As temperatures continue to soar and loadshedding runs amok, a more serious threat to sustainable living rapidly emerges. Yet, it appears that no one in this benighted country is doing anything about it which, for a primarily agricultural country, spells disaster. The vagaries of climate change have begun making serious inroads into agricultural production which means smaller crops, higher prices, increased hunger and, in the extreme — as will undoubtedly happen at some point — complete crop failure, malnutrition and, eventually, starvation. And no, these words are not an attempt at scaremongering — the situation is very real and very serious, indeed.
Take the farmers of Chakwal, for example. As a direct result of strange winter weather, rabi crops were of poor yield and farmers suffered major financial losses which they anticipated would be offset by their traditional peanut crop, sown as a back up. Getting in on the act, the local Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers to plant more peanuts than ever, setting a highly ambitious target of 80,000 acres to be planted during March and April. And then, due to persistent drought conditions, it extended sowing time up until the end of May. However, the weather did not cooperate as has been expected and only a mere 40 per cent of the target was achieved. Minus the necessary rain, this was a complete waste of time, effort and money as nothing has germinated yet. The farmers facing financial difficulties from a poor rabi harvest are now doubly hit and in dire straits all round.
Winter vegetable crops across much of Sindh were ruined by unexpected frost and the long winter further depleted mixed crops throughout the country, delaying new planting at the same time. As a result, everything in the agricultural world is upside down. The knock on effect on food supplies is obvious.
Climate change did not arrive overnight; it has become more apparent over the last two to three years and will become even more apparent in the coming years. Yet, as in all important matters, the government and in this instance, both the Department of Agriculture and the Meteorological Department, have not taken the matter seriously enough to tackle it head-on. And, as has happened all too often with other issues in the past, these departments are unlikely to do anything to avert disaster until it hits them in the face, which it will.
These supposedly ‘concerned’ departments, including the government, should be working together, keeping each other informed and disseminating necessary information to farmers, such as on how to grow alternative crops which have a better chance of surviving climate change odds than traditional ones. Surely, officials in the Meteorological Department can make some kind of reasonable weather forecast for each planting season before it arrives. It can then pass on this crucial information to the Department of Agriculture which should have enough knowledge to understand which crops can then be cultivated and where. Finally, the Department of Agriculture can teach farmers to grow crops from which there will actually be a harvest.
The government and its various departments have never been known for working hand-in-hand but unless they do so and do so soon, the agricultural backbone of the country is going to suffer exponentially and could possibly collapse.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2012.
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