• Over 50pc losses in exportable mango varieties predicted
• Regional cooperation, measures to build climate resilience demanded

KARACHI: Extreme heat episodes over the past two months have particularly been devastating for the agriculture sector, forcing farmers and experts to demand urgent government measures to build climate resilience at the grass-root level.

They also complained that currently no early warning system existed for communicating information about extreme weather events ahead of the cropping season and to guide and facilitate farmers on climate change adaptation strategies including provision of heat and drought-tolerant seeds and the selection of the right crop.

Speaking to Dawn, farmers based in Sindh and Punjab said they were caught unprepared in the heatwaves and were clueless how to protect their crops and minimize damage.

“The intensely hot weather over the past two months, followed by a pest attack, has caused over 50 per cent losses in exportable mango varieties and 30pc loss in local varieties,” shared Asif Rana, a Multan-based mango farmer and consultant, adding that farmers sprayed their crops with amino acid and watered them in plenty but nothing worked.

“Fruit dropped prematurely, suffered sunburn or failed to achieve the desired size,” he said.

According to Masroor Soomro, a Dadu-based farmer, there have been conspicuous changes in weather patterns for the past few years. “Early onset of summer and delayed winter have been quite distinctive for some years now, but farmers haven’t received any guidance and support from the government to prepare for the worst that may strike them.”

The extreme heat episode in March led to significant reduction in the per acre yield from over 40 maunds to 28 maunds, he said. “Furthermore, the pesticides are no longer effective. There is a dire need for research on indigenous seeds to make them tolerant towards drought, intense heat and saline soil conditions, and new pesticides,” he believed.

Farmers’ miseries in Sindh, according to Syed Mahmood Nawaz Shah of Sindh Abadgar Board, were compounded due to acute shortage of water, a commodity more in demand due to oppressive weather. “Right now, we are getting 40pc to 50pc less water than Sindh’s share under the 1991 water accord. The shortage is aggravated up to 70pc in the tail-end areas which are not getting water even once a month and we have a serious concern that mango, banana, sugarcane and cotton crops would be affected by this situation.”

Triggered by a high-pressure system in the upper atmosphere, the recent weeklong heatwave has badly affected both Pakistan and India, with mercury soaring above 45 degrees Celsius in several areas in April that historically has relatively moderate temperature.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department data about weather in 63 districts showed that most areas saw a significant deviation from their respective average normal temperature for at least four consecutive days (from April 26 to 30).

According to Met officials, the pattern seems to be quite similar to what was experienced the previous month when 25 districts set new records of highest maximum temperature for March. The national rainfall was 62 per cent below normal.

“We have been hearing about climate change talk for a long time but it hasn’t translated into any meaningful action. Right now, there is a complete disconnect in the country between farmers’ needs and researchers with no assistance from the government on how agricultural practices could be modified to tackle extreme weather events,” said Rabia Sultan, who has been involved in farming for 20 years in Muzzafargarh district of Punjab.

Ms Sultan, who also heads Farmers’ Association Pakistan, also spoke of the need for regional cooperation as the whole region of South Asia was in the frontlines of the climate crisis.

High vulnerability

According to the 2020 report of the Global Climate Risk Index, Pakistan is the fifth most highly vulnerable to global warming and climate change country. Many studies suggested that temperature increase would shift Pakistan’s cropping season and could “potentially permanently eliminate” the viability of growing some crops.

They also indicated that extreme weather events would have serious short and long term adverse effects as they contributed to poverty and malnutrition, food insecurity, stress on water resources, lower nutritional quality of major cereals and livestock productivity, force migration and boost viral outbreaks in both human and animal population. Vulnerability of crops to pest attacks also increased.

“The situation is already quite serious in the poverty-stricken coastal areas of Sindh facing acute shortage of drinking water and growing sea intrusion that has destroyed large area of fertile land, forcing people to migrate to other areas,” said Dr Aamir Alamgir of Karachi University’s Institute of Environmental Studies, who has extensively studied the impact of climate change in lower Sindh.

If the situation remained unattended, he said, it could have dangerous implications for Pakistan where 60pc population directly or indirectly relied on rain-fed agriculture that depended on predictable weather patterns.

According to experts, provinces have been too slow in developing climate change policies and there is a serious lack of willingness and capacity to implement them. A case in point could be yet-to-be approved climate change policy of Sindh, work on which reportedly started in 2013 following approval of a national policy.

“It’s true that nothing is being done on the ground for climate resilience. Besides, the little work research institutions have done with respect to seed development hasn’t reached farmers,” said senior ecologist Rafiul Haq, suggesting that devolution brought under the 18th constitutional amendment had been politicised and hampering progress.

Worst yet to come

Explaining the drastic change in weather pattern, chief meteorologist Dr Sardar Sarfaraz said the process of climate change seemed to have accelerated and every successive year since 2015 had been observed to be warmer than the previous one.

“In Pakistan, the number of hot days (when daytime temperature exceeds 35 degrees Celsius) has increased by four to eight days since 1961 and the number of cold nights (when night time minimum temperature is below 10 degrees Celsius) have reduced by four to 10 days, indicating winters are shrinking and summers are lengthening.”

“We had the warmest March in the country since 1961 and now it seems that we have just experienced the warmest April in over six decades,” he said, highlighting the need for a multi-dimensional strategy to tackle the impact of climate change as heat spells were becoming more frequent. However, he said the worst might yet come, as May could be warmer if it remained significantly dryer. “We need to get our act together, adopt innovative methods to build resilience.”

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2022

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