CHAKOTHI, Pakistan (AlertNet) – The failure of Muhammad Saddique’s maize crop following a three-month drought has left him threatened with lack of food and economic ruin.
But the government of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, where Saddique lives, seems unprepared and unable to help farmers like him adapt to changing weather patterns that are linked to climate change, he and other farmers say.
Sitting in the yard of his two-room, tin-roofed mud house in the border village of Chakohti, 32-year-old Saddique looks over his stunted field of maize, which should have been ready to harvest in September.
The plants should be as tall as 7 feet (over 2 metres), he explained, but this year they are just 3 feet tall, each with only a tiny ear of maize.
“Drought has brought this disaster,” Saddique said, pointing out that “besides this crop, the seasonal fruits and vegetables are diseased and there is no grass for fodder for livestock.”
Saddique’s mother Soni, 65, said that they would be forced to sell at low prices many of the family’s nine animals tied up in a nearby shed.
And the family would need loans to buy food, her son added. He blamed the government for not helping them adapt to the new climatic conditions.
“Farmers are not warned about changes in weather patterns ahead of time,” Saddique said.
And “we are still doing agriculture with century-old methods. … Manual reaping is still used in the villages,” he said.
According to the planning and development department of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, nearly 90 percent of the population of this largely hilly and mountainous region live in rural areas and depend on forestry, agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods.
Nearly three quarters of cultivated land is planted to maize, grown mainly in six cooler northern districts, with the remaining areas given over to wheat, fruit and a little rice. Less than 10 percent of the region’s cultivated land is irrigated.
ONLY TWO SEASONS NOW
Khawaja Khurashid Ahmed, a crop specialist in the agriculture department, said that there use to be four seasons in the region, but for the last few years there have in effect been only two: summer and winter. Spring and autumn have disappeared due to climate change, according to Ahmed.
“Now summer comes soon after winter, superseding spring and autumn, and this has confused the farmers about the timing of crop harvesting,” Ahmed said.
Nazir Ahmed, 55, who also farms in Chakothi, said he had arranged to sell his buffalo to a butcher after the failure of his maize harvest.
“There have been 600 kg (1,300 lbs) of maize every year on my farmland, but this year it will hardy give me 80 kg (180 lbs),” Ahmed said.
“It is getting hard for me to arrange flour (to feed) my three daughters and son and two grandsons; how will I fill the belly of a buffalo?” he added.
Ahmed knows that the government cannot do anything to end the drought or regularise rainfall, but he believes it could help by providing soft loans to farmers and new agriculture techniques, including water-efficient crops.
“The government can provide seeds of water-efficient maize crops to farmers to beat erratic rainfall and provide timely information about change in the weather patterns, but it is not doing so,” he complained.
Tariq Masood, director-general of the region’s agriculture department, said his staff were “here for facilitation and capacity building of farmers when they approach us for this purpose.”
But “we are helpless before nature. We can’t fight nature,” he said.
AG ADAPTATION NOT A PRIORITY
He admitted that agriculture is not a priority of the regional government and that no major projects have been initiated for the awareness and training of farmers in recent months as they have faced erratic rainfall and drought.
According to Masood, research into adaptation methods is underway to enable the department to advise farmers on changing their patterns of cropping, but he offered no immediate hope of a solution.
“We will observe the situation for three or four years,” he said.
Khawaja Khurashid Ahmed, the agrologist, acknowledged that droughts were proving disastrous for farmers, but said farmers were not adopting the latest agriculture techniques to stay in step with the changing weather because they were mostly uneducated.
However, he admitted, “we cannot invent or develop new variety of crops (seeds) because of limited resources.”
For Nazir Ahmed, however, the solution need not be so complicated. Irrigation is one answer, he said.
Pointing to a few large maize plants grown near his yard and irrigated with used water from the kitchen, he said, “If water could be channelled to farmland during drought periods, the situation would be different.”
Roshan Din Shad is a freelance journalist based in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir. He has worked for national and international media, as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).