Our dying crops

Changes in climate patterns are triggering adverse impacts on our ecosystem. Food security stands at risk

Our dying crops


hen you wake up in the morning and pull back the curtains, you expect it to be sunny and warm outside because it is the month of May. However, when you look out the window, you discover that it is raining and you feel a chill in the air. This means that you probably need warm water for your shower. You are somewhat relieved that the weather is pleasant and you won’t have to endure the sweltering heat, but you are also perplexed as to why May, a summery month, feels like spring. You go to work, where everyone is talking about the same experience. This has been ongoing since March this year. But this is on the urban side. In rural areas, where the wheat crop was almost ready, things were different. Farmers worried about what would happen if rains continued. Not only does it have an impact on farmers, it will ultimately have an impact on food security.

We have long heard that the climate is changing and that the change will have important repercussions. Although this was a clear warning, it appears that not much has been done, particularly with regard to how the changing climate will affect agriculture. Since things are now becoming more serious, food scarcity is anticipated. How will this population, which has been steadily expanding, fulfil its dietary needs if standing crops are destroyed? According to the Punjab Agriculture Department, more than 5 percent of wheat has been damaged due to heavy rains and hailstorms in the months of March and April 2023. The farmers estimate a higher percentage. Numerous districts in the province were hit by windstorms and damp spells, which caused damage to standing crops.

Khurram Shahzad, a 52-year-old farmer from the Potohar region of the Punjab, says that currently they are witnessing unusual weather patterns. “Typically, there is no rain in April. But this year has seen a lot of rain. In the Potohar region, harvesting of wheat typically begins in the middle of April. However, this year, rain has repeatedly damaged the crop since it poured in March and April, just as wheat was about to be harvested. Almost 50 percent of the crop has been damaged,” he says. He says the farmers around him are extremely concerned. Normally, they keep half of the crop to use throughout the year and sell the other half to use that money for next year’s inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers, etc. “But because this year’s crop was inadequate, we are concerned about how we will cultivate next year.” He believes that this has been occurring in the region following cutting of trees and forests and building of housing societies.

The pattern is not limited to northern and central Punjab. In the last week of May, Multan and other cities in the southern Punjab experienced severe rain and hailstorm. Multan’s administration was forced to issue a city-wide red alert due to the amount of rain, strong winds and hail. It is significant to note that the recently planted cotton crop in the south of Punjab has suffered damage due to the rains. Mango trees all over south Punjab have also suffered significant damage as a result of the hailstorm. The rain and hailstorm destroyed mango plantations just as the fruit was about to ripen, causing farmers to lose money, and reducing mango production.

According to the Punjab Agriculture Department, more than 5 percent of wheat has been damaged due to heavy rains and hailstorms in the months of March and April 2023. Farmers estimate a higher percentage.

In addition to rain, other climate change and disaster events, such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and earthquakes, have had an impact on agriculture. Pakistan is one of the ten countries in the world most affected by climate change and natural disasters. According to the World Bank’s Country Climate and Development Report, climate-related disasters over the past three decades have resulted in a number of fatalities and socioeconomic losses. Climate- and weather-related catastrophes in Pakistan caused $29.3 billion economic losses through damage to property, crops and livestock between 1992 and 2021, which is equivalent to 11.1 percent of the 2020 GDP.

The unprecedented monsoon rains in 2022, the heaviest and most concentrated ever recorded, resulted in the worst floods the country has ever witnessed. A third of Pakistan was under water as a result, affecting 33 million people. The country had the wettest August in 2022 since 1961. It is noteworthy that nationwide rainfall from June to August that year was about 200 percent higher than the 30-year average. According to the Pakistan Floods 2022 Post Disaster Needs Assessment, developed by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, the overall damage is estimated at Rs 3.2 trillion, total loss at Rs 3.3 trillion and needs at Rs 3.5 trillion. A total of Rs 996 billion has been lost in agriculture, food, livestock and fisheries; water, resources and irrigation; business and industry; finance and markets; and tourism. 4,410 million acres agricultural land has been harmed. According to estimates, 0.8 million animals died. Sindh province accounted for 72 percent of the damage in the agriculture, food, livestock and fisheries sectors.

According to some climate change scenarios, crop yields will continue to drop. These concerns and risks are likely to put an extra strain on agricultural and food systems. Pakistan must reform its agricultural system in order to make it more resilient and sustainable. Investment in regenerative and climate-resilient agriculture practices and water management could stop the productivity reduction and increase the sustainability of the agri-food system.

The writer is a communications specialist and a freelance writer. He is based in Rawalpindi and can be reached at qureshiwaqas@gmail.com.  He tweets @qureshiwaqasA

Our dying crops