Rural life and livelihoods at risk
February 18, 2011
Agriculture is an important component of Pakistan’s economy and life-blood of poor people in the region. About 47 % of its population -- directly or indirectly – earns their livelihood from agriculture. It also account for ¼ of the GDP and about 80% of country’s export. Pakistan is one of the most arid countries of world. The Indus Valley is the country’s only major source of agriculture.
Despite the scant average rainfall of just 240 millimeters annually Pakistan’s economy and social infrastructure depends on river system. Over the years, Pakistan has harnessed the Indus River to bring 35.7 million acres under irrigation to cultivate land in otherwise desert conditions. The very low rainfall, poor drainage, ancient marine deposits, saline groundwater, and evaporation and transpiration combine to create a vast salt sink. High population growth is causing water stress. Pakistan is using almost all its water resources and no more are available. If something goes drastically wrong with the salt/sediments/water balance of the Indus system, there is no other river system in the region to draw on.
At present, climate change has affected the agriculture of Pakistan through anthropogenic interventions that result in global warming. While higher concentrations of carbon dioxide can have beneficial impacts on crops, rising temperatures and reduced precipitation play havoc with the biological complex. In this context, the impact of climate change on agriculture is an issue of great significance to the lives and livelihood of millions in Pakistan who depend on agriculture for survival. It is not an issue that can be left to the future as the impact is already felt in flood havoc in 2010.
The International Flood Policy Research Institute in its 2009 report specifies that South Asia will be the most severely affected by climate change. By 2050, it could lose 50% of its wheat productivity. Another UK research institute places Pakistan at 28th amongst those that will be most severely affected. But since 22 of those countries are in Africa, Pakistan is ranked amongst the top ten outside Africa. By virtue of sharing a highly porous border with Afghanistan (ranked No. 4) and being a neighbour to the emerging economies of China and India, Pakistan is being squeezed from all sides. Pakistan is an agriculture supplier that feeds vast populations of its own and of neighboring countries like Afghanistan, as well as the Middle East and several Central Asian Republics.
Changes in temperature and precipitation will significantly affect production on Pakistani farms. The predicted change in climate will directly affect both crop and livestock management in terms of decisions regarding seeding dates, livestock, pests and diseases, crop variety and other important factors. This grouping with the fact that greenhouse gases emission changes with the type of farming operations and within individual farms, indicate another challenge to policy makers to keep the rapidly changing agricultural industry in a sustainable manner.
The agriculture of Pakistan is under threat, resulting in billions of dollars loss. This threat translates into direct impacts to over 100 million people and indirect impacts to the entire burgeoning population of 180 million, which is projected to increase to 240 million by 2035. Producing high delta water-consuming crops like sugarcane under a climate change scenario may no longer be feasible. Sugar prices have more than doubled over the past year, creating social unrest and political embarrassment.
Climate change is evidently an environmental issue resulting in severe socio-economic implications in Pakistan. Policy makers and institutions concerned with the potential impact of climate change on Pakistan’s agriculture should formulate policies and actions to curb these impacts. A wide variety of policy tools can be applied by governments to create incentives for mitigation action, such as regulation, taxation, tradable permit schemes, subsidies, and voluntary agreements. Pakistan should innovate in technologies that counteract the impacts of climate change on agriculture. Any legislation, including national emission trading legislation, should actively take account of the agricultural sector. This legislation should benefit farmers by recognizing their ability to contribute to reductions in atmospheric greenhouse gases concentrations, including N2O and CH4. Effective climate policy that includes the agricultural sector will benefit the global climate system while providing farmers with financial and environmental benefits.