Many farmers are adopting drip irrigation and laser levelling to conserve water, but costs for these technologies are out of reach for poor farmers
By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
BAKRANI, Pakistan, March 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Since his father died in 2011, Moeez Assadullah has been looking after his family's farm alone.
The 21-year-old tends the 3 hectares (7 acres) of land without the help of his two brothers, who lost interest in farming when they realised that more erratic weather was making agriculture an unreliable source of income.
They now work at a brick kiln in the nearby town of Larkana. But Assadullah has taken a risk, and come up with his own plan to adapt to shifting weather patterns.
Three years ago he stopped growing rice on the farm in Bakrani, a village a few miles from Larkana, in southern Pakistan's Sindh province. The crop was too labour intensive, and took too long to get to harvest, he said.
Now he squeezes out a living for his family cultivating vegetables that grow more quickly and require less water.
"In view of the rapidly changing weather and upheaval in it, growing a six-month rice crop that requires huge irrigation and care was not a viable option compared to growing vegetables," he said.
Many of Pakistan's farmers are trying to adapt to changing climate conditions – a process that can prove difficult for those with little in the way of education or savings to help them make the required switches.
Richer farmers, with more land, money and education, meanwhile, are finding the switch easier. That reality suggests Pakistan may face a future where an uncertain climate forces the poor – who cultivate over 80 percent of the country's agricultural land - out of farming unless they get help, experts say.
Failing small farms could undermine government efforts to achieve sustainable agriculture and food security, and to eradicate poverty, hunger and malnutrition, experts warn.
"Providing the poor farmers with required technical, financial and institutional support ... is key," said Khuda Bakhsh, an agriculture scientist at the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in Vehari, in Punjab province.
DRIP IRRIGATION, LASER LEVELING
In Bakrani, Assadullah, after abandoning rice, is growing traditional varieties of cauliflower, spinach, green chilli, cabbage, tomatoes and onion. He says that in his village many farmers with larger plots of land are adopting water conservation technologies, such as drip irrigation.
He would like to join them, but the installation costs – up to $700 per hectare – are too high, he says.
But 80 km (50 miles) east, in Khairpur, 38-year-old Nawaz Somroo is using lasers to grow more cotton on his father's more than 80 hectares of land.
Unlike the self-trained Assadullah, Somroo is a graduate in agricultural science from Faisalabad Agriculture University, one of the Pakistan's top agricultural schools.
With his education and access to more money, Somroo has been able to adopt improved cotton varieties with higher yields. He uses the latest laser technology to make his fields level, which helps him reduce water consumption by nearly 60 percent.
Somroo said that until 2012 his father cultivated a traditional cotton variety. But at the university, Somroo learned about a seed variety bio-engineered to be pest resistant and introduced it on the family farm. Yields jumped by about a third.
Now, he says, other farmers consult him about ways to achieve similar improvements.
Akhter Ali, an agro-ecologist and food security expert at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre's (CIMMYT) office in Islamabad, said Pakistani farmers who want to adopt climate-smart agriculture are hindered by a lack of technical know-how and financial resources.
But resource-poor farmers could be encouraged to stay in farming through things like on-farm demonstrations, help diversifying crops and adjusting the timing of cultivation, and better access to new crop varieties and water management techniques, he said.
Credit schemes for small-scale farmers and subsidised access to technology could also help, he noted.
He said a recent CIMMYT study showed that farmers who adapted to changing weather had achieved 8-13 percent better food security than those who did not, and poverty was 3-6 percent lower.
EFFORTS TO HELP
Pakistani provincial agriculture departments have launched a few programmes to boost farmers' ability to cope with climate change.
Starting this year, a three-year World Bank-funded effort is underway to help 16,000 small-scale farmers in Sindh province adapt their livestock and vegetable farming, said Sohail Anwar Siyal, the Sindh provincial agriculture minister.
The $88 million scheme aims to improve the productivity and market access of small- and medium-scale farmers by improving their knowledge and access to technology.
Late last year, Punjab's chief minister also launched programmes to help farmers with everything from new financial support to a distribution of more than 5 million smartphones.
Apart from making up-to-date weather forecasts accessible, the phones will be used to send information about the latest cultivation technologies, farming methods, potential disease outbreaks due to abrupt weather changes, and measures to protect against extreme weather, he said.
The province will also make 1 million interest-free loans available to small-scale farmers and give free farmland to graduates of agriculture universities.
In 2016, the Gilgit-Baltistan provincial government similarly launched a seven-year, $120-million initiative for economic transformation through climate-resilient mountain farming, in collaboration with the UN's International Fund for Agriculture Development.
The effort has focused on everything from organising farmers into producers' groups to introducing high-value climate-resilient cash crops, said Rai Manzoor, Gilgit-Baltistan's food secretary.
Such measures are seen as key in Pakistan as summer monsoon rains, which have traditionally come in late June or early July and ended in September, have for several years arrived only in mid or late August and lasted into October.
"Focusing on young smallholder poor farmers and imparting to them new knowledge about coping with climate change impacts" – as well as helping with subsidised technology and small loans - is "critical for achieving household food security and poverty alleviation," said Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, Pakistan's minister for national food security.
(Reporting by Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio; editing by James Baer and Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.