Global Warming: Danger To Pakistan Agriculture

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A Wake Up Call

Here we are, just about bankrupt, the confidence in the investment climate evaporated, and the country is busy fire fighting one emergency after another. How dare then we raise an issue that can wait for a few minutes, even for a few days? You might say, the nation is used to waiting until the calamity is upon us, and the matter under discussion should be no different and as usual we shall try to extinguish one more fire at the appropriate time. This is indeed what we have done for almost every thing that is important to us, for the last fifty years. We have had excuses after excuses for every thing from the constitutional issues to not solving the illiteracy problem in the country. We have known for twenty years that someday we will have to show the world that we possess an atomic bomb. Well, what did we do to plan for it? Did we dig shelters, and store food for the lucky few that might survive such a catastrophe and did we plan for a financial rescue of the country? Sit back and relax, for the calamity that is about to strike us is so huge that we will forget all the difficulties we have faced in the past including the debacle of East Pakistan. Before you know it, this great famine will be upon us and a large number of our people will die of malnutrition, dehydration and famine unless of course we plan for the great fight with all our ingenuity, power, and resources, and we start to do it now. For once, for God sake, let us get ahead of the curve and not be begging at the moment of truth. By our own projection, we will be over four hundred million people before the year 2050, possibly the third largest country in the world. Providing food for this large population will be the biggest challenge for us as our area under agriculture will not increase much more than thirty percent, even if we irrigated vast areas of Baluchistan. The global temperature rise, especially warmer evenings, will kill the crops we are so dependent on for the very survival of our nation. Remember that we cannot even produce the food we need now. And, even if we were to try to sell the atomic bombs to every Tom, Dick and Sheik, no one will buy this stuff, for the most important thing, when the calamity strikes, will be the food and the renewable energy resources required to produce, process, and distribute it.

Facts, Facts, And Facts

No longer, the politician in the West or the East quarrel with the fact that the earth is warming up and there is finally consensus among the scientists and the politicians that the calamity will occur, like it or not. The issue now is whether merely reducing the greenhouse gases will be enough. And, most people believe that no matter what we do, it will be too little too late. The effects of even the ideal reductions in the greenhouse gases will be felt after hundred years or so and a crisis of immense proportion will slowly happen in the next fifty years. So now one has to worry about not just the longer-term reduction of the greenhouse gases but also finding a solution of the crisis already upon us. At the start of the industrial era, the atmosphere had about 270 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Today it is about 360 parts per million, slowly shooting to 450 parts per million and if we take into account the rise in the developing world of greenhouse gases as well as the population, it is likely to reach over 500 parts per million. The United States is committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 400 million tons by 2012, while the Chinese greenhouse emissions are expected to increase ten folds. The result of all this statistical churn is that the global greenhouse emissions are expected to rise to about nine billion tons per year by 2015, almost 50 percent higher than today. We can add even more uncomfortable statistics to this bleak scenario, but you get the picture. So the question arises as to what we are going to do about it. Will the decision makers in our country just sit around and pontificate and do nothing until it’s too late, or we will look for wider participation and take a leadership role to not only provide food for thought but real food on the table and a means to start producing energy from renewable sources other than hydroelectric power.

How To Proceed

The purpose of the suggestions below, is not to belabor any specific suggestion(s) to death, rather to instill the thought process that there is a problem and that together the government(s) and the people will acknowledge that there is a problem and thus look for the most efficient as well as a workable solution for the country. The governments include the central, provincial, district and lower levels of political and civil authorities. The people include the farmers, landowners, researchers, and some form of consumer organizations. We are also assuming that a cell in one of the ministries in the central government can provide the leadership and act as the conduit to provide the research funds that will have to be made available to solve the problems identified. Ideally, the head of the effort will be a non-political appointee, and an advisor to the Prime Minister on this matter. It should be noted that the incumbent would be on contract so that a change will be desirable only for incompetence rather than a change in the administration of the country. This is essential for the continuity of the effort. The matter is far too sensitive to become a political football and should not be subjected to the whim of the political party in power. The funds themselves can come from sources outside the government or may even be borrowed from a worldwide lender, on private basis, such as the World Bank. But such a funding source will require a genuine effort and a legal framework and at least the possibility of a future revenue source or collateral so that such a loan can be paid back. Thus we will:

  • Establish the legal entity to begin work
  • A small amount of seed money should come from the central government
  • Additional money should be raised based upon the project plan(s) being implemented
  • Research funds should be made available to all the universities and organizations which are involved in agricultural research to find out if it is feasible and possible to produce crops more resistant to heat
  • Commercial production of heat resistant seeds
  • Educating the farmers in new techniques and watering
  • Arriving at a comprehensive plan to increase agricultural acreage and tracts in Baluchistan. This last suggestion needs to be expanded.

