Farmers and agriculture in an era of climate change impacts
Agriculture is termed as the backbone of Pakistan’s economy. It provides food to citizens and raw material to major industries. Despite its paramount importance it is given a rather low priority in society, especially to farmers, and with the climate impacts the threat to this vital sector grows perennially.
Agriculture and above all the perennial plight of our farmers are one of the key reasons precipitating towards increasing food insecurity and with climate change impacts the challenges only grow. With major crops including wheat, rice, cotton, maize, and sugarcane, Pakistan relies on agriculture heavily but the upshot is that we do not have a clear policy plan on this sector, though this was tried by the prior government. A draft of “Agriculture and Food Security Policy” by the Nawaz Sharif government was formulated and uploaded on the official website of Ministry of Food Security, however, it is in a draft form and is full of mistakes, requiring drastic revision and reformulation in terms of implementation, especially in the context of our farmers.
The trends are not looking good, as for example, from 2013 to 2015, the wheat cultivation area reduced from 9199 thousand hectares to 9180 thousand hectares. Wheat production decreased from 25979 thousand tons in 2013-14 to 25478 thousand tons in 2014-15. It must be mentioned that wheat, a major crop in agriculture sector by cultivation area contributes 10% and 2.1% of value added in agriculture and GDP respectively.
Climate change impacts are only increasing with unusual rains during late spring are causing delay in harvesting and cropping seasons of Rabbi and Kharif respectively. According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department, moderate-to-severe drought have been prevailing in rain-irrigated (Barani) areas of lower KPK, South Punjab, Southwest Baluchistan and Southeast Sindh due to deficient rainfall for last few years. Ground water level has dropped below 150 feet in most areas of Pothohar region including Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Additionally, in 2018 during the winter months of January to March, we received negative, as in 62% below normal rainfall whereas from April to May we witnessed negative 9.9% below average. From January to May, we experienced 45% below normal rainfall all over Pakistan. On the other hand, unexpected hailstorms cause thousands of acres of crops damage in Baluchistan and KPK earlier this year as well as unseasonal rains are damaging wheat and mango crops in south Punjab districts and are also responsible for poor quality wheat production. Smog and acid rain have also destroyed the mango orchards and other fruit crops in the past couple years of intense haze events in the Punjab region.
In terms of human impacts, about half of our population, which is roughly 100 million, are hungry and lack access to healthy food. Recently, more than 490 children have lost their lives and thousands been hospitalized only in Tharparkar district during first 9 months of 2018 due to drought-related waterborne and viral diseases. Crop failure due to low rainfall and deaths of small animals (livestock) has greatly reduced the already marginalized communities’ purchasing power.
Dependent on foreign aid, piled on heavy with debts and crushed to bits by poverty, certainly the vision of creating a nation that will be a safe haven for Muslims is far from any realization. How will we really free ourselves from the shackles of poverty, foreign dependence and continued misery? It will have to start by fulfilling the basic food demands of our citizens in providing affordable food for all. If not, the violence associated with lack of food and poverty will only increase. To stop this downward spiral, our authorities have to get the basics right, especially with our farmers and agriculture.
Down on list of priorities
The source of our food is agriculture and it is termed as the backbone of Pakistan’s economy by providing food to citizens and raw material to major industries. Despite its paramount importance, it is given a rather low priority in society.
The media debates on agriculture are largely confined to food crises, low productivity and export potential. There is little understanding of the issues faced by the farmers amongst intellectuals, opinion makers and the media.
There are no academic institutions researching their issues as well. The few farmer associations of the country are dominated by big landlords and represent their interests alone. The image of small farmers is clichéd and media uses highly generalized notions of subsistence living and poverty to describe them.
Global economic challenges
Small farmers in Pakistan, like any other country, are at the receiving end of the new wave of global economic changes. Their plight is further compounded by the fact that they are the least organized sector of producers. This makes them highly vulnerable to ruthless market forces with close to no power to bargain and no capacity to raise their voice. Their only hope for any kind of respite is the state policy, which is now steadily drifting away from their interests and siding with big market players.
How small is a small farmer?
