Harvests stunted by climate change

Published: May 21, 2018
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PHOTO COURTESY: https://www.usaid.gov/pakistan/economic-growth-agriculture

PHOTO COURTESY: https://www.usaid.gov/pakistan/economic-growth-agriculture

MARDAN: Adil Khan’s hopes for a good harvest are fading again this year as he inspects his orchard of apricot and loquat trees in the mountains of Pakistan’s northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Usually, fruit in the five-acre family orchard is ready to pick only by the last week of May. But this year, and in other recent years since 2013, much of the harvest has ripened by mid-April – nearly a month ahead of schedule.

With less time to grow, the fruit is half its normal size – and his income is shrinking too, the 34-year-old farmer told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Workshop held to promote agriculture intensification

“We are really at loss,” he said, pulling down a branch of tiny apricots. “The fruits have ripened in the middle of their growth.”

Pakistan’s farmers are struggling to bring in a harvest as the country’s weather patterns change as a result of climate change. Warm spring weather, now coming as early as March, has led to fruit trees flowering before bees arrive to pollinate them, for instance, or fruit and vegetables ripening at unusual times.

Farmer Muntazir Khan – who is not related to Adil – has seen
his harvest of beets and tomatoes fall by 40 per cent this year
on his 3-acre family farm in Taxila, about 35 kms (22 miles)
from Islamabad, despite planting seeds on time and applying the
right fertiliser.

That huge drop, due the crops ripening in late March instead
of late April, “means nearly no profits”, he said.

“I am scarcely able to recover the expenditures with such low yields,” Khan said, clutching a handful of freshly harvested beets.

The problem, the farmers agree, is that spring is getting
shorter, hotter and earlier. “We are clearly noticing that springs are not cool anymore and are increasingly becoming warmer, which is not good for our seasonal vegetable crops,” Adil Khan said.

His fruit requires cool weather from January to March to
grow well, he said, but warmer days in February and March are
now disrupting old patterns. Pakistan’s weather officials say they’ve also noticed the shift.

“We have clearly observed through our weather monitoring
stations all through Pakistan that springtime has not only
warmed by more than 3 degrees Celsius in recent years but also
shrunk from 45 days to less than 10 days over last two decades,”
said Ghulam Rasul, director general of the Pakistan
Meteorological Department.

“This is in no way a good omen for springtime vegetable and
fruit farmers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said at least 34 meteorological stations broke temperature records for March this year in most parts of the country, with temperatures sometimes more than 10 degrees Celsius above the monthly long-term average between 1981 and 2010.

Nausherwan Nawab, a senior science officer at a vegetable
research centre of the state-run National Agricultural Research
Council, said lower spring temperatures of 20 to 25 degrees
Celsius a decade ago resulted in slow and steady ripening of
spring fruits and vegetables.

“But such is not the case anymore,” said Khuda Bakhsh, an agro-economy professor at the COMSATS Institute of

Information Technology in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Once spring temperatures hit 35 degrees Celsius, “vegetable production declines heavily”, he said.

One consequence of the decline in production is soaring
vegetable and fruit imports from China, India, Afghanistan,
Thailand and New Zealand, said Yusuf Zafar, chairman of the
National Agriculture Research Council, an arm of Pakistan’s
Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

“Over last five to seven years, production of citrus and
other fruits and vegetables has shown a notable declining
trend”, with fruit harvests down an estimated 25-28 per cent and
vegetables down 22 per cent, he said.

Aslam Pakhali, chair of the All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable
Exporter and Importers Association, said nearly 30 per cent of
the vegetables and fruits consumed in Pakistan are now imported.

Pakistan used to export surplus vegetables and fruit prior
to 2010, he said. Imports have increased over the last five years “as low production of these farm items is insufficient to meet domestic
needs”, he said in a telephone interview.

‘Impose water emergency in mango gardens’

To adapt to the changing conditions, farmers need access to
hardy new fruit and vegetable varieties that can grow over a
shorter season, Bakhsh said.

“The role of agricultural scientists and extension department officials in this regard is of unprecedented significance,” he said, with farmers needing help to learn how to adopt and grow new heat-resistant and short-season crops.

Meanwhile, some farmers – like Muntazir Khan – are adjusting
to changing spring weather by cutting out some of their vegetable production altogether and turning to things like raising chickens.

Lack of resources makes such shifts difficult for many,
however. Khan would like to set up a commercial half-acre
poultry farm, but that will happen only “whenever I have enough
financial resources”, he said.

 

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