 40pc in India and other South Asian countries.
It is indeed unfair that most of these developing countries bearing the brunt of climate crisis have least contributed to it. Pakistan, for example, contributes less than 1pc to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change. But rather than lamenting this unfairness, it is high time we focused our attention on adaptation and mitigation measures.
Agricultural yield in Pakistan had long stagnated due to the absence of comprehensive policy measures to reform the sector. Despite the central role that agriculture plays in the economy by contributing around 20pc to GDP and absorbing almost 40pc of the labour force, it continues to lag behind its potential.
Agriculture must be rescued from the impact of climate change.
The past few years have witnessed constant food shortages due to low yields, resulting in elevated food prices, double-digit inflation, and a deteriorating current account as major staples were imported. This is even more worrying considering the population growth rate of 2pc, one of the highest in South Asia. To ensure food security and adequate nourishment for the ever-growing populace the ailing agriculture sector must be rescued through sustainable solutions.
Major climate change challenges in agriculture are frequent floods, droughts, irregular rainfall, soaring temperatures and pest attacks. Floods, which are now a regular calamity, wash away agricultural produce along with soil nutrients, at times leaving the land uncultivable. Scorching temperatures have increased evapotranspiration rates, thereby reducing crop yield and quality. Irregular rain patterns and water scarcity have effectively caused land output to wither away. Pest attacks, like locust invasions, pose a grave threat as crops can be devastated almost instantly.
The solution lies in implementing climate-friendly policies focusing on adaptation and mitigation. Firstly, the focus needs to shift from only a few crops that are now producing low yields to other crops which can better survive the changing climatic conditions. Similarly, uniform access to new seed varieties that are pest- and drought-resistant as well as water-efficient, is crucial. Some of these techniques have been successfully introduced in some areas, but they need to be uniformly implemented throughout. Holistic and comprehensive research is needed to ensure that the right crops are grown in the right place.
To address our water woes, water management techniques need to be implemented. Since drip irrigation and the sprinkler system are unviable due to their high cost, options like rainwater harvesting, canal water lining, and laser levelling can prove effective. Additionally, wide-scale adoption of renewable technology in the agriculture sector is necessary for enhanced water supply and storage. These measures would not only ensure water conservation but also generate much-needed employment.
And lastly, insurance and credit in the agriculture sector need to be enhanced. The risk-averse nature of farmers prevents them from venturing in new directions. Thus agricultural insurance would play a tremendous role in boosting farmers’ confidence and encourage them to turn towards eco-friendly solutions. It will also attract further investment in the sector by making it more profitable.
It’s clear that continuing with conventional agricultural techniques is no longer viable due to climate change. In order to counter its consequences, adaptation is key. We need to move beyond knee-jerk policies and adopt a comprehensive agriculture policy focusing on climate change adaptation. But in a country where it is easier to make policies than to implement them, strong dedication is needed for monitoring and implementation. As we have seen, numerous well-researched policies go to waste due to the absence of good governance. Enough with lip service. It’s time for action.
The writer is an economist, environmentalist and sustainable development enthusiast.
Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2022