SAARC report on agriculture: understanding of climate change in the region needed

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Jul 7, 2013.

Islamabad – Understanding climate variability and identifying possible management options based on climate information are needed to reduce the risk to crop yields from erratic weather patterns in Pakistan.

These are the suggestions of a country status report for Pakistan, which is part of a report released by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agriculture Centre.

The report titled “Impact of Climatic Parameters on Agricultural Production and Minimizing Crop Productivity Losses through Weather Forecast and Advisory Service in SAARC Countries” also includes country reports for India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The report’s purpose is to review existing situation in member states and identify strengths and weaknesses.

In the report’s foreword, Dr Abul Kalam Azad, Director SAARC Agriculture Centre, wrote that “global climate changes and increasing climatic variability are likely to exert pressure on agricultural systems and may constrain attainment of future food production targets.”

Azad wrote that adaptation research, capacity building, policies and strategies such as weather based agro-advisory service are needed urgently.

The Pakistan report, penned by Dr Muhammad Asim of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Centre, notes that the country lacks non-specific climate information, with providers and users of information either ignorant of the possible consequences of climatic outcome or unable to quantify it.

“To improve climate risk related decision making at the farm level, farmers need to gain a better understanding of the climate factors that affect crop yield in their environment,” the report stated. “This will allow decision makers to identify possible management options based on climate information or seasonal climate forecasts.”

Asim suggested that crop growth simulation models should be used to determine optimum sowing time for crops. The sowing time is important especially for Pakistan’s most important crop wheat, which accounts for 10.1 per cent of the value added in agriculture and 2.2 per cent of Pakistan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2012-13.

As the report noted, delayed planting could reduce wheat yield almost linearly at the rate of 42 kilogramme per hectare per day past optimum sowing period.

The Pakistan chapter in the SAARC report used a case study of impact of climate on wheat productivity in Islamabad.

According to the report, the long-term mean temperature in Islamabad in wheat growing season ranged between 16 to 19 degrees Celsius from 1961-2007 and long-term rainfall pattern ranged between 100 milimetres and 800 milimetres per year. This “enormous year-to-year climate variability” is a major source of wheat production variability, the report said.

Decreased rainfall observed in September in Islamabad could also be a concern for wheat as it could lead to less residual moisture for sowing of wheat in October.

The report suggested Pakistan focus on research to enhance resilience in crops through biotechnology and provision of better climate information through forecasting systems.

Pakistan has a mechanism for weather forecasting under the Pakistan Meteorological Department which does climate modeling and also has an agricultural meteorology (Agromet) advisory system, the report stated. The dissemination of Agromet data is done through meetings, radio programmes and the electronic media.

Comparative study of the country reports suggests Pakistan can use SMS and Kisan Call Centres to supply the data to farmers like it is being done in India.

The report suggests Pakistan should engage in participatory, cross-disciplinary research for successful climate applications.

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