Freak frost pushes Nepalese farmers to insure crops

Freak frost pushes Nepalese farmers to insure crops
Video story
By Saleem Shaikh

Here is my video story published by the world’s top news media – Reuters News Agency

Photo credit: Saleem Shaikh

International.

The story is about a potato farmer who survived the damages to her potato crop from the worst frost thanks to crop insurance. The crop failures are becoming frequent due to erratic weather, shifting weather patterns and rainfall variability.

You can watch it here: http://www.trust.org/item/20130515092247-i9j73/?source=shfb
By Saleem Shaikh

Eating insects can help tackle hunger, global warming, says UN study

ISLAMABAD: The latest armament in the UN’s fight against hunger, global warming and surging pollution may soon fly by you.

Edible insects are being promoted as a low-fat, high-protein food for people, pets and livestock. According to the UN, they come with appetizing side benefits: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and livestock pollution, creating jobs in developing countries and feeding the millions of hungry people in the world.

Who eats insects now?

Two billion people do, largely in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization said yesterday as it issued a report exploring edible insect potential.

Some insects may already be in your food (and this is no fly-in-my-soup joke). Demand for natural food coloring as opposed to artificial dyes is increasing, the agency’s experts say. A red coloring produced from the cochineal, a scaled insect often exported from Peru, already puts the hue in a trendy Italian aperitif and an internationally popular brand of strawberry yogurt. Many pharmaceutical companies also use colorings from insects in their pills.

Protein-rich, full of fiber

Scientists who have studied the nutritional value of edible insects have found that red ants, small grasshoppers and some water beetles pack (gram-per-gram or ounce-per-ounce) enough protein to rank with lean ground beef while having less fat per gram.

Bored with bran as a source of fiber in your diet? Edible insects can oblige, and they also contain useful minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

Which to choose?

Beetles and caterpillars are the most common meals among the more than 1,900 edible insect species that people eat. Other popular insect foods are bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts and crickets. Less popular are termites and flies, according to UN data.

Eco-friendly

Insects on average can convert 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of feed into 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of edible meat. In comparison, cattle require 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds) of feed to produce a kilogram of meat. Most insects raised for food are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than livestock, the UN agency says.

Don’t swat the income

Edible insects are a money-maker. In Africa, four big water bottles filled with grasshoppers can fetch a gatherer 15 euros ($20). Some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices.

Insect-farms tend to be small, serving niche markets like fish bait businesses. But since insects thrive across a wide range of locations — from deserts to mountains — and are highly adaptable, experts see big potential for the insect farming industry, especially those farming insects for animal feed. Most edible insects are now gathered in forests.

Let a bug do your recycling

A 3 million euro ($4 million) European Union-funded research project is studying the common housefly to see if a lot of flies can help recycle animal waste by essentially eating it while helping to produce feed for animals such as chickens. Right now farmers can only use so much manure as fertilizer and many often pay handsome sums for someone to cart away animal waste and burn it.

A South African fly factory that rears the insects en masse to transform blood, guts, manure and discarded food into animal feed has won a $100,000 UN-backed innovation prize.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 15, 2013. 
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/14/eating-insects-can-help-tackle-hunger-global-warming-says-un-study/

Tech Transfer can help mitigate heat-trapping emissions: UNEP study

NAIROBI/ISLAMABAD: Less than one per cent of all patent applications relating to Clean Energy Technology (CET) have been filed in Africa, highlighting an opportunity for the continent to leapfrog existing fossil-fuel energy sources and; thus, cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions and bring major health benefits, according to a recent study.

A new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Patent Office (EPO)—Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in Africa—found that Africa has a huge untapped potential for generating clean energy, including enough hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems to serve the whole of the continent’s needs, as well as enormous potential for solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy etc.

For example, hydropower, the most commonly used renewable energy source, is estimated to be utilized at just 4.3 per cent of the continent’s total capacity—although recent years have seen efforts to ramp up clean energy, with North African nations leading in solar and wind, Kenya in Geothermal, Ethiopia in hydro and Mauritius in bioenergy.

However, intellectual property and patenting in particular have been highlighted as a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, and identified as a barrier to these countries meeting new emission limits for CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases.

While the lack of patents filed means CETs can be freely exploited in Africa, the lack of these patents to protect their products means source companies may be reluctant to offer up their know-how to promote technology transfer.

