KARACHI: The experts have warned climate change-related unexpected temperature variability and extreme weather events are not only resulting in lower agricultural yields as well as in reduction of nutritional value of staple crops in Pakistan, and called for switching to biofortified crops to deal with growing malnutrition in the country.

“Yield of rice reduced drastically in rice growing areas of upper Sindh in 2020 and 2021 while the produce also lacked the required nutrition value due to extreme weather variability. Last year, floods and heavy rains destroyed most of the standing crops in Sindh, further worsening the nutrition crisis in the province,” Ghulam Mustafa Nangraj, Director at Agriculture Extension Sindh said on Saturday.

Claiming that climate change had multifold effects on nutrition in Sindh and South Punjab in Pakistan, Nangraj said that on one hand unprecedented floods destroyed most of the standing crops while extreme high and sudden drop in temperature affected the yield and quality of grains, reducing their nutritional value and adding to ongoing malnutrition in these areas.

The Planning Commission of Pakistan in a recent report claimed that the agriculture, food, livestock and fisheries sectors suffered a loss of 800 billion rupees (USD 3.7 billion) in the devastating floods that hit Pakistan between June and August 2022, which affected 33 million people and displaced at least 8 million. The report estimates the long-term losses to these sectors at around Rs 1.98 trillion (USD 9.24 billion).

Mustafa Nangraj said in the wake of back to back natural calamities and weather-related disasters, they were trying to convince local farmers to switch to biofortified crops such as zinc wheat, which are more nutritious having adequate amounts of Zinc, Iron and other micronutrients and added that experts were also trying to come up with new varieties of wheat and rice, which are not only nutritious but their yield is also high as compared to traditional varieties.

“At the moment, farmers are growing traditional varieties of wheat in Sindh province without knowing that biofortified varieties are more nutritious and better for their family’s health. There is a need to create awareness among farmers in Sindh province like Punjab to switch to the biofortified crops that are also heat and drought resistant,” he added.

So far, five biofortified zinc wheat varieties have been developed and released by federal government and provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhutunkhwa with the support of HarvestPlus which include Zincol 2016, Akbar 2019, Nawab 2021, Tarnab Rehbar and Tarnab Gabdum 1.

Former federal minister for climate change Sherry Rehman also called for adopting “adaptive measures and sustainable agricultural practices” to ensure the well-being of its population, saying Pakistan is grappling with a pressing nutrition emergency, which is closely linked to the challenges posed by climate change.

“Pakistan currently ranks 99th out of 126 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI), indicating a severe food insecurity issue. One out of every five children below the age of five in Pakistan is currently grappling with acute malnutrition. Shockingly, approximately 10.5 million individuals are currently experiencing food insecurity across 43 highly vulnerable districts,” former federal minister informed.

According to her, impact of nutrition crisis echoes across the nation, with over 3.5 million children bearing the severe burden of malnutrition within the 84 districts affected by devastating floods.

“Pakistan is experiencing more frequent and intense extreme weather events, which are disrupting food production, damaging crops, and displacing populations, leading to food shortages and increased malnutrition,” she added.

“Combating hidden hunger requires a range of context-specific combinations of evidence-based interventions that complement each other, including dietary diversification, supplementation, commercial food fortification, biofortification, and other public health measures,” Dr M.Yaqub Mujahid, Country Manager, HarvestPlus Pakistan said.

“Enriching nutrients into staple crops that farmers are already eating provides a safety net against severe levels of micronutrient deficiency and helps mitigate challenges of nutritional insecurity due to climate change,” he added.

Sharing the progress on biofortification he said that more than 4 million metric tons of biofortified wheat grain harvested in Pakistan in the cropping season of 2022-23. Over 2.1 million farming households are consuming zinc wheat with millions other purchasing from the open market. In addition, more than 80,000 metric tons certified seed of zinc wheat was produced for cropping season of 2023-24.

He maintained that the catalyst to scale was development of quality nutritious wheat varieties, the support from the government in early generation seed production, demand creation and working closely with the value chain actors and end users and building their capacity to effectively growing biofortified crops.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


Comments are closed.