In Punjab, small farmers have access to less than 5 acres of land. They make up 56% of the farming community, with access to just 16% of the total cultivable land of the province.
The big farmers with access to over 25 acres of land make up 5% of the farming community, but they enjoy access to almost one third of the total available land.
The medium farmers, with access to more than 5 but less than 25 acres, make 39% of the community with access to over half the cultivable land. In the farming community of Punjab, at least 10% are tenants owning no land, while the ownership of land to another 11% is so limited that they have to get additional land on rent to make both ends meet. The access to land is even more unequal in the other three provinces.
Disparities in access and resulting debts
Huge disparities in access to land keeps haunting small farmers throughout their lives, while hindering formation of an effective lobby. Crops, especially cash crops, need huge investments, which the medium and small farmers cannot afford, hence requiring financiers.
The formal banking sector and state institutions offer almost nothing to small farmers and tenants. They entertain only big and medium farmers for collateral issues. This pushes small farmers and tenants to borrow from market dealers notorious for exploiting farmers, trapping them into a vicious cycle of debt.
The access to land and finances influence the decision of a farmer to grow only limited types of crop. While big farmers resort to cash crops, smaller ones could not think beyond food and fodder crops.
Input costs as barriers
The so-called technological backwardness and much trumpeted lack of innovation by farmers should be seen in this very context. For instance, small tenants with the finances of market dealers almost exclusively produce vegetables, as big farmers do not resort to this riskier business.
Farmers, if any, from some crop return the borrowed money and proceeds, to the market as payment of the inputs, the prices of which are highly volatile. The seed, water, fertilizers, pesticides and maintenance costs run high for the farmers. The unchecked marketing of low-quality seeds on extraordinary price in the guise of highly productive seed is common. Concerned quarters attribute the wide scale destruction of the current cotton crop to tainted seeds. The unprecedented hike in fertilizer prices (DAP last year and Urea prices this year) have forced a majority of farmers to curtail the use of fertilizers compromising productivity. Similarly, the prices of pesticides and their questionable efficacy are constant burdens on economic health of a farmer. The cost of water pumping, machinery and harvesting for any crop rise in every season due to hike in petroleum prices.
Pricing against the farmer
Passing on the benefits of selling the produce is one of the major problems that farmers face. The government usually notifies the intervention or minimum price for grains such as wheat, rice, gram, mung (lentils) etc. The prices of these products are notified keeping in view cash inputs of the farmers, but more importantly these prices do not consider self-labor costs.
However, earning depends mostly on market behavior since the state has frequently failed in implementing minimum prices for crops such as sugarcane and wheat. In case, a minimum price is set below the market price, the farmers are exploited as they earn at the notified rate. According to a survey done by a local NGO in 2009, an average sugarcane grower in Punjab with land ownership earns PKR 130 per month, while a tenant grower suffers a monthly loss of PKR 1,800.
Small farmers bearing the brunt
Interestingly, the whole market works against the grower. For instance, vegetable farmers are usually bound in contract with dealers, who are also their financiers. According to the contracts, the farmers have to supply a certain amount of vegetables to the dealers, but on the other hand, the dealer is not bound to pay them any (already) agreed amount.
The dealer only takes the responsibility of selling the produce at market rates, those too, of that particular day. The money the farmer gets is after deducting his commission and loan money for that very day. All market risks are hence borne by farmers, who is doing all the hard work. When farmers bring produce to markets directly, the markets get glutted driving down the rates. While when supply falls, rates sky rocket benefiting big farmers and dealers, who can afford to hold or store products.
Incentivizing for the farmer
Whenever the government or market comes up with a good incentive, farmers have responded well negating hypotheses for “technological backwardness” and “lack of innovation” on their part. The case of wheat is a perfect example. Wheat production in Pakistan has largely remained a subsistence or half-hearted activity on the part of farmers due to policy disincentives and when the government came up with the incentive of increasing PKR 950 per 40 kg support price in 2009, for example, the country has had a bumper crop with a per acre yield increasing by 20%.
The analysis points to a stark reality. First and foremost, our economy itself is not sustaining the agrarian principles it is based on, while the most important piece in the whole puzzle is the most disadvantaged.
