Climate-resilient agriculture, necessity not an option

Climate-resilient agriculture, necessity not an option

  • Luxury of time is not there

By: Younus Sandeela

Pakistan’s dependence on agriculture is huge, far bigger than we realize. The sector’s contribution to national GDP is close to a quarter. A huge percentage of exports directly or indirectly depend on agriculture. The sector also employs about half of country’s workforce. With more than 60 percent of the population residing in the rural areas, agriculture is intertwined with economic, social and cultural aspects of life in general. With this kind of dependence, any change in agricultural productivity could have a huge impact on general the wellbeing of the entire nation.

Climate change is a reality that is all set to change every aspect of life on planet Earth. The monster that has been quietly feeding on our greed-driven mistakes for decades is now slowly getting unleashed and it has already demonstrated its intentions of ransacking and disrupting life on this planet in the most painful of ways. We humans are now going to reap what we sowed.

Because of a higher dependence on agriculture and greater susceptibility to climate-change-related threats due to the country’s geographic location, the risk to its agriculture and in turn to its food security is a more pressing issue for Pakistan than most other countries.

Climate change is an irreversible phenomenon, at-least so it seems in the immediate term. Unless efforts are made in a timely manner to effectively cope with the challenges emanating from it, we, as a nation, may find ourselves in an extremely painful situation which may be impossible to deal with. If not handled intelligently the net impact of climate change may be far more painful than the ones caused by terrorism or economic slowdown experienced by the nation in the recent past

Pakistan’s large agricultural base meant that people living in the country never even remotely feared a food shortage. Unfortunately, this too is likely to change. Already, farmers have started to feel the pinch of untimely rains, change in temperatures, shortage of water and degradation of soil. Excessive rains and snowfall during last couple of years were welcomed by the farming community due to the precarious water situation that prevailed in the country prior to the start of the wet season. However, this blessing came with a price. The last crops of cotton and mango suffered productivity shortfalls entirely due to climate-change-related factors, mainly off-time rains. Wheat, which is going to be harvested soon, is likely to also suffer same fate and for the same reason.

Unexpectedly heavy monsoon and excessive snowfall during the last couple of years is a sign of changing climatic patterns which point towards the potential risk of an unexpectedly prolonged dry spell as well in the future. And with limited water storage capacity, agricultural productivity in Pakistan could hugely get affected should the water situation worsen in coming years.

It is extremely important that planners at the policy level clearly understand the intricacies of climate change and its impact on agriculture and food security. There is an urgent need to create remedial measures to counter the threat. So far, unfortunately there seems to be limited understanding or the resolve to act decisively. One thing which must be understood clearly is that luxury of time is no more there. Promoting Climate-Smart Agriculture is not an option anymore, it is a necessity.

Climate-Smart Agriculture has three clearly defined components namely; mitigation, adaptation and resilience. Whereas, mitigation is a wider subject requiring actions to curb the greenhouse gases which necessarily requires a collective effort by the entire world community and individual actions of one country or community may have little or no impact, adaptation and resilience are pretty much local subjects. Due to limited or no control of any one country or community over actions required to mitigate the causes of climate change, it is more practical to mainly focus on the “adaptation” and “resilience” aspects. This approach of focusing only on adaptation and resilience is called “Climate-Resilient Agriculture”

Broadly speaking, adaptation means adjusting farming practices to prepare for climate-related disruptions. Careful crop selection, amending farm management practices, adjusting the level of dependence as well as usage of infrastructure and machinery are all discussions that form part of the “adaptation” component of Climate Resilient Agriculture. Ability to effectively cope with the damage, once already caused by climate-change-related events, is referred to as “resilience”. Providing financial support to affectees, temporary or permanent migration, completely or partially adopting non-agricultural livelihood, are examples of “resilience” within the context of Climate-Resilient Agriculture. The importance of educating farmers and other stakeholders in the food supply chain in Pakistan about adaptation as well as resilience, cannot be overemphasized.

New, hardier crops, both drought-tolerant and those that can withstand excessive moisture, must be introduced. Farmers must be trained to grow more than one crop in each season. Also, efforts must be made to remove inefficiencies in water distribution so that farmers can yield good returns, at least when things do not get disrupted due to erratic weather conditions. Similarly, quality of inputs such as seed, fertilizers, pesticides and so on must be ascertained to ensure that human greed and inefficiencies do not add to the miseries of farming community. Self-sufficiency in seed and fertilizers is an absolute must.

Creating platforms to effectively disseminate real-time weather conditions as well as forecasts and to enable farmers, particularly the small ones, to access this information in a timely manner is extremely important. Seminars and roadshows meant to educate farming community about climate change and how to cope with it, must be regularly organized all across the country, particularly in the rural areas. Work on increasing space for food storage by building grain silos must be initiated immediately. Concurrently efforts must be made to build reserves of staple food for at-least three years.

Improving coverage as well as distribution of agriculture insurance at grass root level, creating alternative marketing channels and developing storage facilities, would greatly increase the resilience of the farming community. Similarly, encouraging commercial activities in rural areas, particularly setting up downstream agro-processing facilities, would create nonagricultural sources of livelihood for the people most exposed to the brunt of climate change. This would also create much needed alternate marketing channels for agricultural produce.

Climate change is an irreversible phenomenon, at-least so it seems in the immediate term. Unless efforts are made in a timely manner to effectively cope with the challenges emanating from it, we, as a nation, may find ourselves in an extremely painful situation which may be impossible to deal with. If not handled intelligently the net impact of climate change may be far more painful than the ones caused by terrorism or economic slowdown experienced by the nation in the recent past.

The writer can be reached at ysandeela@yahoo.com