The deadly flood of 2010 made significant impacts on Pakistani society. In the international media, it was lauded that Pakistanis are one of the most resilient people on the earth. The people of Pakistan with the help of international community coped with the disaster and soon after the tragedy, the society was on its feet once again. But the upcoming disaster that will wreak havoc on Pakistan is driven by climate changes and its effects will be far from the capacity of Pakistanis to bear it. The international experts have ranked Pakistan in the areas that will be most severely affected by the climatic changes and the preparedness of our society for predicted impacts is not up-to-the-mark.
If not delayed, this is the right time to develop a comprehensive climate change mitigation and resilience policy, and take concrete actions in this regard. The new government is taking a keen interest in the climate related activates ranging from tree-plantation campaign with the aim of increasing Pakistan’s forest cover to creating water reservoirs and dams. In the Election 2018 manifesto, PTI has promised to unleash the Pakistan’s potential in the agriculture by helping the small farmer. However, the points of focus mentioned in the manifesto just identifies the need to modernizing the farming process, increasing access to credit and subsidies on seeds and fertilizers. The points mentioned in the PTI manifesto are really important and need to be implemented but if during the implementation of the actions noted in the PTI strategy, the impacts of climatic changes are not taken into consideration, the results might not be same as intended by the government.
The effects of climate changes on wheat growing small farmer of Pakistan will be unprecedented. The wheat crop is sown on an estimated 9045 thousand hectare area from November till the end of December (Rabi cultivation session) and per hectare average wheat yield is 2657 kg. The amount of water available for what crop cultivation is about 26 million acre feet which is significantly lower than the required water for normal growth and yield of wheat crop. The 4th IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report warns that in South Asia the cereal yield may decrease up to 30% by 2050 due to stressed water supply and altered precipitation conditions and patterns. The small farmer with almost subsistence conditions is the first one to face this tragedy.
The small farmer in Punjab is feeling the heat of climate changes now and the crops have seen significant changes in the productivity and yield. For example, 10 years ago, in the agriculture areas of Jhang and Sargodha districts, the cultivation of wheat used to be completed from around 20 October to 20 November (Katak month of Nanakshahi calendar). But now, the same cycle has moved forward 15-20 days. This means that now the small farmers can not finish wheat crop cultivation until January 20 due to the changed weather patterns in Punjab. This 20 days’ delay in the cultivation ultimately delays the harvest and delayed harvest of the wheat means decreased production and more chances of losses due to more high intensity winds in the late May. This changed pattern also influences the supply of green fodder for the small cattle forms owned by the small owner, who is the ultimate loser. Similar weather related changes have influenced the subsistence of small farmers in all areas of Pakistan. The small changes in the weather patterns is related to effectiveness of the pesticides. In the previous weather routines, the farmers knew about the presence of pests and weeds but the increased average temperatures have produced pests, insects and weeds that make insecticides and pesticides ineffective.
The new PTI’s government seems determined to take concrete actions on climate related issues in the form of campaign for big dams’ construction to improve the supply of water throughout the year for public and agriculture sector. However, it must not be forgotten that the most vulnerable small farmer might not survive until the dam is constructed. For the survival of small farmer in Punjab and Sindh, the government should form a joint action committee comprising of Ministry of Climate Change, Ministry of National Food Security & Research, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) and farmers’ representatives. The committee should come up with immediate actions to save the small farmer from this climate change impasse. The education and preparedness of the small farmers is one of the most important area of action for the related departments. The local agriculture bodies should educate the farmers on the varieties of wheat and other crops that show better resilience to the climatic changes. Also, by learning the lessons from agricultural practices in water stress countries in Africa and technologically advanced countries like Korea, we can come up with domestic solutions to the local problems.
In November 2016, Pakistan ratified the the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and committed to contribute in lowering the greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping to reduce the global warming. The Paris agreement commitments also include strengthening the ability of public of deal with the impacts of climate change. The new PTI government’s resolve to take climate action as per international commitments should preferably focus the small farmer to strengthen their “adaptation” and recovery from the climate impacts.