Climate-smart agriculture is common-sense agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture is common-sense agriculture


Climate change is a global phenomenon and has brought together scientists, policy-makers, planners and politicians from across the world to the same table. It is a reality that is already having a far-reaching impact everywhere but will have greater consequences on developing countries by challenging their economic goals. It is therefore not only an environmental issue but a cross-cutting, multi-dimensional developmental issue.
Farmers across the world and especially in developing countries are increasingly facing climate related disasters which affect their lives and livelihoods. From flash floods to prolonged periods of drought, deforestation, soil erosion and saline intrusion, global warming has resulted in crop failures and food insecurity.
Pakistan is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change, according to one risk report by Germanwatch a German think-tank advocating for the prevention of dangerous climate change. Being defenseless to the vagaries of nature, the agriculture and livestock sector of Pakistan remains highly impuissant. Coupled with that, high population density, increasing levels of poverty, increasing temperatures, floods, droughts and irregular rainfall patterns are impacting the fragile agriculture sector and restricting national food security. 

The urgency of prevention stems from a simple fact: the agriculture sector form the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. It contributes 22% to the GDP,  60% to total export earnings, employs 68% of the labor force and agricultural production remains the main source of income for the majority of Pakistan’s rural population. 
With wheat and rice as the primary food crops and cotton the only significant fiber crop in Pakistan, all three are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature, precipitation, concentrations of ambient carbon dioxide as well as adequate availability of water. Various simulation studies conducted across different agro-ecological zones have highlighted that changes in rainfall patterns, variations in seasons and increasing temperature trends will adversely impact the yield and productivity of the cash crops in every zone.
Climate change is already leading to the reduced productivity of crops and livestock due to increased temperatures and water scarcity, and the rapid evaporation of water, uncertain and erratic rainfall patterns, increased pests and insects in warm and humid climates, soil degradation, water logging and salinity. In addition, coastal agriculture is rapidly degrading due to the intrusion of seawater in our deltaic region. At the time this article is being written, a severe wave of rainfall and gusty winds have gripped large parts of the country, with preliminary reports that 150,000 tons of wheat crop have already been destroyed in Punjab province, the hotbed of Pakistan’s agricultural economy.

The problems we face in Pakistan are manifold primarily due to a lack in technical capacity to predict weather and climatic patterns and because we lack adaptive capacity, but there are ways forward.

Dr. Mehreen Mujtaba

The problems we face in Pakistan are manifold primarily due to a lack in technical capacity to predict weather and climatic patterns and because we lack adaptive capacity, but there are ways forward.
Local knowledge provides the cornerstone for the implementation of a successful climate change adaptation in agricultural practices across farming, livestock and fisheries. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We can look to other countries with similar problems, issues, geographical similarities and adopt their success stories. We can use smart practices and technologies for climate resilient sustainable agriculture, like the drought tolerant paddy cultivars to tackle deficit rainfall, as is being done in Bihar, India, where drought resistant varieties of rice are cultivated that can withstand up to two weeks of dry spells.
The coastal areas of West Bengal are exposed to vagaries of climate variability such as cyclones and floods. These extreme weather events wreak havoc with the agriculture and livelihoods of farmers.  In order to overcome salinity issues, farmers adapted to restoration farming in cyclone and flood prone coastal agro ecosystems by land shaping for rainwater harvesting.
The technical and financial support of small landholders in paving the way for the adoption of adaptation strategies will skew nature’s balance in their favor. Initiating different microcredit schemes to farmers could achieve this as well. Research should be undertaken to develop high yielding, heat resistant breeds of crops that are less vulnerable to drought or heavy spells of rain and are more pest resistant.  The government can give subsidies to farmers who are brave enough to experiment with these climate resilient varieties of crops. Since the agriculture system is heavily dependent on water, the government can also give incentives for the adoption of water saving technologies as opposed to the age-old method of flood irrigation.
Also, upgrading and integrating meteorological services and improving farmers’ access to weather forecast information can play an important role for adapting and mitigating the impacts of climate change. 
Pakistan is at a crossroads with existential decisions about food security in the balance. It is imperative that we make the right ones if we are to survive the storms to come.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view