“The development and transfer of technologies are key pillars in both mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects; patents are a crucial part of this process,” said Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson.

“In addition to an accelerated response to climate change, boosting clean energy technologies have multiple green economy benefits including on public health—for example, in sub-Saharan Africa more than half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under the age of five, and chronic lung disease and lung cancer in adults over 30, can be attributed to solid fuel use,” he added.

“The joint EPO-UNEP study is the first-ever representative stock taking of clean energy technology patents in African countries,” said EPO chief economist Nikolaus Thumm. “Its main purpose is to facilitate an evidence-based informed debate on the role of patents in the dissemination of clean energy technologies in Africa, and to promote identification of existing technology solutions in the field for technology transfer to the continent.”

The report found that of the one per cent of identified CET-related patents filed in Africa, the majority came in South Africa, meaning there has been very little activity in the remaining African states.

Also, only 10 per cent of African inventors apply for patent protection in Africa; the majority tend to seek protection in four other regions: the United States (27 per cent), the EPO (24 per cent), Germany (13 per cent) and Canada (10 per cent).

However, there are signs that the situation is changing. Despite low patent application numbers, the overall inventive activity in African countries grew by 5 per cent between 1980 and 2009, compared to 4 per cent at the global level. With a 59 per cent increase, mitigation technologies grew most significantly in that period.

Most African nations are fairly well integrated into the international patent system and an increasing number are putting in place specific patenting policies and strategies, which place significant importance on technology transfer, as part of their development framework.

As a consequence, African inventors – individuals and domestic companies active in the field of CETs – are also putting greater emphasis on patents as part of their business strategies, using the international, regional and national filing systems for patent applications in Africa and elsewhere.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 14, 2013.
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/14/tech-transfer-can-help-mitigate-heat-trapping-emissions-unep-study/

Climate change research centre launched in Vietnam

HANOI/ISLAMABAD: A new international research centre inaugurated on May 7 Hanoi would help Vietnam to develop climate-smart farming technologies that mitigate impacts of climate change on an array of food production systems in the country and across Southeast Asia.

The CGIAR’s research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) Southeast Asia regional office in Hanoi will support the work of many contributing international and Vietnamese research and development partners as they work toward providing solutions to ensure climate-smart agriculture in the region, according to a media release emailed to this scribe.

“Vietnam is highly vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change in Southeast Asia,” said Dr. Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), one of the participating organizations and host of the new office. “The Mekong Delta in Vietnam supplies the country with around 20 million tons of rice per year, about half of the country’s total production. This supplies not only Vietnamese rice consumers but also other rice consumers around the globe because Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of rice in the world.

“If we want to make sure that those people dependent on Vietnam’s rice production – including many living in poverty – have enough rice to eat, we must help Vietnamese farmers to keep producing affordable rice in the face of climate change,” he added.

The new CCAFS research hub will ensure more resources and people on the ground to increase the ability of all partners to undertake research and work closely with local partners.

Started in 2011, the CCAFS program brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural and climate science. With active regional programs in East and West Africa and South Asia, the program’s expansion into Southeast Asia promises new opportunities and innovations for smallholder farmers facing climate change. “We look forward to working with partners in Southeast Asia and sharing what we’ve learned from other parts of the world,” said Dr. Bruce Campbell, program director of CCAFS.

Climate change research is already underway to help Vietnamese farmers. In the Vietnamese province of Bac Lieu, rice farmers experience saline conditions and a lack of water that make it difficult to grow rice.

By adopting a water-saving practice called alternate wetting and drying, they have reduced their water use without compromising their yields. Salt-proof rice varieties are also being developed that will give farmers a fighting chance against salinity.

“There are many excellent examples of climate-smart agriculture in Vietnam that could potentially be adapted for countries in Africa and other regions,” added Dr. Campbell. “The CCAFS program wants to use the best knowledge available to develop approaches that can be scaled up to reach hundreds and thousands of vulnerable farmers around the world.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 11, 2013.
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/11/climate-change-research-centre-launched-in-vietnam/ 

Call for climate-smart brick kiln technology

KATHMANDU/ISLAMABAD: During extensive discussion among experts from 11 countries, it was concluded that negative impact of traditional brick klins on health, agriculture and climate can be tackled with replacing these with climate-smart brick klins.

Participants at the “South-South Exchange Workshop on Brick Technology and Policy” identified viable solutions to achieve this goal.

