THE FAO has initiated a technical assistance project on the Punjab agriculture department’s request at the start of last winter season when heavy smog engulfed major parts of the province, especially in Lahore.
The project is to identify the relationship between smog and the unsafe agricultural practices like crop residue burning by farmers in the rice and wheat belts of the province.
Crop residue burning is believed to contribute in the formation of smog - a visible kind of air pollution that combines smoke and fog. Factors causing this kind of pollution include nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, ozone, smoke or particulates.
The project, called ‘TCP R-SMOG’ is in line with the third priority area of the FAO country framework for Pakistan which relates to increased capacity of the government institutions related to designing and implementing the policies and strategies for integrated natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Common sources of smog include coal emissions, power plants, vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, forest and agricultural practices such as fires and crop residue burning and photochemical reactions of these emissions.
The one-year remote sensing for ‘Spatio-Temporal Mapping of Smog’ in Punjab and identification of the underlying causes using GIS technologies launched last week, would determine the levels of air pollutants in areas where crop residue burning is in practice.
While speaking at the launch of the study, the FAO representative for Pakistan, Mina Dowlatchahi said that an action plan will be developed to contain unsafe agriculture practices such as crop residue burning and propose necessary steps to reduce the contribution of agriculture-related practices towards the formation of smog.
The study will also provide scientific evidence to understand the impact of crop residue burning and the need for adequate mitigation and adaptation strategies in the future.
Smog can cause a plant to lose 10-40pc growth, according to the University of California. Agriculture globally loses $2-6bn per year as a result of smog-driven reduced productivity.
The R-SMOG project uses satellite-based measurements. Satellite data of atmospheric pollutants are becoming more widely used in decision-making and environmental management activities of public, private sector and non-profit organisations. Air quality is important to our health and environment, but sources of contamination are often difficult to monitor.
Remote sensing methods and GIS technology provides powerful decision making tools by providing spatio-temporal satellite images. GIS and RS methods offer management, visualisation and analysis of air pollution data with spatial and time dependent attributes.
Dr Muhammad Munir Ahmed, Director of Climate Change and Alternate Energy and Water Resource Division of NARC, said that the burning of residues not only causes smog but also affects the fertility of soil and, eventually, the quality of crops. He believes that farmers should adopt scientific methods to dispose off the residue which also has economic benefits.
This FAO project will also undertake other factors like urban tree cutting, vehicular and industrial emissions, and increase in number of road vehicles along with others to understand the underlying causes of smog.
Dr Muhammad Tariq, Director Barani Research Institute Chakwal believes the study will prove instrumental in moving forward to tackle the smog situation in the province if used to create awareness programmes for the farming community in this regard.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 22nd, 2017