Climate change setting new farming patterns
As evident from longer spells of heavy rains and devastating floods for the fourth consecutive year, Pakistan is experiencing the worst effects of climate change. These include serious threats to agriculture and water resources and, in fact, the country’s economic fabric.
As a corollary, the country’s status as an agro-based economy has become extremely vulnerable to unpredictable changes in weather and their consequences. These changes include hotter summers, early cold spell, irregular monsoons, unexpected or untimely rainfall and growing frequency and intensity of floods.
Since 2010, monsoon rains and floods have been more ferocious than before, leaving the rural infrastructure, communication system, transport network and, above all, agricultural economy in a disarray. Extreme events, which visited the country rarely in the past, are now more frequent. But what is still a low priority is the preparedness to meet the disaster which everybody can see coming.
To save agriculture which is the country’s mainstay, farmers are now being advised by experts to revise their crop calendar and start sowing cotton two months earlier so that the crop is picked before the monsoon hits. Rice growers, on the other hand, should go for delayed planting. There is need to introduce new varieties of wheat, rice and sugarcane which mature faster and survive heavy downpour and prolonged drought which are likely to continue for the next 30 to 35 years.
An estimate by a farmers’ NGO, though unconfirmed, reckons the loss of standing crops of cotton, rice, sugarcane, livestock and infrastructure at Rs200 billion caused by this year’s monsoon rains and floods. It says that the floods have hit hard the standing crop of cotton on an area of 140,000 acres, rice on an area of 60,000 acres, sugarcane on an area of 30,000 acres and those of vegetables and fodders on an area of 25,000 acres of land.
Besides, the country has lost or wasted sweet and fresh water worth $6 billion in the last four months due to absence of water reservoirs and storages. The wasted water was seen enough to irrigate an area of 13 million acres. This year’s calamity has strongly revived the need for constructing a number of dams in the country to store the water for irrigation and drinking purposes.
According to Basmati Growers Association in Punjab, standing crops of basmati on more than 0.5 million acres of land in the province have been badly damaged. It says that ‘Deh nullahs’ of River Ravi flowing through the districts of Sialkot, Narowal, Sheikhupura and Gujranwala have destroyed almost 50 per cent of the basmati growing areas in these districts. Basmati exports were already down to 0.6 million tons in 2012-13 from 1.2 million few years ago.
Deh nullah is a tributary of the Ravi river basin. It enters Pakistan north-west of the town of Zafarwal in Narowal district and travels along a winding course of 200 miles before falling into the River Ravi below Sharaqpur in District Sheikhupura. It is ironic to note that while there is abundant water causing devastation in the monsoon season, there is shortage of water in the Rabi season, which extends to early Kharif, within the next six to eight months. “If floods can fulfill the needs of the Indus delta silt, push the sea water back, encourage mangrove growth or improve river fisheries in Indus, then these would be happy times for everyone in Sindh,” says the association.
Meanwhile, the Central Cotton Research Institute, Multan, in its meeting held on August 20 found the cotton crop situation quite satisfactory and noted it has been cultivated on 5.78 million acres. However, there was still danger of heavy rains in the cotton belt in September.
Unfortunately, standing crops of wheat have been directly hit by the rains, resulting in serious production losses. An unfortunate consequence of this development is that growers have stopped harvesting in rain-affected areas. At present, the wheat crop in major parts of the country is in its final stage and ready for harvesting. Several wheat growing areas in Punjab and Sindh have received torrential downpour. Although production losses have not been worked out yet by experts, the fact remains that major damage has occurred in Sindh and Punjab.
According to a senior Pakistani meteorologist, Dr Azmat Hayat Khan, the cause of extremely devastating floods in 2010 lay in the shifting of the monsoon pattern from the eastern part of the country to the western part by some 100 kilometres. In a recent interview published in this newspaper, he recalled that an extreme event of 621mm of rain falling in just eight hours in Islamabad on July 23, 2001 and said such an unusual happening would be of more concern to the people than the shift in the monsoon pattern caused by global warming.
This year the rainfall in all parts of the country has been unusually heavy, causing flash floods. If nature maintains this pattern, he predicted, southern Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southern Pakistan would be twice as vulnerable to serious flooding in the next 30 to 35 years. Charsadda, Nowshera, Attock, and Swat are the new vulnerable areas, among others in the western and southern Pakistan. One may note that instead of Kashmir and northern areas, semi-arid regions of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwa are now receiving more rainfall.
Besides, catchment areas of the Mangla dam had been receiving less rains for the last few years. There is a definite possibility, says Dr Azmat, that Mangla dam becomes obsolete and the country may not need the Kalabagh dam if the monsoon pattern keeps shifting farther west. Which means the country needs to plan new dams farther down south.
There is a consensus that only new dams can control and manage the future flood. There is no doubt the country will see more of such cloudbursts — or even worse — as one Saidpur village of Islamabad experienced last month, when 130mm rain fell on it in less than one hour.