Unseasonable Weather Makes Food And Equality At Risk

Women, particularly in household farming, have limited access to resources, information and decision-making power which marginalises them in the face of climate change.

Unseasonable Weather Makes Food And Equality At Risk

An unseasonably cold and rainy March is causing problems across Pakistan.  Parts of the country are experiencing  heavy rains, flooding, icy roads, and even snow.  Rising temperatures due to climate change have significant adverse effects on crops yields in general and on vegetables in particular.  

Unlike some crops, vegetables are highly sensitive to the fluctuations in temperature, rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events that are becoming more and more common due to a changing climate. This vulnerability translates to a significant challenge for both farmers and consumers, potentially impacting food security and nutrition in the years to come.

One of the primary ways climate change disrupts vegetable production is through rising temperatures. These elevated temperatures can harm various stages of a vegetable's life cycle, from hindering seed germination to disrupting flowering, pollination, and ultimately, fruit development. For instance, potatoes, a staple crop in many regions of the country, are particularly sensitive to temperature variations. Even a slight increase above ideal temperatures can significantly reduce potato yields. Similarly, tomatoes, another widely consumed vegetable, require specific temperature ranges for optimal growth. Excessively hot conditions can lead to stunted growth, misshapen fruits, and decreased yields.

Pakistan, a nation heavily reliant on agriculture, is already experiencing the harsh realities of climate change. Erratic rainfall patterns, rising temperatures, and more frequent floods and droughts are disrupting traditional growing seasons and jeopardizing vegetable production.  In the fertile plains of Punjab and Sindh, where a significant portion of Pakistan's vegetables are cultivated, farmers are witnessing first hand the devastating impact of a changing climate. Heatwaves scorch crops, unpredictable monsoons lead to flash floods that inundate fields, and prolonged droughts leave the land parched, threatening crop yields and livelihoods.

Compounding these challenges is the deeply entrenched gender disparity in Pakistan's agricultural sector. Women, who often play a crucial role in vegetable production, particularly in household farming, have limited access to resources, information and decision-making power. This marginalises them further in the face of climate change. Traditional social norms often restrict women's land ownership and access to credit, making it difficult for them to invest in climate-resilient seeds or water-efficient irrigation systems. Additionally, limited access to extension services and training programs on climate-smart agriculture often bypasses women farmers.

The situation is even more concerning as we have seen a constant increasing trend in vegetable prices. Onion and potato, two of the most essential vegetables, are already trading at Rs. 260 and Rs. 80 per kg respectively. It is more likely that reduced vegetable production due to climate change can further exacerbate this issue, making these vital sources of nutrition even less affordable, particularly for vulnerable populations. This can have a significant impact on women and children, who are more susceptible to malnutrition.

Furthermore, the burden of securing food and water for the family, in rural and semi-urban settings, often falls disproportionately on women, and climate change adds another layer of stress to their already demanding workload.

By acknowledging the challenges posed by climate change to vegetable production, and by addressing the gender disparity within the agricultural sector, we can initiate crucial conversations and collaborative efforts towards building a more resilient and sustainable food system.

Promoting gender equality in agriculture isn't just a social justice issue, it's a significant factor in building a more resilient and productive food system. Studies show that if women had equal access to resources and decision-making power, agricultural yields could increase significantly. This leads to a more stable food supply and improved food security, especially for vulnerable populations.

Empowering women farmers starts with dismantling barriers to their success. This includes ensuring legal recognition of their land ownership rights, which are often limited by traditional and cultural norms. Additionally, providing access to credit and financial services allows women to invest in essential tools, seeds, and fertilizers, increasing their productivity.

Furthermore, including women in programs on climate-smart agriculture equips them with the knowledge and skills to adapt to changing weather patterns and resource scarcity. By fostering their leadership and participation in agricultural decision-making, we unlock the full potential of the agricultural workforce. This not only benefits individual women but strengthens the entire food system, contributing to a more sustainable and equitable future.

The United Nations' theme for International Women's Day 2024, "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress," echoes the importance of empowering women in all sectors, including agriculture. By ensuring land rights, financial access, and climate-smart education, we create a powerful investment which surely contribute to a more prosperous and sustainable future for all.

Amir Murtaza is a gender expert with a dedicated focus on gender-based violence & gender and development. He can be reached at amirmurtaza1@hotmail.com.