Our farmers need all the focus and support in order to allow them revival and rejuvenation. Without these measures, the destruction of our economy is imminent. Food crises, an indicator of which is the rise of prices in Atta across the nation, clearly stems from the neglect of our agricultural system.
Empowering our farmers as key decision makers
Pakistan’s economy revolves around agriculture but this fact does not reflect in the priorities of our economic experts and authorities. Agriculture comes after services and industry in the priority list of policymakers. The present policies and practices are aimed at boosting agriculture, often benefiting the big players, concentrate on modernization of agriculture and mass scale production of crops, instead of improving the welfare of poor farmers, who should be empowered to be key decision makers in this vital and much needed sector in the country.
For a majority of farmers, the cultivation of mainstream food crops is not a viable economic activity, by any standard of modern business sense. It is the food security of the household, which keeps a farmer sticking to agriculture in most parts of the country. The only saving grace is livestock, which almost every farming family rears.
The current poverty of agriculture lies in the choice of crop of a farmer, which is not voluntary. It is the market, which dictates a farmer what to grow. Staple food crops, wheat and rice, occupy most of the cultivated area in both seasons. In Punjab almost 58 percent of the total cultivated area comes under wheat in Rabi season. Variety of fodder crops come second in area under cultivation. This simply means that agriculture in the country is designed to fulfill the need of grains, meat and milk for the rural and urban consumers, who want these products as cheap as possible.
An average farmer cannot think of alternate food and cash crops, which could give him or her better proceeds due to pressures of varied nature. Farmers growing food crops are treated as highly regarded communities in countries like the Japan and US. The governments offer them heavy subsidies in compensation to keep the food prices low for the general consumers. This is not the case in Pakistan, where subsidies on agricultural inputs are being gradually withdrawn leaving farmers alone at the mercy of the ruthless market. The incentives and subsidies offered to farmers often end up in the pockets of the big and mighty, who control all of the agricultural trade.
The visible and invisible pressures on farmers to keep away from cash crops include heavy market risk, big investment and no state guarantee of the prices. If the farmers get such guarantees from the market, they do go for it. Okara and adjoining districts of Punjab produce a bulk of potato and maize with extraordinary yield, comparable to that of developed countries. The trend started in these districts when a multinational giant entered into contract farming with farmers, for the supply of maize starch. This market guarantee effectively ended the technological backwardness of our farmers.
The only big cash crop of the country is cotton, which is sown in South Punjab and Upper Sindh. Farmers still stick to this crop despite high risk of pest attacks. It is ironic that almost all the textile units are established in central Punjab and Karachi giving farmers of cotton no room to benefit from the value addition of the product they produce.
All the stakeholders including consumers, civil society, organizations and government, need to redefine the concept of food security and share the burden with the poor farmer since poor consumers cannot afford the market price of food as well. The burden can be shared by growing food in the backyards, parks and other urban spaces. This is what Cuba did in past decade to continue with the cultivation of cash crops. The growing urban demand of meat, milk and grains push farmers to cut their own consumption of these things hampering their very own food security.
Lassi is no more offered to guests in even villages as the entire milk produced is sent to urban centers. Urban centers can manage their milk and food needs on their own. Milk production and supply system in Karachi is the best example of this. There are only two ways to get the farming community out of poverty. Either we should pay them the actual cost of food or give them room to explore other options.
Bringing barren land and current fallow under cultivation can enhance the area under cultivation giving more opportunities to the farmers. Similarly, land-use intensity in rough terrains can be enhanced effectively through rainwater harvesting. Small dams and rainwater storage are doing miracles in Haripur and Chakwal where a considerable portion of the land is irrigated through such local arrangements giving boost to the rural economy. Such local arrangements need to be replicated in other parts of the country as well.
Farming land is being utilized for commercial and housing purposes especially near big urban centers, where housing schemes do not construct homes for years, but cultivation comes to halt the moment the land is purchased. The use of fertile land for housing needs should be halted forthwith and relatively infertile land should be allowed for such purposes.