The two-day event, which concluded here today was held in Kathamndu and organized by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Climate experts said modern brickmaking technologies that cause far less pollution than traditional brick kiln technologies are need of the our. But it is not possible to achieve without increased political recognition of the problem, particularly in the major brick making countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Participants also shed light on the importance of inter-ministerial coordination among ministries of housing, industry, health, agriculture and environment to achieve large-scale reductions at the national level as well as at regional scales.

Bricks are a primary construction material used in many regions, and brick production is known to be a highly polluting activity, resulting in emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as black carbon, along with a range of other pollutants.

The workshop was convened by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) and jointly hosted by the National Institute of Ecology in Mexico and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu.

In his opening address, Secretary Krishna Gyawali of the Ministry of Industry in Nepal highlighted the urgency of the problem and noted the brick sector consumes more than 50 percent of the total coal in Nepal. He also noted the importance of continued research on black carbon by ICIMOD and others in relation to the melting of the Himalayas and glaciers around the world.

“It is high time to accelerate mitigation of black carbon and other pollutants from key sources, such as brick kilns,” he said.

The majority of brick kilns in operation are traditional kilns, also referred to as artisanal kilns. The primary fuels used to fire the bricks are coal, wood, local biomass and any available low-cost fuel or scavenged fuel, such as bunker fuel, waste oil, used tires, sawdust, plastics, battery cases and dung.

Yet, limited access to electricity makes it a challenge to modernise and mechanise the sector, experts grumbled at the workshop.

The CCAC will carry on the discussion and consider priorities for reducing SLCPs from brick production at its next meeting in July 2013.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 11, 2013.
The weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/11/call-for-climate-smart-brick-kiln-technology/ 

World Migratory Bird Day 2013: Loss, degradation of Natural Habitats pushes species towards extinction

ISLAMABAD: The annual migration of an estimated 50 billion birds —  around 19 per cent of the world’s 10,000 bird species — is one of the world’s great natural wonders, yet the critical staging areas migratory birds need to complete these journeys are being degraded or are disappearing altogether, according to United Nations Environment Programme reports.

These highly vulnerable sites, which act as stepping stones on migration routes, serve as a place for the birds to rest, feed and breed during their annual migration cycles. As a result of the degradation, some species may be extinct within a decade, while others are facing population losses of up to nine per cent each year.

Celebrated in over 65 countries on 11-12 May, World Migratory Bird Day 2013 will highlight the importance of ecological networks for the survival of migratory birds, the important human networks dedicated to their conservation, the threats migratory birds face, and the need for more international cooperation to conserve them.

Events to mark World Migratory Bird Day will include bird festivals, education programmes, presentations, film screenings and birdwatching trips.

“I fully support the global campaign to raise awareness about the threats to migratory birds from habitat destruction, overexploitation, pollution and climate change,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “I call for greater international efforts to restore and preserve migratory birds and the network of sites they need to survive as an important part of the environment on which we all depend.”

Launched in Kenya in 2006, World Migratory Bird Day is organized by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)—two intergovernmental wildlife treaties administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Many migrating birds—such as Cranes, Storks, Shorebirds and Eagles—travel thousands of kilometers across flyways that span countries, continents and even the entire globe. Yet pressures resulting from a growing human population, rapid urbanization, pollution, climate change and unsustainable use of natural areas are causing the loss, fragmentation and degradation of natural habitats along the birds’ migration routes and threatening their survival.

Similar to a human transport system of harbors, airports and roads, migratory birds depend on these international networks of natural sites for food, safety, breeding and moulting—as well as for stopover areas which act as refueling stations between breeding and non-breeding areas.

Stopover sites of international importance for migratory waterbirds include the Wadden Sea, shared by Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark; Banc d’Arguin on the west coast of Mauritania; Bahia de Santa Maria in Mexico and the Saemangeum tidal flat in the Yellow Sea in South Korea.

Migratory waterbird species that depend on a network of intertidal habitats along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) are showing rapid decline and are amongst the world’s most-threatened migratory birds. The decline is mainly caused by the fast pace of coastal land reclamation occurring in this densely populated region, particularly around key coastal staging areas in the Yellow Sea.

According to a 2011 report commissioned by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the rates of decline in the region are among the highest of any ecological system in the world. At least 24 waterbird species using the flyway are heading towards extinction and many others are facing losses of five to nine per cent per year. According to the IUCN report, species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper could become extinct within a decade.