A Project Better Than Kalabagh Dam

While the Kalabagh Dam project may be a good one, and I am certainly not an expert on the specifics of the project, but it appears to have pitted one province against the other. There is controversy and intrigue, something unwarranted. A project better for the country and one, which will benefit the entire nation, is to develop Baluchistan for renewable energy production. The population of the province is still very small and thus this is the ideal time to reserve land for the benefit of all, forever. And because there is no controversy, a consensus is easier to develop on this project, as it is for the benefit of the entire country and may turn out to be a savior in our most difficult hour. In simple terms, two sources of water should be developed for Baluchistan.

  • Removal of salt from seawater
  • Bringing water from the Indus River in huge pipelines.

The technology for both of these proposals is simple and is readily available in the country. We can rely on simple boiler technology and don’t have to resort to esoteric mechanisms. There is plenty of water in the Indus River and much of it ends up in the Arabian Sea. The real challenge will be to arrive at a plan of constructing the pipelines and a huge lake to store the water. For that purpose, we also propose that the government set up an area of roughly one hundred by one hundred miles along the coast of Baluchistan. This ten thousand square miles of land area should be preserved forever as a renewable energy forest for the country. A tree crop can be grown which should be ripe for harvest within fifteen years after the plantation. The reservoir we spoke of earlier, can be situated within this national park and conduits may be constructed to distribute water for irrigation purposes. Please note that, the agricultural land is private and not part of this renewable energy forest. But the plan should be very simple in that the increase in the agricultural area should be roughly 30 percent of the current area under cultivation, in all of Pakistan. If this project is properly executed, it can continue to provide immense benefits hundreds of years from now, not just during the nasty global warming era that may last fifty to three hundred years. Financing of this project can be achieved very easily. Let a legal entity be formed, and a business plan is produced for this project. An oversight cell under the ministry of natural resources be created to constantly monitor progress and report to the board of directors who can employ their own auditors as well. Stocks should be floated in the stock market, allowing the purchase of stock in foreign currency as well. This will take care of any foreign exchange component, although in my opinion, the entire project can be funded and executed internally. The only thing that the government has to do is to act as the guarantor, so that vast amount of people money is not squandered off.

Policy Of Adaptation

As far as global warming is concerned, we should now look to a policy of adaptation. In other words, even if all the countries as a result of the Kyoto treaty, and enhancements to this treaty hereafter, got together and implemented all the safeguards, it will still take hundred years or longer to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide which tends to naturally linger on longer in the atmosphere. In Pakistan, we should begin the required research to see how we can produce seeds and plants, which will be heat resistant, and yield levels, will not drop. Also, due to the possibility of floods, and rise of the ocean levels additional problems are expected. We already know that Karachi is below the sea level, and any significant rise in the ocean level will be a disaster. In addition, the Indus River Delta needs to be carefully studied to see what other possibilities exist. There might be some good news as well, in that several new small ports might become feasible. Also, the Indus River Delta may provide fertile ground for the food chain and the echo system in general. As far as floods are concerned, our rivers need to be further controlled. This is especially important, since the weather phenomenon will be even less predictable in this turbulent and abundant greenhouse gases era.

The Last Word

In the national interest we must begin acting on this problem as if our life literally depends on it. The government must start the project, by providing seed money in rupees and help establish this private (publicly traded) corporation. The managing director, must be a person who is capable of raising funds in the private sector. We should start by simply gathering data. This effort should be the only thing due in the next eighteen months after the legal entity and seed funding has been obtained. Next, a formal project plan is prepared to acquire land. This is where the government can be most helpful. The law in such situations is usually on the side of the government. However, private landowners must be compensated for, while the government land is leased to this corporation ensuring proper revenue for the government in the future. The entire project should be completed in five years, as time has already run out.