Pakistan: Small farmers face brunt of dry spell

News and Press Release
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By Imran Ali Teepu

Sunday, 17 Jan, 2010

ISLAMABAD: The changing weather system has further added to the difficulties of small farmers in the Potohar region who primarily depend on rainwater for their meagre production.

And the Met Office does not foresee any immediate relief for them as it forecast that the current dry spell would continue for another week or so.

An official of the Pakistan Metrological Department told Dawn that after crossing the two stages of drought - metrological and hydrological - the country was now entering the emerging agricultural drought stage.

"This is an agriculture drought which occurs when rainfall amount and distribution, water reserved in soil and evaporation combines to start affecting crops."

The Barani areas, he said, were already experiencing crop failure and were under severe agricultural drought.

He said this is an El-Nino factor which was developed in June 2009 and suppressed the monsoon rainfall in the country by about 30 per cent and was likely to continue till next year.

El-Nino effect is an invasion of warm water into the surface of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru and Ecuador every four to seven years that causes changes in local and regional climate associated with a positive anomaly.

The Met official further said that since the end of monsoon rainfall, which too was deficient, most parts of Pakistan except some areas had not received any significant rainfall.

For a poor farmer, the investment of Rs30,000 on a single crop is a substantial amount when adverse weather conditions put at risk his hope to earn profit.

Raja Ilyas has pinned all his hopes on the three kanals of his Barani agricultural land in the Panwal village. "If it doesn't rain, I don't know how to feed my children," said the dejected 48 years old, looking towards the sky and praying for rain that could breathe life into his land.

Ilyas is not the only small-scale farmer living on the outskirts of Islamabad desperately waiting for rain.

Many others who have been engaged in the profession for the last three generations and own less than ten kanals can fall under heavy debts and would be forced to buy wheat from the markets if there is no rain. They also fear of their animals falling sick if the drought persists.

These small farmers have no other alternative and even cannot bear the cost of boring in search of water. "The current drought-like situation is an impact of climate change," said Dr Zulfiqar, an environment researcher at the Quaid-i-Azam University.

He attributed the dry spell to concentration of green house gases in the air and the unchecked population growth. Pakistan's per capita water availability is also decreasing. It was 2,000 cubic metre a few years ago which has now decreased to 1,350 cubic metre - a danger level, he added.

In reply to a question, Dr Zulfiqar said the rain dependant farmers should go for micro-boring to meet the challenge of water shortage.

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