Without empowering the small farmer, we cannot get the dream of poverty eradication realized, and with rising climate change impacts this will only become more distant. Overall, this must be reflected in the formulation of any policy by the present government as not only a proper policy an important need of the hour but the understanding that the farmer is also a decision maker in this entire process. The cash flow back to villages will rejuvenate the rural economy, which will decrease the pace rural migration to urban centers. Such economic migration can even be reversed by investing in the true basis of our economy – our precious farmers.
Agriculture in Pakistan
Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy. Some facts:
Kharif (autumn) crop season starts from April-June and lasts until October-December in different parts of the country. Rice, sugarcane, cotton, maize and mash are some of the key crops of the season. Rabbi cropping season starts from October-December and lasts until April-May in different parts of the country. Wheat, barley, gram, tobacco and mustard are some of the key crops of the season.
Agriculture accounts for 24% of the growth domestic product (GDP).
The sector employs 43.5% of the labor force in rural areas and contributes about 60% to export earnings.
Growth rate of the sector climbed from 2.7% in 2013-14 to 2.9% in 2014-15. However, the production of major food crops showed negative growth during the same period which is not good news.
Agricultural subsidies in developed countries
Rich countries spend billions subsidizing their agricultural sector, leading to chronic overproduction and dumping surpluses on global markets. Poor countries demand reform of this trade practice that impoverishes small-scale farmers while enriching large agri-business.
Agricultural subsidies to European farmers and fisheries make up more than 40 percent of the EU budget. There is a debate about whether it is really necessary to spend this enormous amount of money on supporting big agribusinesses in Europe that could otherwise not compete with global competitors.
Japan is best known for having agricultural subsidies put on its rice and wine industry, with the reasoning behind such moves being culturally enriching and moving the nation ahead in a balanced manner. The US Agricultural Department is required by law to subsidize over two dozen commodities.
The subsidy programs give farmers extra money for their crops and guarantee a price floor. For instance in the 2002 Farm Bill, for every bushel (around 27 kg) of wheat sold farmers in US were paid an extra 52 cents and guaranteed a price of 3.86 from 2002–03 and 3.92 from 2004–2007.
Writers: Prof. Farrukh Chishtie / Sultan Kiani
Common Electrical Hazards: Practical Steps for Safety
Electrical dangers are everywhere and require careful safety considerations at all levels.
A young boy lost both of his arms in a tragic accident in Karachi happened on August this year. Muhammad Umer, 8 sustained an electric shock while walking near exposed high voltage wires causing severe burns. The incident happened due to criminal negligence of K-Electric sparked fear and anger among the citizens. No doubt the government and electric supply companies should immediately fix dangerous power transmission lines but individual citizens should also be aware of electrical hazards to stay safe.
Electricity is a very good servant but a dangerous master. It can make our lives easy but it can also kill us in a matter of seconds if we are not being careful. We have shortlisted a few common electrical hazards to watch out for at home, workplace and outdoors.
Minimize Electrical Hazards at Home
A high voltage electric shock could always be fatal but did you know that low voltage electrocution could also be just as lethal? People have been killed at home by touching ‘low voltage’ electrical wires. An electric shock from 11,000V can cause severe internal burns where 100V – 240V electric shock can result in cardiac arrest leading to death. Here are few ways to manage electrical hazards at home:
Water and electricity are a lethal combination and should never be used near each other.
Do not use electrical appliance like electric shaver, hair drier, phone charger etc. in a bathroom. You can choose a battery-powered shaver and use hair drier after leaving the bathroom.
Do not touch a switch, wall socket or any electric appliance with wet hands.
Always use high quality electrical appliances. Substandard products (Chinese replica of famous brands) including inverters, batteries, electric irons and space heaters are known to start electrical fires.
High quality circuit breaker switches must be installed by a qualified electrician. A circuit breaker prevents fire and minimizes the duration of electric shock if someone accidently touches the wire.
The main (double-pole) circuit breaker should always be switched off before attempting any electrical repair work.
Replace your conventional doorbell by one with battery-powered remote button. This doorbell switch is safe to touch even in wet conditions and easily available in market.
Do not risk fire by overloading electrical sockets. A 6 Amp socket is not suitable for heavy duty appliances like space heater, electric iron or (microwave) oven.
