CSA can boost production in a changing climate

WITH the soaring temperatures, droughts, floods and unpredictable rainfall patterns, it is predicted that agriculture, food production, and people dependent on the agriculture sector for income will be severely affected by climate change in the future.

This is a serious cause of concern considering that agriculture comprises 42.3 per cent of Pakistan’s workforce.

Climate change signals that modern agricultural practices, new crop seeds and improved sustainability approaches are needed to maintain the current production and consumption levels.

Pakistan is the world’s 6th most populous country with a population of 207.77 million people and growing at the rate of two per cent per year. This growth in population at such an alarming rate is making economists and development practitioners question Pakistan’s food security.

Pakistan is also experiencing rapid urbanisation with youth migrating to urban centres in the search of better jobs and living conditions. This has resulted in the growth of informal settlements and slums at the outskirts of major cities raising health and environmental concerns.

Despite the fact that the country has a comprehensive network of irrigation infrastructure, its water resources are declining at an alarming rate with two of Pakistan’s major dams, Tarbela and Mangla, set to reach dead level.

According to Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), the gap between availability of water and its demand will increase from four per cent in 2011 to 31pc by 2025. This will affect the productivity of the agriculture sector which mostly depends on water from irrigation and river flows.

Hence, investment in Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is the need of the hour to ensure a stable food supply and also prevent a majority of the population from falling in to extreme poverty.

The concept of CSA entails sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, adapting and building resilience to climate change, and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.

It also promotes the judicious use of inputs such as land, fertilisers, water and pesticides to make the agriculture sector less vulnerable to climate change and ensure higher productivity. Some countries in Asia have already started adapting their agricultural sector to the emerging challenges presented by climate change.

According to a paper titled “Policy support, social capital, and farmers’ adaptation to drought in China” by Chen, Wang, and Huang, farmers in China are taking practical steps to protect themselves against drought by changing agricultural production inputs and adjusting seeding or harvesting dates.

Matthew E. Kahn in his paper, “Will climate change cause enormous social costs for poor Asian cities?” states how farmers in the Philippines are turning to spatial diversification of fields and crops, sharecropping, and weather insurance to adapt to the changing climate.

Similarly, according to the report “Climate-Smart Villages in Haryana, India”, climate-smart villages have been formed to implement key climate-smart agricultural interventions for increasing farmers’ incomes through higher crop productivity and building resilience to climate extremes.

Pakistan can also adapt its agricultural sector to climate shocks by: switching to high-yielding, heat- and drought-resistant crop varieties, offering subsidies to encourage CSA, efficient water management (rainwater harvesting, laser land levelling, micro-irrigation, raised bed planting, etc.), ICT based agro-met services, nutrient and carbon smart practices, and knowledge smart activities.

Furthermore, the role of women in the sector is often ignored, despite them forming the majority of the agricultural workforce. It is necessary that state resources, services and knowledge are equally accessible to women farmers as they are to men.Thus, any policies developed to address climate change in agriculture need to be gender specific.

Adopting CSA practices will not only ensure food security but will also help in adapting Pakistan’s agricultural sector to climate shocks.

Currently, Pakistan has the lowest level of agricultural research and development spending in South Asia. Spending more on agricultural R&D and shifting to CSA will create new job opportunities for youth in the rural areas, reducing the rural to urban migration.