Pakistan: A different way to plant

May 05, 2016

​For five years, Pakistan has been impacted by large-scale natural disasters. The worst in the country’s history occurred in 2010, when a series of floods covered one-fifth of its territory, affecting 20 million people. The following year, when they were scarcely back on their feet, the Pakistanis faced another major flood in the semi-arid Sindh province.

“Climate change is causing erratic weather. One year, it’s massive floods; the next, it’s drought,” says Adil Najam, Dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University in the United States. He led a research project in Pakistan, with Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), to learn how farmers can adapt to the vagaries of weather. “When you don’t know what kind of weather to expect, your whole life is turned upside down,” he notes. This is especially true for farmers.

Najam calculates that, 25 years from now, climate change may reduce Pakistan’s agricultural productivity by 8% to 10%. The research project conducted by LUMS, in collaboration with the Social Policy and Development Centre and the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics(PIDE), thus aims to help farmers improve their practices. The research team discussed the farmers’ work methods and tried to help them determine what they could be doing differently, while minimizing costs. “We suggested that they modify the kind of crops they grow. For example, during a drought, they could shift from growing sugar cane to growing corn, which needs less water,” he explained. In certain regions, farmers have already given up banana and wheat farming in favour of mustard and dates, crops that are more suited to arid soil.

With climate change, the farmers must also adjust their calendar. They will, for example, plant later in the season and include different types of crops throughout the year.

Najam notes that such adaptations have made farmers more productive than they had been in the past, when the climate hadn’t yet become a problem. “Their agricultural practices were not always efficient,” he says. “They now have the opportunity to improve their practices and their results.”

However, even if the farmers manage in the long term to adapt their practices to the climate, the researcher insists that the problem must be corrected at the source. “The best solution,” he reminds us, “is still to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The original French version of this article was published in the December 2015 issue of Québec Science.

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