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The agriculture challenge

Extreme weather changes, such as droughts, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall pose a serious threat to agriculture

The agriculture challenge

Agriculture contributes 21percent to the gross domestic product (GDP), employs 45 percent of the total workforce and contributes about 60 percent to exports, according to the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Reforms.

Pakistan’s total cropped area is 23.4 million hectares (Mha), representing 29 percent of the total reported area with the percentage by province of 77 percent in Punjab, 14 percent in Sindh, 5 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 4 percent in Balochistan.

There are two important components associated with agriculture — forests and livestock. Forests are an important natural resource in the context of rural livelihood. Forest area in Pakistan is 4.19 Mha, representing 5 percent of the total land area. The livestock sector contributes 56.3 percent of agriculture sector output and 11.8 percent to the national GDP. It supports more than 8 million rural families involved directly in raising livestock.

Sufficient evidence is available on how climate change is impacting crops in the agriculture sector and forests.

Crop production is vulnerable to climate variability, and climate change associated with increases in temperature, increases in CO2, and changing patterns of rainfall may lead to a considerable decline in crop production.

There are two crop seasons in Pakistan namely, Rabi and Kharif. Rabi crops are grown normally in the months of November to April and Kharif crops are grown from May to October. Major crops are wheat, rice, maize, sugarcane and cotton. These two seasons make Pakistan an agricultural economy and its performance depends on climate change during the whole year.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) says global temperature will increase by 0.4 to 2.6°C in the second half of this century (depending on future greenhouse gas emissions). According to ADB’s (Asian Development Bank) 2017 report, it is estimated that with rise of temperature (+0.50C), agricultural productivity in Pakistan will decrease by around 8–10 percent by 2040.

The study finds a 6 percent reduction in wheat yield, and 15–18 percent decrease for fine-grain aromatic basmati rice yield in all agro-climatic zones except northern areas. According to findings of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Austria, by 2080, yield will decrease for all the major crops and cereals whereas wheat would have the highest reduction in its yield.

In Pakistan, extreme weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall, have increased in past decades. They will likely contribute substantially to food insecurity in future by increasing food prices and reducing food production.

Currently, Sindh is prone to climate change due to its geographical location to a greater degree as compared to other provinces. Environmentalist and Chief Operating Officer Reflect Global, Mustafa Gurgaze, tells TNS that because of the change in weather pattern, scarcity of fresh water and dried surface areas like Badin that have been known for producing rice and sugarcane are now producing melon and a unique kind of brown rice is disappearing.

The monsoon season that would start in the months of July and August now starts either in April or September. This disturbed monsoon cycle has compelled farmers of districts of Thatta, Umerkot and Tharparkar to grow sunflower instead of other crops.

Sindh has a 342 km long and 50 km wide coastal belt along the Arabian Sea, covering an area of 600,000 ha. Within the coastal belt an area of 73,000 ha of Indus delta is covered by mangrove forests in districts of Thatta, Badin and Karachi. “The total area covered by Mangrove forest was approximately 2.5 million acres, which was ranked 6th largest contiguous fresh water mangroves worldwide, is now reduced to 55 thousand acres,” Gurgaze informs.

“Apart from underground water scarcity, less water in River Indus is creating a big threat to some districts of Sindh close to the Arabian Sea. Kotri Downstream Study 1 conducted in 2004 highlights that 4 million acres of agriculture land has been consumed by the Arabian Sea because we could not ensure “environmental flow” of river water into the Arabian Sea.”

The need for minimum flow to sea, below Kotri, to halt sea intrusion was recognised on March 21, 1991 through an accord called “Apportionment of the Waters of the Indus River System between the Provinces of Pakistan”. Under that accord, the agreed minimum escapage was 10 million acre feet (MAF).

“There is a great threat to Hyderabad and Tando Muhammad Khan of submerging by sea water in the next 25 years if we don’t ensure the agreed ‘environmental flow,” informs Gurgaze. “Besides, more than half of the canal system is not working in Sindh because of decreasing fresh water supply.”

Agriculture sector in Punjab faces great challenges, too. The province can be divided into three parts: northern, central and southern. Important crops are wheat and cotton in central and southern Punjab; other crops are rice, sugarcane, millet, corn (maize), oilseeds, organic products, and vegetables.

Farooq Bajwa, director Farmers’ Associates Pakistan and member Agri-Commission Punjab explains the negative effect of temperature increase on cotton, maize, and wheat. “Climate variables have badly affected crops. Farmers in some areas have changed their crops from cotton to pulses and oilseeds.”

Small farmers in Punjab have started growing two or three crops at the same time. Sowing pulses, instead of late sowing maize after potatoes, is also a visible change in some areas.”

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) for the Asia region notes that sensitivity to climate change threats in agriculture-dependent economies (such as Pakistan), arises from their distinct geography, demographic trends, socio-economic factors, and lack of adaptive capacity that when taken together, determine the vulnerability profile by maintaining a vicious cycle of poverty.

A consultant on Climate Change, Sardar Asif Ali Sial, says while talking to TNS that extreme weather events, associated with climate change may cause sudden reduction in agricultural productivity, leading to rapid price increases.“Unfortunately, agriculture in Pakistan is based on conservative method of production and also on self- reliance, which is the main cause for low productivity. Heatwaves are likely to become more frequent in future and represent a major challenge for agriculture.Thus, it is necessary for a country to make its agriculture sector efficient to enhance food security, quality of life and promote rapid economic growth”.

Climate change experts warn Pakistan of five major risks related to climate change: rise in sea level, glacial retreats, floods, higher average temperature and higher frequency of droughts. Therefore, the agriculture sector of Pakistan is more vulnerable to climate change.

Also read: The heatwave effect

Besides, enhancing crop production to meet rising demands of a growing population is a challenging task. Dr. Muhammad Ismail Kumbhar, Professor at Sindh Agriculture University Tandojam says while talking to TNS that more attention to adaptation and mitigation research, capacity building, change in policies, and national and regional cooperation is required to minimise adverse impacts of climate change and increase in agriculture productivity.

“Adaptation to climate variability serves as source for dropping vulnerability to climate change. Basic adaptation practices for instance using climate-ready crops, modifying planting dates, improving water preservation and best management practices, utilizing effective irrigation system and fertilizer management, diversifying crops, and refining pest supervision could help reduce impacts of climate change.”

Improved local weather information, he adds, and early cautioning frameworks for growers will certainly be valuable in reducing climatic threats.

Shehryar Warraich

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The author is a member of the staff and can be reached at warraich[email protected]

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