Pakistan is situated in semi-arid to arid zone and confronts rising temperatures. It is ranked seventh among countries that are most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.
The effects of climate change are evident from the increased frequencies of floods and droughts, unpredictable weather conditions, changes in crop-growing patterns, reduced irrigation efficiencies, and the loss of biodiversity. The agricultural sector is of immense importance for our economy as it contributes over 18.9 percent to the country’s GDP. As the industrial sector depends on agriculture, climate change can directly and indirectly affect our economy.
Food security is adversely affected by climate change as there are abrupt fluctuations in temperature and other environmental factors. It is becoming more difficult for farmers to grow crops and rear livestock under these conditions. Every crop has its own specific optimum temperature range and water requirements to hit the maturity level. While higher temperatures are conducive to increasing crop yields, if this rise in temperature persists for a longer period, it can reduce outputs.
Carbon dioxide tends to reduce the protein and nitrogen levels of some crops, such as soybean. Although the rise in carbon dioxide stimulates crop growth, it also lessens the nutritional content of crops, especially rice, wheat and soybean. Precipitation at extreme levels, especially floods and droughts, is also inimical for the growth of crops. Combating drought stress is a major challenge for farmers in areas where temperature are rising. Apart from crops, weeds have a comparatively stronger effect in mitigating climate change as the temperature range required for their survival is likely to increase with the changing climate.
Changing climatic conditions also affect livestock. A rise in temperature increases the vulnerability of animals to diseases, and reduces their fertility and ability to produce milk. Heat stress indirectly leads to the failure of forage crops and animals that depend on them have to face starvation or long periods of scarcity..
The prevalence of parasites and diseases caused by them are also likely to increase. These climate change-induced diseases adversely affect livestock. Increased carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere promote pasture growth and simultaneously reduces the nutritious content of livestock feed. In order to obtain enough nutrition, cattle will have to eat more.
The Himalayan glaciers currently feed large rivers of Asia. But the changing climate has resulted in the melting of these glaciers and they are anticipated to completely melt down in the next 50 years. This may also result in a water scarcity in the country. In short, climate change is a major hindrance to achieving the target of bumper yields for major crops in the country. It is also depleting our water resources. More importantly, the changing climate is damaging the country by delivering shocks to our economy that is primarily based on agriculture.
The potential adverse impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector can wreak havoc across the country. They will not only deteriorate the quality and safety of food, but will also limit access of food to people. In order to mitigate the impact of climate change, the government of Pakistan has taken various initiatives. Among these, the most important is the Green Pakistan Project, which aims to plant 100 million trees in the next five years.
Different projects are being implemented under the Green Pakistan project. In the agricultural sector, focus is needed in adapting farming practices in accordance with climate change. Research should be carried out to understand the behavior of crops in response to changing climatic conditions.
Climate-modelling and crop-modelling are crucial for the agricultural sector as they help us understand crop-atmosphere interactions. These strategies will be helpful for farmers who face difficulties in managing crop cultivation on poor soils in harsh and risky climates. This will also assist researchers in adopting an integrated approach to finding solutions to the complex problem of weather, soil and crop management.
Fortunately, these techniques will assist policymakers in policy management in agricultural meteorology. Improved seeds, efficient fertilisation, the wise utilisation of irrigation water, adequate research efforts, and good extension services to farmers in relation to agricultural crops and climate change can prove to be beneficial strategies to combat the harmful impacts of climate change.
It is the need of the hour to take steps to mitigate climate change, not only in Pakistan but also at the global level.The writer is the director of the Attock campus of PMAS Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi.