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Voices from Punjab: Connecting people with policy

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UK Aid is supporting the Government of Punjab in identifying gaps and strengthening policy interventions to develop the climate change resilience of farming communities in the region.

‘I was living a prosperous life as a tenant farmer and sugarcane grower. I had my own tractor and tillage implements. Because of the floods of 2015, I lost everything, and I had to sell all my assets to pay debts. Now I am working as a labourer to fulfil my family’s needs,’ says Muhammad Zaman, a labourer from the riverine area of Layyah in Pakistan.

The same year witnessed a highly unusual pink bollworm – a pest that damaged crop yields by 40%. Janat Manzoor, a farmer and social worker, is worried about the sustainability of her income obtained by selling her cotton crop. The question troubling her is whether the pink bollworm attack will recur. ‘We grow wheat during winter and cotton during summer. Wheat is important for our food security and cotton is a cash crop for us. We earn by selling cotton and use that money to fulfil our requirements.’

Pakistan missed the crop production target by around 30% in 2015, with a total output of 10 million bales, which, according to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, accounted for a 0.5% lower gross domestic product growth.

These concerns emerged from an agricultural survey conducted in Layyah by ACT to help understand the vulnerability and climate sensitivity of Punjab Agriculture Department’s (AD) project Establishment of High-Tech Mechanisation Service Centres.

Punjab’s farmers are vulnerable

Poor seed quality, low plant population, weed infestation, inefficient farming practices and inadequate water provision have traditionally been among the main reasons for low cotton productivity in Punjab. Of late, however, climatic changes have formed a pattern of inconsistency, often leading to catastrophic events like heavy rainfall and floods. This has resulted in further damage to cotton crops and the exacerbation of existing constraints.

All respondents said that climatic changes were occurring, notably longer and hotter summers, shorter and less severe winters and unpredictable rain patterns. The farming systems and livelihoods of even the relatively less vulnerable farmers are crucially linked to the vagaries of weather, and crop failure results in a collapse of their business plans, as was seen in 2015 when the cotton crop was damaged by the pink bollworm attack.

Heavy monsoon rains in 2015 adversely affected cotton crops in several ways. Pink bollworm found a favourable army worm and jassid owing to increased humidity, a reduced number of pesticide sprays and sprayed pesticides being washed away. Cotton grows well in well-drained soils, which became waterlogged; also, weed infestation increased and sowing times were delayed.

Floods in riverine areas are common but now the frequency of floods is increasing. Monsoon patterns tend to be relatively more unpredictable now compared with in the past, and glaciers are melting as a result of high temperatures. Heavy monsoon rains, the rapid melting of snow and outbursts from glacial lakes from 16 to 22 July 2015 led to flash floods and the flooding of the Indus River in various locations across Pakistan. Agricultural land spread across 378,172 acres was destroyed.

The response of the government 

AD has taken the lead in responding to these challenges. The draft Punjab Agriculture Policy includes climate change as a major challenge, and a climate change research centre has been established in Ayub Agricultural Research Institute, Faisalabad. ACT is providing technical assistance at the request of the government to:

  • Review AD’s efforts to comply with the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy;
  • Assess the vulnerability and climate sensitivity of selected ongoing and pipeline projects of AD forming part of the annual development programme;
  • Provide inputs on the agriculture portion of the draft Punjab Climate Change Policy.

ACT has identified vulnerabilities and shared them with policy-makers. For instance, in planning activities, farmers are divided into three distinct categories: 1) 0–12.5 acres (small); 12.5–25 acres (medium); and 25 acres and above (large). Project interventions and subsidies based on these divisions are inadequate as they fail to capture the diversity of the farming community and do not take climate change into account. For instance, a single intervention, such as advice on the basis of soil analysis or the introduction of a machine, would have different impacts on each farm depending on various factors other than farm size, such as quality/availability of water, microfinance and farming practices. More specific advice is needed to address the impacts of climate change and to help enable farmers to adapt. Fostering accountability and feedback from clients is crucial for extension work to be meaningful and successful in the context of climate change. It helps extension workers keep pace with the range, scale and speed of climate-induced changes so that advice can be sought from experts and transmitted back to farmers.

‘Under the new agriculture policy, all prioritised areas including seed issue, cropping zones and climate change will be addressed,’ said Agriculture Secretary, Muhammad Mahmood, in a meeting held at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.

Connecting people with policy

ACT raised its points during a knowledge-sharing workshop after the completion of its vulnerability and climate-sensitivity assessments of two Punjab AD projects: Establishment of High-Tech Mechanisation Service Centres and Extension Service 2.0: Farmer Facilitation through Modernised Extension. These insights were shared with the Minister for Agriculture, Muhammad Naeem Akhtar Bhabha, and a diverse group of stakeholders comprising representatives of government, civil society and academia, as well as students.

The assessment of the mechanisation project revealed that unusual weather patterns and associated effects like pests/insect attacks were taking a toll on agriculture, making seasonal predictability and farming operations a challenge. To increase efficiency, mechanisation needed to take climate change factors into account. This would make farming operations more efficient in terms of time and resource management, enhance productivity and reduce post-harvest losses.

A more time-efficient harvesting operation will help in coping with the impacts of unpredictable weather patterns; post-harvest practices such as machine-drying rice and maize will help protect yields from the impacts of humidity. Mechanisation that helps in achieving increased agriculture productivity while at the same time preserving and improving natural capital needed for the long term leads to climate change adaptation. This project had not explicitly considered this aspect.

Rana Mehmood, Chief, Planning and Evaluation Cell, AD, says, ‘These are very good studies that have been conducted by ACT. Feedback from ACT on both these projects will help in reshaping our programmes.’

Building bridges

The inclusion of this research will help mainstream climate change at the planning and policy level, and improve understanding of climate vulnerability and approaches to adapt to its impact. ACT will also continue to carry forward the concerns of the vulnerable communities struggling with the impacts of climate change to those who plan, allocate resources and formulate policies. This two-pronged approach will ensure that the livelihoods of communities are protected from climate change and that government systems are capable of dealing with future challenges.

This article was previously published by ACT in On the Frontiers of Climate ChangeFind out more about ACT's work.