Tree Hugging at the SAES 2013

Guest Post by Abdul Halik Azeez, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Sri Lanka

Climate change, I knew that the region suffered from it, but never knew exactly how or where, and why it mattered. It was one thing to know about climate change as an abstract concept, and entirely another to understand its impact quantitatively and qualitatively in my immediate surroundings.

The biggest impacts are obviously felt in the agricultural sector. The backbone of many of the economies here. The rise of rainfall and temperature are the main culprits of upheaval here. For example in a study conducted in the region of Punjab researchers found that 95% of farmers had noticed a long term shift in temperature and said that climate change was visibly impacting their crop.

Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan, says Dr. Abdul Saboor, climate change has caused increases in maximum and minimum temperature causing adverse impact on crops and higher demand for irrigation, impacting mostly the poorer segments of the farming community. Politically this segment has the least influence, and so long as no one that ‘matters’ is seriously impacted by climate change in a visible way, it’s likely that governments will continue turning a complacent blind eye to the issue.

Dr. Saboor says that crops that can withstand increased levels of heat must be produced. Climate change plays its favorites, some crops benefit while other suffer. Rainfall benefits while temperature variations can destroy. Invariably however, the observed evidence points to more negative affects of climate change than positive.

In India for example, increased rainfall helps a faster pace of groundwater restoration, but the increase in temperature reduces it at a much higher pace. India is the highest consumer of groundwater, as opposed to surface water, in the world. Using the subterranean source for 60% of its irrigation requirements and a whopping 85% of its drinking water. 30% of India’s groundwater is already overexploited, i.e. being used up faster than it can be replaced by natural processes, and that number is set to increase to 60% soon.

Farmer’s attempts to get at sinking groundwater reserves has resulted in more and more wells being dug, with less and less water distributed among those wells. The government has given electricity subsidies, but this has contributed to inefficiency as the cost of water extraction is very high. Which leads to the richer farmers having a better chance of getting water, again problematizing the situation of the poorer farmers.

Closer to home in Sri Lanka, Slash and Burn agriculture is significantly impacting climate change. Slash and burn agriculture, while sounding like something Guns and Roses might sing about, consists of your traditional chena carved out of the jungle. In Sri Lanka it is also associated with the elephant human conflict, a bloody series of death and massacre that probably has no rival for violence now that the Eelam war is over. Some 300-500 million people in the world engage in slash andburn growing. In sri Lanka it is very popular in the dry zone particularly in Monaragala. Deforestation contributes to some 12-20% of greenhouse gas emissions, and disturbed forests upsets the state of carbon sequestration.

Around 17% of the jungles of Monaragala have succumbed to the invasions of chenas between 1983-1999. Dr. Prabath Edirisinghe did a study that showed 52% of households engage in slash and burn planting as opposed to traditional farming. Their behavioral traits are pretty interesting and telling. S&B farmers control more land than regular farmers and make much more money out of farming. Traditional farmers though, show less of a tendency to put all their eggs in the farming basket and engage in other employment that boosts non farming income, much higher than that of the S&B farmers.

S&B farming tends to also vary on a number of factors. There is less of a tendency to engage in it in households of older average age. If there is someone regularly employed in the family, there is less of a tendency to engage in it. Dr. Edirisinghe very interestingly connects slash and burn agriculture to factors like alternative employment and education. The message is that if better educational and economic opportunities were available, lesser families would seek out slash and burn agriculture as a means of making money.