“Migratory birds and the challenges they face in many ways underline the ambition of multilateralism in a globalized world—it is only when countries work together in common cause that the survival and conservation of these species be ensured,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“There are many reasons why migratory birds should be conserved—their beauty and behavior are a source of joy and inspiration for millions upon millions of people,” he added. “But they also are part of the web of life that underpins nature’s multi-trillion-dollar ecosystem services, while being in some countries, including Kenya, part of the nature-based tourism that generates 10 per cent of the nation’s GDP.”

This year, World Migratory Bird Day events will be celebrated in countries which share the African-Eurasian Flyways. In Kenya, for instance, a regional event will take place on the shores of Lake Elementaita—part of the Kenya Lakes Systems, a network of sites that supports 11 globally threatened bird species.

The area also sustains 75 per cent of the near-threatened Lesser Flamingo, and Lake Elementaita is known to be one of the world’s major breeding colonies of the Great White Pelican. The event is being hosted by the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) in cooperation with the UNEP/CMS and UNEP/AEWA Secretariats.

“The key message behind World Migratory Bird Day is that countries, dedicated organizations and people around the world need to work together to ensure that migratory birds can continue to travel, refuel and reach their destinations,” said Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the CMS.

The global World Migratory Bird Day campaign is backed by a growing number of international partners, including: BirdLife International, Wetlands International, the Secretariat of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP), the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) and UNEP.

In order to protect crucial staging grounds and thus conserve bird species, sophisticated systems such as the AEWA Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool are helping to summarize current knowledge about the network of sites used by migratory waterbirds in the African-Eurasian region.

The Report on the Site Network for Waterbirds in the AEWA Agreement Area, prepared by Wetlands International and BirdLife International using the CSN Tool information as a basis, revealed that less than half of the critical sites of AEWA waterbird populations had adequate protection.

“If maintained and continuously improved, this information can significantly help conservation efforts, but it is also revealing some disturbing gaps as the recent site network report has shown,” said Marco Barbieri, Acting Executive Secretary of AEWA. “The bigger challenge, which has become obvious from the AEWA report, is that countries need to increase their efforts to fill the gaps in terms of adequate legal protection status and management of these sites.”

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 11, 2013.
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/11/world-migratory-bird-day-2013-loss-degradation-of-natural-habitats-pushes-species-towards-extinction/

 

 

Greening Trade Imperative for green Development: UNEP Report

GENEVA/ISLAMABAD: Greening global trade is an important step towards achieving sustainable development, and developing countries are well positioned to help catalyse this transition, according to a new report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“In today’s increasingly interconnected world, where trillions of dollars worth of goods and services are traded annually, greening global trade still presents challenges but also holds significant opportunities,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

“If we are to roll back the global decline in biodiversity, mitigate the release of greenhouse gases (GHG), halt the degradation of lands and protect our oceans, then it is an imperative that international trade becomes more sustainable and contributes to protecting that ‘natural capital’ of economies in the developing world.”

He said that in the last two decades, trade has continued to expand, creating economic growth and progress towards eradicating poverty in developing countries.  At the same time, however, the increasing volume of trade has put additional stress on natural resources, led to increases in GHG emissions, and contributed to social inequalities.

World trade patterns show that developing countries, and particularly least developed countries, still depend heavily on natural resource based products and raw materials for their exports. To achieve long-term and sustainable economic development, however, there are significant and real opportunities for developing nations to diversify their economies and position themselves to benefit from the growing global demand for more green goods and services, Achim Steiner said.

While still representing only a small percentage of the global market, trade in certified products and in environmental goods and services is on the rise in absolute terms.  For example, the global market in low-carbon and energy efficient technologies, which include renewable energy supply products, is projected to nearly triple to US$ 2.2 trillion by 2020.

The report, Green Economy and Trade – Trends, Challenges and Opportunities, finds that developing countries with abundant renewable resources are well-positioned to capitalize on the opportunities to increase their share in international markets for sustainable goods and services.

The report analyzes six economic sectors – agriculture, fisheries, forests, manufacturing, renewable energy and tourism – where trade opportunities exist, and identifies measures, such as policy reforms and certification, that can help developing countries benefit from these markets.

