During the last two decades, Pakistan has suffered significant socio-economic loss due to climate-water-related extreme weather events like floods, droughts, and unexpected precipitation. These events are mostly water-driven resulting in a massive impact on almost all sectors of the economy. The Global Climate Risk Report (GCRP) 2021 has reported that Pakistan has witnessed over 173 extreme weather events, which have resulted in over 10,000 fatalities (about 500/ year) and economic loss amounting to USD 75 billion (about 3.8 billion USD/ year). Climate change has also impacted the overall surface water availability and irrigation service delivery in Pakistan. Water scarcity is increasing, land productivity is decreasing and climate change is worsening these threats.
The country is classified into fourteen agroecological zones. While 75 percent of Pakistan’s land area consists of arid zones, a comparatively small part has a humid climate. Climate vulnerability hot spots in Pakistan include arid or semi-arid areas in Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab; flood-prone areas in Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab; mountainous areas in KP, AJK, GB and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Changing climate has threatened the productivity of the agriculture sector making it vulnerable economically, socially and in cultural perspective. Crop simulation model-based studies by Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)depict that there are significant reductions in wheat, rice, and maize yields in the arid, semi-arid and rain-fed areas of Pakistan under various scenarios by the mid and end of the century.
With an increase of 1oC temperature, the yield in grain crops decreases by 6% to 12% and in the case of fruit and vegetables the yield decreases by 5% to 13%. 10% yield of wheat is decreased by an increase in 1oC of temperature. The 1% rise in precipitation level will lead to a 0.57% decrease in grain crop productivity. Being a summer crop, Cotton is the most affected crop due to climate change. Due to high temperatures, flowers and bolls shedding occur. Similarly, with more rainfall in the month of September (due to a shift in rainfall pattern), fertilization is affected and yield tends to reduce.
The farmers are now sowing early cotton (in February-March instead of April-May) to save their crop from September rains. Rice requires abundant water in Pakistan due to sowing under puddling conditions. Sugarcane is not only a water-intensive crop but also has disturbed the cropping pattern in South Punjab by replacing the Cotton crop. Lower production of the rain-fed crop (Gram), exclusion of cotton sowing from Sahiwal and Faisalabad zones, harvesting and sowing delays in Kharif and autumn crops, and physiological distress due to heat stress and floods are the main factors regarding stunted growth of the agriculture sector hence it has the potential to increase poverty in Pakistan due to loss of agricultural productivity.
Since Pakistan has significant variations in rainfall and temperature, therefore, its agriculture is relying heavily on river supplies. If there is a significant drop in river supplies at the critical stage of a crop it could negatively affect productivity. Likewise, the climate shift has squeezed the Monsoon pattern to two months with heavy to very heavy rains thus leading to more incidents of floods as witnessed this mid-year. This has led to significant erosion of soil, inundations and medium to high floods in canal-irrigated areas and flash floods in hilly areas.
Other issues of the crop sector include inadequate mapping of soil health for each agro-ecological zone for the promotion of climate-smart to eco-friendly crops. There are insufficient farm community storages and availability of climate-smart on-farm water management technologies. Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach to develop technical, policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agriculture development for food security under climate change by adopting and building resilience and reducing carbon emissions last five-year projects were initiated by the government to enhance the productivity of crop sector with a view to promoting CSA.
These projects are associated with agriculture research, mechanization and extension services. Precision agriculture was promoted through specialized extension services by doing soil tests of 2.8 million soil samples so that exact recommendations about the use of fertilizers like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potash and micronutrients can be provided to farmers.
Through community participation initiatives, plant clinics for diagnostics, data management and advisory services were executed in different agroecological zones to help farmers. Federal and provincial governments collaborated to improve the application of balanced nutrition, especially potash application, pest scouting, promotion of mechanization, the introduction of short-duration varieties, stress management against heat and drought, fortification of crops through breeding and continuous review of production plans by learning through best practices.
National Agriculture Emergency Plan for Wheat, Sugarcane, Rice and Oilseed crops and special programs for revival/promotion of Cotton crops and Pulses were initiated through input-based incentives on the use of certified seeds, micro-nutrients, agriculture machinery with the use of all extension tools to maximize productivity and profitability. Special projects for certification of fruit plants to promote climate-resilient germplasm has also been introduced and more than 300 nurseries have been registered so far.
The efforts of the Government of Punjab have resulted in improvement in agriculture productivity in vulnerable areas like Thal and Pothohar through Command Area Development. By constructing small dams, farm ponds, lined water courses, dug-wells, enhancing farmers’ capacity and laser land leveling, the cultivated area has been enhanced therefore leading to an increase in yield by 20-25%. In another project, climate-friendly technological interventions like the provision of certified fruit plants, drip &sprinkler irrigation systems, tunnel technology and renewable energy inputs (solar system) were provided to develop horticulture in the Potohar region. The development of Olive Valley is its prime example.
However, in spite of the above efforts, there are many institutional constraints and still, a lot of work is needed to be done for the farmers of those agroecological zones who are under the continuous threat of climatic vagaries. Although agriculture is a provincial subject, nevertheless all the agricultural inputs are under the control of the federal government. The pesticide business is operated under the agriculture Pesticides Ordinance 1971, which is federal legislation. Director General, Plant Protection stationed at Karachi is executing this Ordinance for the import, registration and formulation of pesticides.
