Rising prices of food and fuel, unpredictable rainfall leading to droughts, localised floods, livestock diseases and declining job opportunities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are the primary factors contributing to the growing concerns about food insecurity.
The summer of 2022 witnessed an extraordinary meteorological phenomenon across Pakistan. From mid-June to the end of August, the country experienced an unprecedented flood of monsoon rainfall, leading to disastrous flooding in Dera Ismail Khan, Swat, Nowshera, Peshawar and Charsadda.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department reported that the rainfall in August 2022 was exceptionally high, breaking records dating back to 1961. In fact, the monthly rainfall for August 2022 alone exceeded the average monsoon seasonal rainfall by a staggering 37 percent.
Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate-related challenges has been consistently underscored. For two decades, it has found a place among the 10 most vulnerable countries on the German Watch Climate Risk Index. The impact of these vulnerabilities has been stark, with approximately 10,000 lives lost and financial losses amounting to roughly $4 billion due to 173 extreme weather events.
According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, flash floods in KP have been particularly deadly, claiming the lives of 307 people and leaving 368 injured. The devastation extends to more than 37,000 houses destroyed and nearly 54,000 partially damaged.
The agricultural sector in KP has borne the brunt of the catastrophe. The floods have wreaked havoc on agricultural lands and crops across 24 out of 34 districts of the province. The floodwaters spared no one, overcoming numerous seasoned crops, including the province’s three major cash crops – sugarcane, maize and rice.
Data from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Crop Reporting Services and Agriculture Extension Department reveals the extent of the damage: 120,763 acres of agricultural land have been submerged, accounting for roughly 14 percent of the total agricultural land.
As a consequence, the province now faces an imminent loss of 1,622,628 tonnes of agricultural production. The devastation includes 42,661 acres of sugarcane, constituting 3 percent of the total cultivated land and contributing to a loss of 809,663 tonnes of production. Additionally, 20,118 acres of rice and 29,278 acres of maize have suffered, resulting in a loss of 1,064,469 tonnes of production.
Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. 65-70 percent of the country’s population depends on it for their livelihood, according to the Finance Department. In KP, agriculture contributes more than 20 percent of the GDP.
Abdul Wali Khan, a 48-year-old farmer from the Hisara Yaseen Zai union council in Charsadda district, paints a grim picture of the situation. Having sown sugarcane on 12 acres, he has witnessed more than two acres destroyed by a flash flood. The rest of the crop too has been affected. Other farmers in the area, too, have suffered losses with their maize and vegetable crops.
Abdul Wali Khan represents not only his individual plight but also the 1,400 farmers registered with the Charsadda Model Farm Services Centre. This cooperative farming entity, owned by the farmers, addresses the needs and concerns of the farming community.
With its minimal contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, the country bears a disproportionate burden of its effects. The increasing frequency of heavy rains during critical agricultural periods compounds the challenges faced by farmers and puts food security at risk.
Charsadda, a district in the Peshawar division, has been significantly impacted by the recent flash floods. The region boasts diverse crops, but according to the Agriculture Department, sugarcane production in Charsadda ranks second in KP.
Khan says the devastation has left him in dire straits, struggling to secure even the bare essentials for his family’s sustenance.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification had already sounded alarm about food insecurity in seven merged districts of the KP. Reports from October 2021 to April 2022 revealed that around 1.5 million faced high levels of acute food insecurity in districts affected by the flash floods.
Insufficient rainfall was a critical driver of food insecurity in the merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The report highlighted that these districts are heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture. The year 2021 had witnessed a shortfall in both the monsoon and pre-monsoon rains, leading to reduced crop yields.
Agriculture Department’s data further underscores the grim reality: 15,271.57 acres of agricultural land in the affected merged districts has been severely damaged by the flash floods.
The cost of this devastation has been astronomical. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority has estimated damage to agriculture, livestock, fisheries and water management at a staggering Rs 19.3 billion.
Dr Raheel Saqib, a PhD scholar and an assistant professor at the Agriculture Extension Education and Communication Department at Agriculture University, Peshawar, shares his insights. “These farmers rely heavily on sugarcane, rice and maize crops until the arrival of the wheat season, usually in June. With their crops for the season lost, they face extreme shortages of food and fodder for their livestock,” he says.
Dr Saqib says, “the flooding has decimated most of the crops in the harvest period, thereby affecting the availability, accessibility, affordability and sustainability of food in the market. Consequently, the province is on the brink of a looming food insecurity crisis.”
Khan echoes the sentiment. He says, “many are facing bankruptcy, irrespective of whether they cultivate vegetables, maize, sugarcane or other crops.“
Professor Dr Khan Bahadur, a former vice-chancellor of Agriculture University, Peshawar, sheds light on shifting rainfall patterns and their impact. “Despite contributing less than 0.1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan has consistently ranked among the 10 countries most affected by climate change. Continuous rainfall on a harvested crop not only diminishes production but also degrades the quality of wheat flour. Bread made from such grain is unappetising,” he says.
The Global Climate Risk Index 2020 report highlights Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change. The country now ranks fifth among most affected nation globally, with economic losses reaching $3.8 million. This is a significant concern, considering that at least 24 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
The wheat yield in Pakistan hovers between 25 and 30 million tonnes, closely matching the consumption levels. With an average production of 3.3 tonnes per hectare, maintaining a steady supply is crucial to meet the food requirements of the population.
Dr Bahadur’s statement highlight the urgent need to address the consequences of climate change. Despite its minimal contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, the country bears a disproportionate burden of its effects. The increasing frequency of heavy rains during critical agricultural periods compounds the challenges faced by farmers and puts food security at risk.
To mitigate these risks, Pakistan must prioritise the implementation of climate-resilient strategies and sustainable agricultural practices. This includes investments in water management infrastructure, promoting efficient irrigation techniques, adopting climate-smart crop varieties and strengthening disaster management systems. Raising awareness among farmers about climate change and its implications can enable them to make informed decisions and adapt their farming practices accordingly.
Professor Dr Khan Bahadur’s remarks serve as a reminder that addressing climate change is a collective global effort. Pakistan, as one of the countries most affected by climate change, must advocate for international collaboration, knowledge-sharing and financial support to mitigate its adverse effects on agriculture and ensure the well-being of its population.
The story published in TNS on October 8, 2023