Some of the trends highlighted in the report illustrate this potential.  For example:

· Agriculture: The global market for organic food and beverages is projected to grow to US$105 billion by 2015, compared to US$62.9 billion in 2011. For instance, the production of tea in line with sustainability standards has increased by 2000 per cent between 2005 and 2009.

· Fisheries and aquaculture: Wild-capture fisheries already certified or in full assessment record annual catches of around 18 million metric tonnes of seafood. This represents about 17 per cent of the annual global harvest of wild capture fisheries, and demand far outstrips supply. Furthermore, the total value of seafood that has been farmed according to certified sustainability standards is forecast to increase to US$1.25 billion by 2015, up from US$300 million in 2008.

· Forestry: As of early 2013, the total area of certified forest worldwide stands at close to 400 million hectares, amounting to approximately 10 per cent of global forest resources. Sales of certified wood products are worth over US$20 billion per annum.

· Manufacturing: Many suppliers are greening their practices in order to secure their positions within international supply chains. This is illustrated, for example, by the 1,500 per cent increase in global ISO 14001 certifications on environmental management between 1999 and 2009.

· Renewable energy: Since 1990, annual global growth in solar photovoltaic, wind and biofuel supply capacity has averaged 42, 25 and 15 per cent respectively. In 2010, the investments in renewable energy supply reached US$211 billion, a five-fold increase from 2004, and more than half of these investments were in developing countries. Developing countries have significantly increased their exports of renewable energy equipment such as solar panels, wind turbines and solar water heaters, and expanded their potential to export electricity from renewable sources.

· Tourism: In developing countries, this industry’s market share has increased from 30 per cent in 1980 to 47 per cent in 2011, and is expected to reach 57 per cent by 2030. In 2012, for the first time, international tourism arrivals reached one billion per year. The fastest growing sub-sector in sustainable tourism is ecotourism, which focuses on nature-based activities. Many developing countries have a comparative advantage in ecotourism due to their natural environments, cultural heritage and possibilities for adventure holidays.

“Transitioning to a green economy can facilitate new trade opportunities, which in turn will help to make global trade more sustainable,” said Mr Steiner.  “At the same time, trade in environmental goods and services is clearly an area where many developing countries have a competitive advantage. With the right policies and price regimes in place, developing countries are well-positioned to help drive the global transition to a more sustainable economy.”

The report identifies several areas where public and private actions can support developing countries’ efforts to access greener international markets.  These include:

· Public investments in key economic infrastructure, technical assistance, targeted education and training programmes, and access to sustainable resources, such as electricity from renewable energy sources.

· Market-based instruments, such as the elimination of subsidies that encourage unsustainable production, consumption and trade, and pricing policies that take account of the true environmental and social costs of production and consumption.

· Regulatory frameworks that support green industries and incorporate   sustainable development considerations in national development plans and export promotion strategies.

· Resource and energy-efficient production methods, so as to ensure long-term competitiveness in international markets.

· Regional and multilateral fora that can help to liberalize trade in environmental goods and services, remove environmentally harmful subsidies, and provide opportunities for collective action to address global environmental and social challenges.

Realizing sustainable trade opportunities can imply that suppliers have to comply with an increasing number of environmental and social requirements.  In the lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), several countries expressed concerns about such difficulties to access export markets due to complex regulatory regimes. Furthermore, achieving compliance can be expensive, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

For these reasons, public and private support is necessary to help businesses green their production and supply chains. In addition, regulatory cooperation, technical and financial assistance and capacity building, will be critical if developing countries are to harness new green trade opportunities.

UNEP, under the Green Economy and Trade Opportunities Project (GE-TOP), seeks to identify policies and measures to help developing countries overcome challenges and respond to export demand for sustainable goods and services.

Following this report, which is the first key output under GE-TOP, UNEP is moving to the second phase of GE-TOP. In response to the calls made at Rio+20 for more action by the international community, UNEP will provide sector-specific assistance to developing countries through inclusive stakeholder processes to seize opportunities arising from the transition to a green economy.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 8, 2013
Weblink: http://www.lhrtimes.com/2013/05/08/greening-trade-imperative-for-green-development-unep-repor/ 

Pakistan farmers grapple with climate change

Gujar Khan, Pakistan – After five consecutive dry winters, Abdul Qadeer was jubilant at

Farmers say they are “at the complete mercy” of the weather [AFP]

the prospect of a plentiful harvest of wheat after December rains soaked his farmland.

