Dry spells, low yields

Dry weather and erratic weather patterns have affected crop yields and impacted communities

Dry spells, low yields


arming is the main source of income for 60-year-old Zahir Shah from Chanda village in the Ghallani sub division of Mohmand district. He owns a rain-irrigated piece of land. For the last 35 years, he has grown wheat. Last year, it was a dry winter and the crop failed. Two weeks ago, he used the harvest as fodder for cattle. “In the past years, the same field had yielded two tonnes of wheat. I’m not alone in this predicament. Other farmers in Ghallani too haven’t had a single grain of wheat this season. The farmers who own rain-fed land in Mohmand are depressed. They are facing a financial crisis and food insecurity,” says Zahir Shah.

Nohar Ali, 52, from Borki, a village near the Pak-Afghan border, is a farmer. He owns four-hectares of rain-irrigated agricultural land. Due to dry winter and no rainfall, he has harvested no wheat this year. “This year the wheat crop was very weak, we didn’t find a single grain. We had no option but to use the crop as fodder for cattle,” he says.

He says in Borki, Kachkena, Nastikot, Lalmai and Bughdi there is 2,000 hectares of rain-irrigated land. “We don’t have a canal irrigation system. The farmers here can’t afford tubewell water. Rain is the only source of water for our fields. The last two winters have been the driest in a while. The farmers having rain-irrigated land didn’t have the wheat they used to get in the past.”

According to Agriculture Department data, in 2021-22, 350 rain-irrigated hectares produced 105 tonnes of wheat. This comes to 0.3 metric tone per hectare. The previous year the yield had been 1.0 metric tonne per hactare. Wheat threshing is currently in progress in most areas of Upper Kurram.

In a briefing during the three-day International Horticulture Conference at Gomal University, DI Khan on May 17, Fazli Wahab, director of Agriculture Research for Merged Areas, Tarnab, Peshawar, said that climate change was one of the most important challenges the country was faced with.

In a telephonic interview with The News on Sunday, he said climate change had impacted cereal crops in the merged tribal districts. Wheat is still the main staple crop, he says. He adds that April rainfall in most parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa determines the yield. “In rain-irrigated areas, the tillering stage for wheat is in January and February. That is when rain is needed. The dry winter has affected wheat crops in rain-irrigated areas of newly merged districts. The erratic weather patterns have directly affected our cereal crops,” Fazli Wahab says.

Muhammad Kaleem, the Crop Reporting Services (CRP) director, says in 2020-2021 760,000 hectares of land produced 1,380,000 metric tonnes of wheat. In the current season, data about nearly 29 percent of the area is available so far. It shows that drought has affected grain yields in rain-fed areas of KP, he says.

The latest World Bank report says 216 million people could move within their countries due to slow-onset climate change impacts by 2050. They will migrate from areas with lower water availability and crop productivity.

The latest World Bank report says 216 million people could move within their countries due to slow-onset climate change impacts by 2050. They will migrate from areas with lower water availability and crop productivity. Hotspots of internal climate migration could emerge as early as 2030 and continue to spread and intensify by 2050.

Mehmood Nawaz Shah, vice president of Sindh Abadgar Board, a non-governmental organisation that monitors farming in Sindh says that the weather pattern has changed in Sindh. The volume of moonsoon rain has declined, he says, adding that farmers are also facing a high heat index. In March and April, the heat index reached 42 degrees Celsius in several districts. This affected the wheat crop in Sindh. A high heat index tends to promote rusting disease and reduces the grain size. The Sindh government has so far declared seven districts as calamity hit.

Rice consumes about 4,000 to 5,000 litres of water per kg of grain produced. The Kurram district is facing a severe water scarcity but the farmers still want to grow rice. Dr Saqib Hussain, who holds a PhD in crop environment and ecology from China, says the farmers need capacity building to grow crops that require less water. He says Kurram’s soil and ambient temperature are suitable for growing saffron and millet. If farmers grow these crops, they will need less water and have better incomes.

The situation report published by the Food Security Cluster (FSC) on January 10 says nine rural districts of Balochistan, seven rural districts of KP, and nine rural districts of Sindh, that house around 8.6 percent of Pakistan’s population, have a high prevalence of food insecurity. In 2021, their populations faced multiple diseases. Their impact was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of these areas have rain-fed agriculture.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government updated its climate change policy in March 2022. The draft is expected to be approved soon. It says climate change impacts can be addressed through bold and creative climate actions.

Dr Asif Khan, a Peshawar-based climate and water expert, says: “Our country is now facing extreme heatwaves. It has been predicted that their duration will increase by up to four times. This will affect humans as well as crops. Expect early warming. This year, we have already witnessed early extreme summer heat.”

The mean annual temperature has risen by nearly 0.5 degree Celsius in the recent decades. Analysts predict a large increase in demand for irrigation water.

Dr Khan says such extreme weather events are affecting the crop’s productivity. He says that the water requirement for crop irrigation is also likely to increase. “There is also the danger of viral outbreaks because heat and moister provide a favourable atmosphere for those” he adds.

The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

Dry spells, low yields