Humid-hot conditions challenges for agri sector
OBSERVER REPORT LAHORE—With monsoon becoming more erratic, in both location and timing, farmers and planners in Punjab are in a fix: what would it mean for agriculture a few weeks down the line if the current pattern holds or, as forecast by the metrological officials, worsens? High temperature, heavy rain spells and humid-hot conditions replace each other in quick succession. In the last eight weeks, the weather has touched two extremes; after six weeks of unprecedented scorching heat in the plains of the country in May and first half June, untimely and heavy rains (upper Punjab received over 60mm rains in few hours last Wednesday) have started lashing the fields at short intervals during the last one week.
For the time being, these showers are concentrated in upper and central regions of Punjab, where it is benefitting crops. Rice, being the crop of the area, is at the nursery stage and plantation has not still started. Here, the rains would only help land preparation and provide additional water for plantation stage. In some cases, it could force farmers to re-do the land preparation exercise a negligible expense and effort when compared with the benefit that additional water would bring. Fodder and orchards would be next beneficiary of these rains.
Since rains have not lashed South Punjab so far, cotton has largely escaped harmful impact. In the central region, where relatively small acreage metrological forecasts generate more fears, especially for cotton crop, when they predicted 20pc more rains this year, mainly in south Punjab the core cotton belt.
Last year, 29pc dent in cotton production brought the national GDP down by 0.5pc. Punjab has already lost around 1m acres in sowing against a reduced sowing target of 5.7m acres. The crop came under severe white fly attack. The relevant officials of the agriculture department were sent to the field and told to stay there till situation came under control. Over the last one week, the province had received three unusual spells of rains, and is being ruled by hot and humid conditions between those intervals.
Rains are now expected in southern Punjab (cotton zone) and stay there till end of August. The provincial government convened a meeting last week to take stock of the situation and take preemptive measures. The meeting underlined the need for immediately streaming the seed sector, finalising legal formalities (like Plant Breeders Right etc.). It asked the government to start research programme for which it had already set aside Rs3bn in the current budget. However, the farmers also maintained that research requires a long-term effort, which would take time to mature.
In the meanwhile, the federal government must ensure that relief provided in the budget on import of pesticides reach farmers, and that timely imports make sufficient and quality pesticides available in the country. On top of it all, the government must announce an indicative cotton price of not less than Rs3,000/40kg so that farmers could invest on their cotton crop with confidence of recovering it at the later stage. Unless and until an indicative price is announced, no other measure could save the crop from further erosion.