Changing weather patterns pose threats to local crops

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 22, 2o13.

Islamabad – When an intense hailstorm hit Islamabad on March 14, the wheat crop in Fareed Khan’s farm in Chak Shahzad was weeks away from being harvested.

But the 3-inch hail stones bombarded the delicate wheat plants, breaking the stems and dislodging the grains in some plants which had already flowered.

“Almost half of my wheat field was destroyed in the hailstorm,” Khan, a small farmer who grows wheat and vegetables, said. “The rest of it was affected so much that the harvest is only good enough to be fed to farm animals.”

Khan was among the many farmers who saw their wheat and vegetable crops damaged by the storm.

At a nearby farm, that day, Rustum Khan was harvesting the strawberries he had toiled five months to grow.

“I lost the entire farm,” Rustum Khan, who has been growing strawberries for the past 16 years, said. “The hail stones even cut through the clay sheath used to protect the strawberry roots.”

The effects of climate change have become evident in Pakistan over the past few years with destructive nationwide floods every summer since 2010, the Attabad Lake disaster in 2010 and the Gayari avalance of 2012, all of which resulted in loss of life and infrastructure.

But climate change effects are not just large-scale, as the small farmers in the rural villages near Islamabad witnessed this spring.

Meteorologists at the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) believe that seasonal rains in March in the Potohar region are not unexpected, but the variability and magnitude of these rains and the unprecedented hailstorm are indicative that the weather patterns have changed.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has also reported that the monsoon rains have shifted over Punjab, gradually moving westward by around 80 kilometres.

The formation of hail stones, for example, is linked with volatile atmospheric conditions and ground-level temperature, which appears to be rising in some parts of Pakistan.

In a recent and unpublished interview, Muhammad Mohsin Iqbal, head of the GCISC’s agriculture and coordination section shared the results of a study with The Express Tribune.

Iqbal said for the research study, the centre divided the country in the middle and studied the temperature trends in the two halves.

“We found that the northern half of Pakistan saw a greater temperature rise in the past 50 years than the southern half,” Iqbal said. “This is worrisome because our glaciers and most of the forests and crops are located in the northern half.”

Crops need the right temperature to grow and if the temperature rises, the crops could ripen before reaching full potential. The centre found that wheat crop is ripening 10 to 15 days earlier than usual, which reduces the yield of the crop.

Climate change is a global issue and so the Earth Day 2013, which is celebrated on April 22 every year, has selected “Faces of Climate Change” as its theme.

The international day, which will mark its 43rd anniversary this year, is trying to raise awareness about people, animals and places that are directly being affected by climate change.

These “Faces of Climate Change” include the small farmers on Islamabad’s outskirts such as Rustum Khan, some of whom saw their hard work ruined by the weather this year.

Fortunately, the hail did not affect all the wheat fields around the capital, so some farmers were saved the misery.

The Earth Day is also trying to celebrate people who are fighting to protect the plant by promoting sustainable living and green economy.

Jawed Ali Khan, director general of the federal climate change ministry, said “climate resilient development” should be adopted to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“We need to reduce our carbon foot print and for that both individuals and state institutions must collaborate and contribute,” he said.

He said if the government could set up some deadlines such as to reduce the carbon foot print of Islamabad by 50 per cent by 2030, it would automatically have to take steps to meet these goals.

Some of these steps could be to introduce an efficient public transportation and energy efficient building codes, Jawed Ali Khan said.

The government of Pakistan launched a National Climate Change Policy in February but the action plans for its implementation are still being developed.

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