However, Punjab promulgated its own Act in 2012 and since then a turf war had started which has spoiled this sector and farmers are rightly feeling aggrieved due to poor quality of pesticides. Seed is also a federal subject under Seed Act 1976 as amended in 2015 and is being executed through Director General, Federal Seed Certification Department. Seed is a vital component in agriculture. Seed registration and certification is a matter of great concern therefore provincial and federal institutions are always at loggerheads on this issue.
Comparison of Policy Measures in East Punjab
Agro-ecological conditions in East Punjab like soil, climate, water, cropping patterns and cultivation practices are more or less similar to Pakistan’s Punjab. Both regions are driven by the agriculture sector and are vulnerable to climate change and water insecurity. However, East Punjab’s policymakers were proactive in reacting to their shrinking water supplies and climate change threat. Among the many governance steps taken by the state, three interventions played the most important role in East Punjab’s better performance in agriculture i.e. Groundwater Governance, Climate Smart Villages (CSV), and Reduction in the cost of production.
Groundwater Governance in East Punjab has played a significant role in minimizing the over-abstraction of groundwater and its efficient use. Although the water table in the state has been depleting fast because of paddy cultivation butEast Punjab enacted the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act in 2009 to check groundwater depletion. This legislation has been reported to be quite successful in saving up to 7–8% of groundwater, reducing the depletion of water table by about 30 cm. As groundwater governance suffered from the division of responsibility among many agencies which had the mandate for groundwater development but had no coordination among them.
A new Directorate of Groundwater Management was created in 2017 with the mandate to design policies, programs and strategies for the utilization, conservation and management of groundwater resources in an equitable, judicious, and sustainable manner. In comparison, in Pakistan, no groundwater use rules and regulations existed leading to the depletion of groundwater. As a matter of fact, groundwater in Pakistanis caters to over 50% of crop water requirements. However, the government of Punjab has been able to legislate Punjab Water Act 2019.
Climate Smart Villages (CSV): The idea is to integrate climate-smart agriculture into village development plans, using local knowledge and expertise and supported by local institutions. CSVs are sites where researchers from national and international organizations, farmers’ cooperatives, local government leaders, private sector organizations and key policy planners come together to identify which climate-smart agriculture interventions are most appropriate to tackle the climate and agriculture challenges at the village level.CSVs adopt a portfolio of interventions that cover the full spectrum of farm activities.
These include water-smart practices (rainwater harvesting, laser land leveling, micro-irrigation, raised bed planting, crop diversification, alternate wetting & drying in rice, direct seeded rice), weather-smart activities (ICT-based agro services, stress-tolerant crops and varieties), nutrient smart practices (precision fertilizer application, leaf colour chart, residue management, legume catch-cropping), carbon and energy smart (zero tillage, residue management, legumes) and knowledge smart activities (farmer-farmer learning, capacity enhancement on climate-smart agriculture, community seed banks and cooperatives). These interventions work together to increase the community’s resilience to climatic stresses while ensuring household food and livelihood security.
Reduction in the cost of production through subsidies on inputs, reduction in the markup for agriculture loans, mechanization, investments in seed research and promotion of cooperative societies are important drivers which are promoting agriculture productivity in East Punjab. Incentives to the farmers for assured prices through MSP (Minimum support price) have also enticed the farmers to produce more for profitable agriculture. These interventions undertaken by the state government of East Punjab can be replicated in Pakistani Punjab to promote the agricultural productivity and income of farmers.
There is a need to adopt measures for the enhancement of per acre yield through lessons learned from East Punjab model. Furthermore, the focus of research needs to be demand based instead of supply based. The population living in more vulnerable agroecological zones like Baluchistan, Lower Sindh, Potohar and Southern regions of Punjab will be adversely affected in case of erratic climatic behaviors which may lead to crop failures. Such eventuality may lead to more poverty and food insecurity issues resulting in interprovincial disharmony. Food insecurity in Punjab, the major contributor to grain crops, may further increase food insecurity in other federating units.
In order to modify the behavioral response of farmers towards CSA for proper and efficient use of water, a cultural shift is imperative to overcome the fatalistic approach and needs to be replaced by an adaptive approach through a coherent awareness campaign and regulatory framework. In this regard, it is recommended that proper Lining and Maintenance of canals, distributaries and water courses will save water transmission losses; Pricing of water be rationalized as water has become a valuable commodity; Improving Water Flows Data Reliability and Accuracy to Minimize Provincial Mistrust.
Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices that focus on chronic agriculture efficiency challenges may be adopted. These practices include integrated pest management strategies, water management strategies, improved selection of seeds, climate-resilient crop varieties, renewable energy technologies and manure management technologies. The use of laser land leveling technologies, zero tillage agriculture, raised bed planting and alternative wet and drying strategies for rice paddies shall help farmers to cope with intense climate challenges such as floods and drought while improving their agricultural productivity.
The community-based organizations are to be roped in to educate and create awareness among the farmers about the phenomenon of climate change and the importance of water. Thus, better social, physical and small & medium enterprises infrastructure in rural areas will reduce the pressure on urban centers by reducing the migration from rural to urban areas to avoid the phenomenon of “heat islands”.
Saud Bin Ahsen is a regular freelance contributor to the GVS platform. He works at Lahore based public policy think tank. He has done MPA (Master of Public Administration) from the Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore. He is interested in Comparative Public Administration, Post-Colonial Literature, and South Asian Politics. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and they do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.