Pakistan’s historic floods: How farmers are learning new methods to combat climate change

This time last year Pakistan was enduring relentless rains that would go on to cause devastating floods. While monsoon rains often cause flooding in Pakistan, last summer was different. 

Vast swathes of land were left underwater, destroying homes and washing away crops and livestock. 33 million people were affected and 4 million acres of agricultural land was lost along with over a million livestock in areas where many depend on the land for their income.

As people continue on the long road to recovery from such a huge disaster this monsoon season has already seen flooding in some areas while coastal areas were battered by Cyclone Biparjoy. 

In a warming world with increasingly unpredictable weather, this was the latest reminder that the climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis, causing damage to lives and livelihoods on an ever greater scale. 

Following last year’s floods, the British public were incredibly generous - £48 million has been donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s DEC's Pakistan Floods Appeal. 

These funds have enabled DEC member charities to help hundreds of thousands of people recover, providing emergency shelter, clean water, food, healthcare, cash payments and much more. 

Dr Muhammad Mazhar Alam is Senior Health and Nutrition Advisor at Concern Worldwide, Pakistan. 

These charities, including Concern Worldwide, have also been building resilience for future disasters, in a variety of ways including teaching new farming techniques and using climate-smart agriculture.

Climate-smart Agriculture

The agricultural sector in Sindh and Balochistan, especially the areas of Shaheed Benazirabad and Mirpurkhas, were devastated. The flood water not only destroyed the fully grown cotton and banana crops, but the standing water prevented farmers from cultivating the next crop, exacerbating the situation and causing long-lasting effects.

In these areas, it is common for small farmers to rely on credit from local markets to purchase inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers, with the intention of repaying the loan and interest after selling their crops. However, as a result of the floods, the farmers were unable to harvest their crops, leaving them without enough money to cultivate the next crop.

One farmer whose land was devastated last year is Maula Dinno, who told us that by the time the water dried his land was barren and unusable. “We didn’t have the funds to plough the land or purchase seeds. The situation was so dire that I gave up,” he said.

“We were handicapped: if we spent money on fertiliser, we would not have money left over for seeds, and if we spent funds ploughing the land or using a tractor, we would not have money for fertiliser, and so on. We had no hope. But Concern removed those handicaps by giving us material assistance.”

Maula Dinno tends to his fields in Sindh, May 16, 2023. Photo: Zoral Khurram Naik/DEC

Maula Dinno is also one of the small-scale farmers now attending the Farmers Field School. Through this DEC-funded project, run by Concern Worldwide, 1,600 men and women farmers are learning climate-smart agriculture and being provided with seeds, saplings and fertiliser.

The techniques they’re learning are relatively simple, but make a huge difference in a country reeling from rapid changes to the climate. And it’s not just floods that they have to content with – in some areas drought preceded last year’s flooding, drying out the soil and making water conservation key to growing a successful crop. 

“Before, we ploughed the land one to two times and planted the seed after levelling the land,” said Maula Dinno. “But now, we have learned how to better plough the land, how water is released in the soil after ploughing; we learned to cover the seed we plant with some grass so it retains moisture for 10 to 15 days. We had no idea about these techniques before. We have seen great results from using these techniques.”

Monitoring the moisture level in the soil, mulching to cover the soil and keep in moisture, rotating crops such as cotton and wheat, and managing pests while avoiding harming pollinators are all techniques being taught at the farming school.

“I have been a farmer since I was 18 years old,” said Maula Dinno. “We learned from our forefathers. We had never been taught anything else, or modernised in line with the world.”

While these techniques won’t insulate farmers from all the effects of climate change, it can help their crops be more resilient and increase their yields, protecting their income and helping provide food for their communities. Those who have learned the techniques are passing it on to their neighbours — and there’s no shortage of people who have seen the impact for themselves and want to replicate it.

“With all that we have learned now, we feel our produce will increase and will be healthier,” added Maula Dinno. “I feel they have given us new eyes with which to see. A new vision. They help us to see what is possible for the future.”