In mid April, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa received unprecedented snow in all mountain regions and adjoining areas were gripped in chilly weather. The downpour was extensive and prolonged while people huddled for cover; an unusual occasion to enjoy hot tea and refreshments in a normally warm April season.
Is it time to celebrate? To the contrary, it’s something to worry about over the freak weather patterns; extremes in both cold and heat waves could imperil natural cyclic patterns meant for biological functions and sustainability of all living beings and other species. Food production and their byproducts and water resources depend on weather patterns. As the weather gets severely disrupted, the timely production of grains, ripening of fruits, vegetables and other byproducts shall be affected, impacting the overall food security.
Protection of environment is not a priority area, hence, the already fragile environment and wrong policy decisions adversely impact population. The present KP government policy, except the Billion Tree Tsunami, has caused more havoc than relief to the worsening environment and food security. It has initiated ill-advised projects for political interests, without consideration of multi-sectoral factors, including pragmatic land use policy.
The environmental violations are numerous and one can mention just a few of these.
One, the decision of establishing an Expo Centre at the cost of globally renowned premier Agricultural Research Centre, Tarnab, clearly reflects a callous policy of the Tehreek-e-Insaaf government towards the agricultural sector and food security of the region.
Established by the British in 1908, Agricultural Research Institute was a pioneer in agricultural development in the whole region. It is shocking that one fourth of its lush green lands, nursery farms and orchards, have been earmarked for conversion into an Expo Centre by the KP government.
An Australian expert, Mr. Brown, established a research farm on 200 acres in 1931, where he served as its first Director General, to make Peshawar a rich granary of the region. With the passage of time, it was upgraded to a Research Institute for attaining food security of the entire region. It was initially established for food production of Peshawar valley, comprising Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan and Swabi regions. No wonder the long term planning resulted in Peshawar valley becoming the food basket for the entire province in agriculture, producing variety of fruits, vegetables and grains. It fetched huge revenues for the province.
Two, the forcible closure and occupation of the largest Botanical Garden in Pakistan, covering an area of 83 acres of land, at Azakhail. The botanical garden was aimed at conservation, research, education and healthy recreation. Students from KP and Punjab schools, colleges and universities used to visit the Botanical Garden to study living plant specimens preserved in the museum and herbarium. The KP government, despite explicit orders of the PHC and Supreme Court of Pakistan, has illegally transferred the land to Air University.
Three, a proposed cement factory in village Palai in Malakand, which is renowned for fruit orchards. The Palai oranges fetch the highest prices in world markets. Around 24000 kanals of agricultural Palai land is irrigated by Baizai irrigation scheme and tube wells. Climate change has already degraded the ground aquifers. A water intensive industry will totally deplete the existing underground water reserves, damaging future agriculture activities.
Setting up of a cement plant and gaseous emissions with carbon dioxide and monoxide shall endanger both human and animal life in the area. Besides, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide shall also destroy crops and fruit growing orchards.
The KP government had also decided to set up the largest housing scheme Peshawar Model Town in district Nowshera. A Motorway City is also planned in Nowshera on 1000 fertile acres. Apart from this, the KP government has decided to allot thousands of acres of agricultural land for industrial zone in Nowshera under CPEC.
Taking into account the ground realities, land and water resources are being stressed to the limit with exploding population and the per capita consumption and demand of food items is on the rise. For this, we need to conserve agricultural land and increase agriculture research. Long term sustainability is a top agenda item of Sustainable Millennium Goals 2025.
With climate change around the corner and severe weather patterns disrupting normal seasons and agriculture in the region, the food security has emerged as a complex challenge.
KP faces severe environmental challenges, owing to dwindling natural resources, specially forests and prime agricultural lands. The increasing demand for housing schemes and lack of legislation and policy on sustainable land use in KP has created serious issues and need immediate attention by all stakeholders.
“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish is eaten, the last stream is poisoned, you will realise you cannot eat money”: A Red Indian quote.