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A time of changing climate

Livestock, owned by poor farmers, is falling prey to unprecedented natural disasters

A time of changing climate
Cattle also feeling the heat.

Ali Raza, a middle aged villager from Hafizabad district of Punjab, lost his livestock in a disaster that had not been witnessed within the area in over 100 years. It was a hailstorm, costing the poor farmer all his wealth that comprised 14 small cattle i.e. goats and sheep.

Such an extreme weather event has never occurred in these surroundings as central Punjab’s climate does not cater to this kind of weather phenomenon. Such event in mid of March is an indication of climate change that is now evident and proven.

Raza’s case is not the only one. Extreme weather events i.e. floods, droughts and storms due to changing climate in the past few years have substantially affected livestock population causing death and loss in productivity in different areas of the country. It is pertinent to mention that livestock population of Pakistan is 173.2 million (official figures) and livestock contributes approximately 55.4 per cent to the agriculture value addition and 11.3 per cent to national GDP. Gross value addition of livestock at constant cost factor was reported as Rs1172 billion (2012-13) as per federal Ministry for National Food Security and Research Resources.

According to a flood damages report of the federal Ministry for Finance, the flood in Balochistan and Sindh in 2011 cost $153.14 million in direct and indirect damages to livestock in these provinces. The same report says thatthe productivity of milking animals dropped from an average of 7 or above litres to 2-3 litres (50-70 per cent), and many young calves died due to the reduction of the milk in their mothers. The loss in productivity accounts for more than 50 per cent of the total loss.

Livestock damages, which include loss of animals, distress sales, and destruction of animal health support services, as well as indirect damages due to reduced milk production, accounts for 8.3 per cent of total losses.

“Droughts, floods and salinity, all have a negative impact on livestock,” says Dr. Muhammad Naseem, who is working with OXFAM for measuring the impacts of climate change on livestock in Hyderabad, Sindh. “Change in water table negatively impacts the fodder crop as it takes more time now to mature while the actual time is one month.” Naseem says that due to this the farmer has to feed the livestock with supplement diet which is not affordable as most livestock owners are poor farmers with a low income.

He tells TNS that the coastal belt of Badin has been rainless for a year and grazing areas are getting dry and it is causing a decrease in the number and productivity of livestock. Most of the population living in interior Sindh is dependent on livestock for their livelihood and they are facing immense problems due to the changing climate.

Livestock is an integral part of the farming system and is the main asset for many farmers. Buffalo and cattle are mainly kept for milk, meat and dairy products. Most households also have sheep, goat and poultry for domestic consumption as well as for sale. Fodder, wheat straw, maize contraction and leaves and stalk of corn are used for livestock feed. Animals are also grazed on rangelands (particularly in Balochistan), pastures and crop stubble. Concentrate feed is widely used in commercial poultry farms and for cattle.

Dr Ghulam Habib, Livestock Production Specialist from KPK, says that the constantly rising temperature causes heat stress to animals. “Particularly cross breed animals and those we have imported from other countries are less immune to this impact. It directly affects the productivity of milk in cows and the size of livestock also shrinks.” Dr Habib says that in rural areas farmers are less equipped with the latest knowledge and techniques to cope with rising temperatures. “There is a knowledge gap that should be minimised and they should be trained with the techniques used for combating heat stress.”

Dr Habib points out that arid areas of Punjab i.e. Bhakkar, Layya, Mianwali where 60 to 70 per cent livestock is dependent on grazing, has dried and grazing lands have shrunken massively. Due to this situation poor owners have to sell their animals at low cost because they cannot afford to feed their stocks with expensive fodder as water scarcity has decreased the biomass of fodder crop. It has raised the demand more than the supply resulting in high feed prices.

“In Balochistan, the situation was even worst last year” says Habib. “There was a decrease of almost 70 per cent in production, no feed was available for animals, the casualty rate became higher and poor people had to migrate to other areas to save the remaining cattle.”

It has also been observed that the quality and quantity of grass in pastures of high mountain areas have deteriorated due to decrease in precipitation for almost a decade. The grass that was waist high earlier is now only knee high. Moreover, 10 -15 years ago, livestock grazing took 1-2 hours, but now it takes a whole day. Travel time has also increased. So the nomadic population which is very much dependent on livestock for its livelihood travel long in search of safe places. Sometimes they encounter climatic disasters on their way and it costs them their whole stock.

Dr Fateh Ullah, Director National Animal Sciences Research Center (NARC), says the centre has planned a project of developing mobile camps for nomad farmers and shepherds who travel long distances so that they may be helped during any climatic disaster on their way. He claims the project is with the Planning Division for approval.

Climate disasters create feed deficiency and it also causes low immunity in the animals and prevalence of different diseases as well. He says that NARC gives guidelines to farmers regarding vaccination and measures to be taken in the wake of a climate disaster. He complained of shortage of skilled manpower in the sector. “There is a terrible need of capacity building as rapidly changing climate demands revolutionary steps to be taken”. Fateh Ullah also urges the need of developing livestock disaster management units at provincial level.

There is a dire need of proper documentation of the impact of climate change on livestock and a comprehensive policy in this regard. There should be an insurance system for the livestock. The government should facilitate the poor farmer with special loans and subsidies to combat unpredictable disasters occurring due to climate change.

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