Be extra careful with children; toddlers are unaware of hidden risks and they are more likely to be killed by a low voltage electric shock than adults. Always supervise your small children and educate them about the risks of electricity when they are old enough to learn.
A wall socket installed near the floor, within the reach of small children is a potential hazard. You can either close the socket if not required or replace it by a childproof socket.
Ground earth wiring must be installed; the third grounded wire which not only saves you from electric shock but it also protects the appliance when a fault causes the live wire to touch the shell. All 3-pin plugs should only be inserted in sockets with grounded earth wire.
Ensure Safety First at Workplace
Electric shock is one of the leading causes of deaths and serious injuries at workplace. There are certain professions where the risk is significantly higher, e.g. electricians and construction workers etc. Nonetheless, those working in an office building or driving a vehicle are also at small risk of electrocution. Here is what you should do to manage electrical hazards at workplace:
Do not use damaged/faulty electrical machines at work. Watch out for extension cords with broken insulation.
Always follow safety protocols set by organization/safety supervisor.
Always cut off main power supply and wear safety gears before attempting electrical repairs at work.
Call a certified technician to perform complicated electrical works and unauthorized people should be restricted from entering the areas where electrical work is in progress.
Obtain permission from electric supply company before starting any excavation work. Construction workers should be careful with underground power transmission lines while breaking the ground.
Watch out for overhead power transmission lines. Scaffolding, poles and ladders should be kept away from exposed electrical wires.
Never use water to douse an electrical fire. Only dry powder or CO2 fire extinguisher should be used for electrical fires involving up to 1000V.
Always look up for overhead electrical wires before you load/unload something from a truck.
Be careful while driving large vehicles near exposed wires. OSHA rule defines 10 feet as the minimum safe distance between power transmission lines and a vehicle or any machine.
Be Aware of Electrical Hazards Outdoors
You can identify the potential electrical hazards at your home and workplace but this is not the case when you are in public spaces; driving or walking down the road. Poorly maintained electrical installations are like disaster waiting to happen. Here are few ways to watch out for electrical hazards in public spaces:
Do not touch an electric pole or any wire even if it is insulated.
Avoid parking or standing near high voltage transformers. There is risk of explosions and arc flashes near electrical transformers.
Always carry a flashlight at night to be able to spot downed electrical wire in the street.
Watch out for extreme weather forecast; avoid traveling in thunderstorms and heavy showers as they can break power transmission lines.
Drive carefully, if you spot a wire on the road, stop! It is never safe to drive over a downed power line. The wire can touch the metal body which will immediately immobilize your vehicle and you would not be able to leave it without receiving electric shock.
Immediately call electric supply company to report downed power lines even if you are not affected.
How to handle emergency situations?
First Aid: One needs to be very careful while helping someone with electrical shock injuries or rescuer could become the next victim. Follow these steps to keep the victim and yourself safe from further electric shocks:
Make sure to remove the source of electricity before touching the affected person by reaching the main switch.
If you cannot cut off the power supply, move the source (e.g. exposed electric wire) using a dry and insulated tool made of cardboard, rubber or wood.
You may have to move the person if s/he is in contact with an electrical box or a pole by using same method but be very careful as high voltage contact can energize the ground up to 35 feet radius.
Call 1122 for help and wait for the ambulance. You can perform CPR if the person is not moving, breathing or coughing.
Look for injuries; cover any burnt part of the body of the victim with a sterile gauze bandage or a clean cloth if first aid box is not available.
Things to do when a Power Line hits Your Car
It is a life threatening road emergency. You can walk out unharmed by following these safety rules. Remember! This is a kind of situation where one wrong move could be fatal.
If a wire falls on your car while driving, slowly move away but watch out for more downed lines ahead of you. A high voltage hot wire can disable the engine, jam the car into neutral (‘N’ position) to let it roll down few yards to safety before it comes to stop.
If the car is immobilized with power line still touching the body, stay in vehicle and do not touch the metal body parts. Immediately call 1122 and wait for help.
If you must exit the car like it’s on fire, risk of further collisions or you cannot call emergency helpline, then follow these steps to safely escape the vehicle:
Open the door without touching metal body parts.
Keep your arms crossed over your chest and jump away from your car with both feet together.
