FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 20

Towards agriculture sustainability

Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin’s roadmap to high economic growth visualises special incentives for agriculture, construction and the industry. Pakistan’s agriculture sector has not been performing well for the past few years and so is the economy. Recently, Pakistan had to import wheat and sugar, at much higher rates than their local production costs, which not only raised questions about food security but also put an extra burden on the country. In the situation, sustainability in agriculture will be the biggest challenge to the government, especially at a time when climate change poses a serious threat to it.

Pakistan has achieved a bumper wheat crop this year and hopes increased production of other crops. The government has announced a number of incentives for farmers to boost agriculture. It launched the Kisan (farmer) Card, under which farmers would be able to get Rs1,000 subsidy on DAP (diammonium phosphate), which was previously Rs500. “Subsidies will also be available for seeds and pesticides,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said, while launching the scheme at Multan. Farmers will also be provided with loan through the card, and support, in case of a calamity and crisis. Over five million peasants are expected to profit from the scheme, which will, in return, benefit the common people in the shape of low-cost food.

The government has also announced an agriculture reform package worth Rs110 billion in the upcoming budget, besides increasing lending by almost 80pc to Rs2.7 trillion to substantially enhance crops’ output and farmers’ income. The package, to be implemented in three years, would be financed by the Centre and the provinces on a 50:50 pro rata basis. The federal government will allocate roughly Rs25-30b for it in the coming budget.

The package would have four key elements, including a Rs40b programme to be implemented in three years for the import of semen for administration to animals through its provision to farmers free of cost or at a notional cost to enhance the productivity of livestock. The provinces will bear the 50pc cost of the project. The second element is a Rs40b programme to provide Rs1,000 per bag of nitrogenous and phosphoric fertilisers to the extent of about 40 million bags. Half of the funding will be shared by Punjab and Sindh. It will cover three major crops — wheat, rice and maize. Then, there is a Rs30b package for increasing the number of crops from the current 1.5 per year to about 2.5 per year by increasing the share of three crops with a three-month maturity period, including moong, potatoes and beans, and enhancing the share of fruits and vegetables. Besides, agriculture credit would be increased from the current year’s Rs1.5tr to Rs2.7tr over the next two years. It stood at about Rs900b two years ago. The government believes the package would be the key to reducing poverty and increasing the income of rural people.

On the other hand, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has warned that climate change will have serious direct and indirect effects on the agriculture sector of Pakistan. In its report titled, “Climate Risk Country Profile Pakistan,” the ADB said that direct effects include alterations to carbon dioxide availability, precipitation and temperatures. While indirect effects include impacts on water resource availability and seasonality, soil organic matter transformation, soil erosion, changes in pest and disease profiles, the arrival of invasive species, and decline in arable areas due to the submergence of coastal lands and desertification.

On the international level, the impacts are expected to damage key staple crop yields, even on lower emissions pathways. Experts estimate 5pc and 6pc declines in global wheat and maize yields respectively even if the Paris Climate Agreement is met and warming is limited to 1.5°C. Shifts in the optimal and viable spatial ranges of certain crops are also inevitable, though the extent and speed of those shifts remains dependent on the emissions pathway. A further and perhaps lesser appreciated influence of climate change on agricultural production is through its impact on the health and productivity of the labor force. Citing a study, the ADB said that labor productivity during peak months had already dropped by 10pc as a result of warming, and that a decline of up to 20pc might be expected by 2050 under the highest emissions pathway.

In combination, it is highly likely that the processes will have a considerable impact on national food consumption patterns both through direct impacts on internal agricultural operations, and through impacts on the global supply chain. Agriculture employs 38.57pc of Pakistan’s workforce and contributes 22pc to gross domestic product (GDP), making potential climate impacts and adaptation needs in the sector a high priority. The report warns that damage to key cash crop yields, such as cotton, is a particular concern. Pakistan is the fifth largest producer of cotton in the world—the industry contributes 10pc of the country’s GDP and employs approximately 30pc of the country’s farmers, many of whom are rural women.

The impact of extreme climate events on the agricultural sector in Pakistan can be very significant, raising concerns regarding any increase in their frequency attributed to climate change. Floods inundate fertile land, kill livestock, destroy standing crops, and reduce or eliminate yields. This was demonstrated in the major flood of 2010, during which an estimated 2.4 million hectares of un-harvested crops were lost, worth approximately $5.1 billion. Droughts can be equally devastating to rural livelihoods. From 1999–2002, droughts in Sindh and Balochistan provinces killed two million livestock and necessitated emergency relief to provide drinking water and food aid to farming communities. Even minimal changes in precipitation patterns over prolonged periods can alter the country’s food production by placing greater pressure on the water resources the country’s irrigation network depends on, the ADB said.

Pakistan faces increases in average temperatures significantly above the global average. Cities in its northern regions will be strongly impacted. The rises add to already high baseline temperatures. Under higher emissions pathways the number of days per year with temperatures over 35°C may rise from around 120 to over 150 by the middle of the 21st century. The changes will place extreme pressure on urban environments, and the energy systems which support them. Changes should be seen in the context of the increasing impact of the urban heat island effect, driven by urbanisation, and identified in cities such as Lahore and Peshawar. The report says Pakistan holds considerable social vulnerability to disaster. High poverty and malnutrition rates prevail and many communities and minority groups are marginalised by socio-economic status, location, and political circumstances. Pakistan’s high exposure to multiple natural hazards and its likely exposure to above average climate changes should be seen in the context of its vulnerability. Over decadal timeframes mortality attributable to natural hazards is dominated by Pakistan’s exposure to earthquakes.

The study shows climate change poses a serious challenge to Pakistan. The government will have to take urgent measures to save the country from its serious threats. However, Pakistan alone cannot tackle the problem, which it has not created, and it needs help from developed countries to clear their mess.