But the 39-year-old farmer’s hopes were destroyed last month by torrential spring rains and a hailstorm that flattened his wheat crop.

Qadeer is one of many farmers suffering the effects of unpredictable weather patterns and variable rainfall, which scientists believe are linked to climate change.

Now Pakistan’s government is trying to introduce crop insurance to save farmers from economic ruin. Qadeer, who farms land in Gujar Khan, approximately 55 km southeast of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, vividly recalls the unexpected volley of pebble-sized hailstones that lashed his 15-acre (6-hectare) field for about 15 minutes one day in the last week of March.

“I could clearly hear dull, clunking sounds of the hailstones that slashed through the stalks of the standing wheat crop and knocked (the ears of wheat) to the ground,” Qadeer said.

He had anticipated harvesting a good crop in the second week of April, but the unseasonal storm destroyed his wheat, causing losses of 800,000 Pakistani rupees ($8,000).

Zaman Ali, a farmer in Islamabad’s southern suburb of Chak Shahzad, says 70 percent of the wheat he was growing on 9 acres (3.6 hectares) was destroyed by strong winds and heavy rain.

Ali believes the yield from the remaining wheat will reach only 60 percent of what it should have been, because the rains brought unseasonably low temperatures, preventing the grain from maturing properly. Ali described the weather as unprecedented in his 15 years of experience growing crops.

“Farmers are really defenceless when such unwanted torrential rains and hailstorms strike their crops,” said Muhammad Riaz, who lost crops worth about 1.6 million rupees ($16,000) on his 24-acre (10-hectare) farm in Haripur, 65 km (40 miles) north of Islamabad. “We are really completely at the mercy of the weather.”

Insurance coming soon? 

“The solution to such grim situations that are becoming frequent lies in crop insurance,” said Nazar Muhammad Gondal, Pakistan’s former federal minister for food and agriculture. “Farmers can at least recover some of the financial damages, and are able to cultivate next season crops.”

Crop insurance is not currently available in Pakistan, but Iftikhar Ahmed, chairman of the state-owned Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC), said the government is leading negotiations with insurance firms and banks to introduce a national crop insurance programme, similar to those introduced in Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. It is hoped the insurance will be available by mid-November this year.

In Pakistan, wheat is sown in mid-October and harvested in mid-April. Around 16 million acres (6.5 million hectares) are planted with wheat every year, yielding around 25 million tonnes of grain.

“Eight to 10 years ago, the spring season used to come in the first week of March and last for 25 to 30 days. Now, it comes in late March and lasts for only 15 to 20 days,” said farmer Qadeer.

Spring rain is a rare phenomenon in Pakistan, particularly in northern and central areas. The inclement weather lowered the temperature by 20 degrees Celsius to around 9 degrees this year.

“From March to mid-April, the wheat crop needs (temperatures) above 30 degrees Celsius for its healthy growth of stalk and grain, and to avoid pest attacks,” said Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, the World Meteorological Organisation’s vice president for the Asia region and a former director-general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD).

According to PARC’s Ahmed, high moisture levels in the air have also led to fungus and insect infestations.

Production drops

Officials at the federal food security and research ministry in Islamabad say they expect wheat production from rain-fed land to be 30 percent lower than normal as a result of the extreme weather.

Ghulam Rasul, chief meteorologist at the PMD, said that although hailstorms can be forecast six to 12 hours in advance, the damage they cause to crops cannot be staved off.

“We had predicted both torrential rains and hailstorms on March 23 and 24 in the upper and central parts of the country, and dust storms and intermittent rains for two to four days in the last week of March in southern and coastal areas,” he said.

“Since these untimely or unseasonal rains and hailstorm came at a time when most of the winter crops such as wheat, mustard, vegetables were near harvest, nothing could be done to save the standing crops,” he explained.

Ibrahim Mughal, chairman of Agri Forum Pakistan, a nongovernmental farmers’ body based in Lahore, said the government has consulted with representatives of farmers’ groups about ways to make a national insurance programme effective.

The views of smallholders are key because their share of cultivation is around 75 percent.

“We have suggested that, without a mass awareness campaign about the benefits of crop insurance and subsidising premiums for small or subsistence farmers…the insurance programme is unlikely to win the hearts of farmers,” said Mughal.

This article first appeared on the Thomson Reuters Foundation news service

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/201342312421913125.html