Earthly Matters: Climate Smart Agriculture

Jan 25th, 2015 | By | Category: Agriculture, News

54c1cbbfdb014For a water stressed agro-based country like Pakistan, climate-smart agriculture is the need of the hour. Today, Pakistan is just about self-sufficient in food production as agricultural areas have expanded and yields increased although distribution is a problem. But in the near future, experts like Dr Mac Kirby of the Australian government’s aid programme say that the rate of increase in food production will not be able to keep up with the surge in the population rate.

Pakistan will need more water to grow more food and the country will need to increase the crop yields as well; both difficult prospects given the uncertainties in rainfall due to climate change, the impact of melting glaciers on river flows and the fact that higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will be detrimental to overall crop yields. Hence Pakistan faces a great challenge in continuing to feed itself.

What the country desperately needs is good management of water and efficiency of delivering this water without excessive losses. According to Dr Kirby, this must be done at canal, field and river levels. “Pakistan needs clever management of water for the timely release of water to crops … water is going to become the biggest challenge.”

Since more than 95 per cent of our fresh water comes from the Indus River system and is used in agriculture, our farmers must be taught to use water more efficiently as well as to introduce climate resilient crops. In China, farmers have learnt to reduce water use in agriculture while increasing productivity through appropriate research. Pakistan too has to develop, plan and implement policies that save water. This is where the country needs to invest its resources instead of wasting money on metro buses and roads.

The most practical and low cost way to teach farmers how to use water more efficiently is through the Farmer Field Schools (FFS) method, which is a group-based learning process rooted in scientific research. The FFS method has been used by a number of governments, NGOs and international agencies to promote Integrated Pest Management in the past. The first Farmer Field Schools were designed and managed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Indonesia in 1989 and since then more than two million farmers across Asia have participated in this type of learning.

In Pakistan, the FFS method has already been introduced by WWF-Pakistan in successfully spreading awareness amongst small farmers in the cotton-growing belt of Southern Punjab about the harmful effects of using excessive fertilisers and pesticides. Farmer Field Schools have taught farmers how to use fertiliser properly and how to grow cotton by using less water and less pesticide while increasing their yields.

This is how Farmer Field Schools were conducted by WWF-Pakistan for small farmers in the area: once a week, farmers met for around three hours to study a selected field. Around 25 farmers participated, usually with two facilitators. The farmers were split into groups of five and were asked to prepare a presentation on their findings with charts and drawings. This way many farmers who are illiterate — can also explain what they have learnt about new growing techniques.

News has spread about this scientific method of farming and the small initiative which started in Pakistan as a NGO pilot project run by WWF-Pakistan has turned into a successful business model as more farmers adopt better methods of growing cotton under the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI).

The BCI is a global programme made up of producers, international retailers and not-for-profit groups. The initiative counts international companies like Ikea and H&M among its commercial partners. According to the BCI official website, in 2013 around 46,500 BCI farmers produced 157,000 MT of Better Cotton lint on 193,000 hectares. Most of the BCI farmers who WWF-Pakistan works with are smallholders.

Now WWF-Pakistan’s Building Capacity on Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Areas of Pakistan (CCAP) project is introducing a similar project focusing on saline agriculture in the Indus Delta area. Twenty farmers from Keti Bunder and Kharo Chan Union Councils each will be trained this year by Farmer Field Schools (CCAP has prepared a farmer’s manual based on scientific research of the area’s agriculture) in waterlogged/saline areas. The FFS will introduce local breeds and try to enhance present yields and teach farmers what crops/seeds they can grow in these areas that are salinity resistant along with soil sowing variations.

Farmer Field Schools have proven their success at the local level in Pakistan and they could easily be scaled out throughout the country, tailoring themselves to the ground realities when it comes to growing food in each union council/district. They not only conserve water and ensure food security through better agricultural practices, but also enrich soil carbon by reducing the use of nitrogen fertilisers and restore degraded watersheds and range-lands as well as preventing more productive land to become waterlogged. They can build farmers’ resilience while ensuring food security in the country.

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