Saturday May 18, 2024

Gram chickpea output slumps for third year on climate change

By Munawar Hasan
May 09, 2024
A mound of chickpeas is seen as they are packaged to sell at a wholesale market in Karachi. — Reuters/File
A mound of chickpeas is seen as they are packaged to sell at a wholesale market in Karachi. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: The gram chickpea production has fallen for the third consecutive year, hit by climate change and neglect, with output expected to be 52 percent lower than target, officials and industry sources said on Wednesday.

According to the latest figures available with The News, Punjab, which produces about 80 percent of the total crop in the country, has once again failed to produce a modest output of gram in the recently concluded Rabi season (2023-24). Against the official production target of 0.322 million tons, Punjab estimates gram production at 0.169 million tons, reflecting a massive 52 percent decline in harvest.

The failure of the crop mainly stems from a declining yield, which is assessed at 2.43 maund (40kg) per acre against the target of 4.24 maund per acre in 2023-24. The area under gram crop has also been on the decline. Farmers cultivated gram on 1.73 million acres in the year under review against the official target of 1.90 million acres.

In 2022-23, Punjab produced 0.172 million tons of gram from 1.841 million acres, yielding 2.34 maunds per acre. In 2021-22, gram production stood at 0.250 million tons and in 2020-21, it was estimated at 0.164 million tons.

Almost all gram crops are planted in arid and semi-arid zones, making their farming entirely dependent on rains for irrigation needs. In this era of global warming, climate change has exacted a terrible toll on the productivity of the crop.

One of the major reasons behind the continuous low yield of gram has been the inaction on the part of policymakers who fail to come up with innovative solutions for addressing the enormous challenge of climate change.

Their inability on this front and acting as silent spectators is exposed by the fact that gram production has conversely been on the rise elsewhere in the world in the last one and a half decades.

Commonly known as black gram, it is a widely used food legume among pulses. Being a major nutritious source of protein and carbohydrate, people are fond of eating gram due to its taste and health benefits. Its pulse or chana daal and flour (besan) have been a favorite choice for many households. Gram has also been a top choice for the low-income group due to its relatively cheap source of protein. Hence, the importance of chickpeas increases manifold for being a major pulse crop and source of dietary protein, providing nutritional security for the poor masses of the country.

Demand for chickpea has increased tremendously in recent years due to the ever-increasing population and reduced production. To meet the expanding gap between demand and supply of gram, Pakistan has to import chickpea from various countries.

Almost all the chickpea is grown in Punjab’s Thal Desert, comprising central and upper districts of Layyah, Bhakkar, Mianwali, Khushab, and Jhang. The lack of sustainable water sources in these districts has been one of the major reasons for the low productivity of the gram crop.

The provincial government has prepared a project named 'Promotion of Gram Cultivation through Climate Smart Technologies in Thal Areas' for the 2022-23 to 2024-25 period. The objective of the project includes the promotion of gram cultivation through Climate Smart Technologies with a view to enhancing the resilience of farmers in the face of climate change by implementing technological solutions. It targets saving the gram crop from failure during drought conditions by ensuring lifesaving irrigation with solar-powered sprinkler irrigation systems.

This objective focuses on providing irrigation support to gram crops during drought conditions. By utilizing solar-powered sprinkler irrigation systems, the project aims to ensure that the crops receive adequate water, even in water-scarce situations. This will help prevent crop failure and mitigate the negative impacts of drought on gram cultivation.