It is very important not to touch metal and the ground at the same time or you could be electrocuted.
After landing on the ground, quickly shuffle away from the car. Do not walk or separate your feet until you move at least 35 feet away from the downed power line. You can also jump away from the source by keeping both feet together.
It is good to practice this technique in a car park; it could save your life someday!
Writer: Sultan Kiani
This article explores the need for safe cosmetics, what it means and what ingredients to watch out for.
Do you sometimes hesitate for a moment before putting on that lipstick or using that aftershave because you are unsure of what chemicals it contains? But most of the time your insecurity to look good outweighs your skepticism.
A majority of us do not look at the list of ingredients while buying cosmetics, be it makeup or cleansing products. We usually go for the well-known brands and silently trust that the ingredients they use will be good for us. No one has assured us of their safety but we assume that since they are promoted by big brands and freely sold in the market, there would be some safety checks in place. I hate to burst that bubble, but sadly there are none.
Globally, we see marked differences between countries on how cosmetics are regulated and controlled. In some countries, the health authorities are responsible for the control and market surveillance of products while other countries have assigned this task to the commerce or industry administration, the customs department or the local standardization departments. But, overall, the cosmetics industry is very lightly regulated all around the world.
In Pakistan, only medicated cosmetics are assessed and registered by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP). However, I could not find any information on the regulation and assessment of commercial and imported cosmetic products. Even in countries with specialized agencies to regulate cosmetics, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, cosmetic products do not require approval before being introduced into the market. Most of the cosmetics are, in fact, self-regulated, which means that the companies themselves and not the government approves or regulates its ingredients. With no pre-market approval or checks, pretty much anyone can make a product and start selling it in the market the next day. No kidding.
Although, manufacturers have to comply with some labelling requirements, they can easily avoid disclosing their ingredients by claiming to protect trade secrets. In addition, regulators do not assess the safety and effectiveness of the claims on the products. Instead, people and doctors are relied upon to directly report any health complications to the FDA’s database, which also means that many cases go unreported. What is more, the companies are not mandated to forward any health complaints to the FDA. The agency’s involvement occurs only when there have been enough complaints about products available in the market. This is dangerous because symptoms of toxicity may not always be visible in the short run. Something silently killing you inside could take several years to show a rash on your skin. This entire approach is reactionary i.e. we deal with the public health effects after the harm is already done.
Then how do we know that ingredients in our cosmetics are safe? We do not know for sure. Since ingredients are not tested or approved, a toxic cocktail of chemicals can be lurking in your bathroom.
Johnsons and Johnsons, the leading brand for baby products, recently in July 2018 lost a case to women who claimed that talcum powder and asbestos in their products had caused them ovarian cancer. The company has been directed by a jury in Missouri to pay $550m in compensation and added $4.1bn in punitive damages to these women.
Welcome to the toxic world of cosmetics.
However, I am not saying that all cosmetics are unsafe nor am I trying to cause alarm. But we have to consider how these products are being used on a daily basis and by whom—newborns, pregnant women etc. It is crucial to understand that whatever we put on our skin is absorbed by our bodies and enters our bloodstreams.
Huffington Post lists some of the toxic ingredients found in common beauty products which should be avoided. Parabens top the list, known for their hormone disruptive properties and presence in breast cancer samples. Companies primarily use parabens to preserve products from bacteria. Some other culprits to avoid are dyes and fragrances (Parfum) that are added to make products smell good but they cause skin irritation and inflammation. Another commonly found harmful ingredient in our facewashes, shampoos, soaps and toothpastes etc. is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate. It is used as a foaming agent in cleaning products and is a known skin irritant. It has even been accused of causing cancer, in some cases.
So what do we do? It is impossible for us to completely avoid all cosmetics for fear of damaging our health. Nor is it practical to start making our own herbal products, like people used to in the old days. However, we can make informed choices by reading the ingredients list and choosing products without the known toxic chemicals. Remember every time, you buy a product you are signaling to the market to produce more of it. We vote with our money and choices.
By becoming more aware, we can create a demand for safer, natural and toxic-free products simply by choosing better alternatives and raising our voices to demand a change.
Writer: Amber Ajani