Need for climate smart agriculture

..  by Islamuddin

CHITRAL: Chitral has subsistence economy primarily based on agriculture. With changing climate patterns most of the traditional crops and fruit trees have started failing. Excessive and unscientific use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has poisoned the soil impacting on the quality of crops and natural fertility of the soil. Biodiversity has been destroyed. All bird categories that used to feed on plant ad crop parasites and pests have been hunted down leaving gap in the life chain which is now being filled by using poisons for pest control. As a result food contents carry harmful non-food ingredients causing incidences of fatal diseases and increasing mortality rates in the population. The high yielding potato cultivation at a large scale without crop rotation is destroying soil fertility (soil crumbs) making it amenable to erosion and fertility loss which is attempted to be replenished through heavier dozes of chemical fertilizers and pesticides year after year at the cost of irreversible soil degradation.

Fruit trees for which Chitral enjoys some fame have also started failing owing to warmer climate patterns and insect attacks. Mulberry fruit which used to last during the entire summer season now attracts insect attacks in the second month of ripening; same is the case with apricots, the second most popular fruit. Walnut trees which also have cultural value for Chitralis have been cut down to make way for development projects and those remaining shed leaves before their fruits ripen. Many have dried up and are being used for firewood. In few land scarce areas, trees including fruit trees have been cut down to make room for quick yielding potato crop. The havoc caused by climate change and ignorance about crop rotation has reached alarming proportions necessitating urgent measures to arrest the drift. In the following paragraphs I am recommending climate smart agricultural (CSA) practices to make smooth transition from the traditional to climate compliant agriculture:

Firstly we must go for composting. All domestic waste except plastic can be stored and mixed with animal dung and composted for use as natural manure independently or to supplement chemical fertilizers which are very expensive and beyond the reach of average farmer. In many cases cost of chemical fertilizers exceeds the market value of the product. Instead of chemical pesticides and insecticides we can go for organic pesticides. Few progressive organic farmers have achieved good results by spraying pressured pipe water and mixing in it solution of red chili and garlic which are excellent organic insecticides. The fallen pests and insects can then be fed to chickens, thus killing two birds with one stone i.e. providing free feed to chickens and saving crops from damage by pests. It may be noted that poultry farming is an important source of income as well as source of protein for every household. At present the death rate of chickens is very high because of chemical use. The dead insects and pests that chickens feed on, are largely responsible for the high mortality and sickness rates in the chicken population.

Secondly the stubble and mulch left out after harvesting may be allowed to decompose and mix with the soil to fertilize it. The current practice of grazing cows on the stubble and mulch should end. These are useful organic manures that replenish fertility of the soil. In Punjab the burning of stubble has been causing the problem of smog making some of its cities the dirtiest in the world. Stubble and mulch are the products that should be returned to the soil to conserve its fertility. If our present practices are not reversed we would be bequeathing farming lands to our future generations on which a blade of grass would not be able to grow or a seed germinate.

Thirdly we must access heat resistant and climate compliant crops seeds and plants. Areas with water scarcity should adopt crops and plant varieties that consume less water. Drip and sprinkle irrigation methods may be considered along with terracing of farms which produce more but use less water. Water surplus areas especially those where surface water is very close should adopt crops and plant that need more water. It is not necessary that everyone should grow each variety to be self sufficient as was the practice in the past. We can always buy the needed goods by way of cash or barter trade. Terracing is very useful for the purpose of uneven and sloppy lands to economize on water and conserve soil fertility and in Chitral most of the communities live in mountainous areas where terracing must be practiced. Hunza and Dir Upper present successful models of terraced farming method.

Last but not the least Chtralis must go in a big way towards planting fruit, construction and firewood trees to improve physical ambience for tourists, generate more oxygen and earn better incomes. Chitral is ideal for these products. These cost us nothing by way of input cost. Besides plants store water in their roots and leaves which improve precipitation in the air and in subsoil water conservation. These are returned to us in the form of natural spring or well. Plants prevent land erosion and sliding. The destruction caused by flash floods could have been reduced if not stopped had there been no soil erosion accompanying the water flow. Increased precipitation caused by trees will have cooling effect and prevent the melting of our glaciers which support life in the mountain communities in Chitral. These are huge tasks which the government alone cannot do. NGOs must lead the way through partnering with local communities in creating awareness and generating funds for the transition to climate compliant era. ..  Islamuddin, 25 Dec 2023

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