Ibrash pasha, a resident of Balambat, the subdivision of Lower Dir, had witnessed the destruction of agriculture land and the unsustainable expansion of population over a 20 year span in Timergara, Lower Dir.
Pasha recalls the abundance of trees and agricultural land on the bank of river Panjkora. They would sit under the shadow of trees, but “we don’t see trees and agricultural land on the bank of river Panjkora anymore,” he said.
Momin Gul, the resident of Timergara spoke about how the bank of the Panjkora river was best for maize, wheat and oranges production. “We would see vast wheat’s fields and oranges orchards on bank of the river Panjkora 20 years back,” said Gul.
Pasha explained that the commercial construction and lack of town planning is resulting in the destruction of agricultural land. He suggested that the government needs to restrict people from construction on agricultural land.
Lower Dir is one of the most vulnerable districts to climate change in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The 2010 and 2022 floods have affected the district badly. The destruction of agricultural land and the unsustainable expansion of population is a new threat to agriculture and the ecosystem in Lower Dir.
According to the statistics of Agriculture Department KP, obtained under the KP Right to Information Act 2017, in the year 2011/12 the total cultivated area is 43520 Hectares, whereas the total cropped area is 46725 Hectares.
Moreover, in the year 2021/22 the total cultivated area is 41005 hectares, while the total cropped area is 70276 hectares. However, in the year 2011/12, 825 hectares were not available for cultivation whereas in the year 2021/22 this figure is 8930 hectares.
These statistics show that in the year 2011, 4927 hectares were cultivable waste. Cultivable wasteland is the land available for cultivation, whether taken up or not taken up for cultivation once, but not cultivated during the last five years.
Cultivable wasteland had increased to 82300 hectares in the year 2022. These figures show a clear decrease in the agricultural land, which is a threat to ecosystem and biodiversity.
As far as forests are concerned, forests are vanishing very rapidly in Lower Dir. According to the Land use statistics of Lower Dir, in the year 2011 total forest area was 93366 hectares whereas in the year 2021/22 this figure decreased to 10403 hectares.
Saud Khan, a Phd scholar in agriculture is of the view that loss of agricultural land is a threat to food security for the growing population of humans. Khan added that agricultural land loss has a great impact on the environment, in the shape of increasing temperature of the area.
As per Khan, the destruction of agricultural land destroys the beneficial microorganisms and affects indigenous birds and livestock of the area. “Migration of wildlife such as vanishing of sparrows from the sky are results of losing agricultural land,” said Khan.
Khan estimates that around 16 million hectare (20% of total area of Pakistan) was affected directly or indirectly by soil erosion, (Land degradation in Pakistan by Shah and Irshad, 2006). He pinpoints construction of highways and housing societies as the two main causes of losing agricultural land.
Bacha Zada, a resident of Lower Dir spoke about how he was prevented from cultivating maize and wheat on ten acres. “One day my landlord told me to stop cultivating on his land,” he said, explaining that the landlord was going to construct a market on that land.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa agricultural statistics (CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS IMPACT ON AGRICULTURE IN PAKISTAN: A Case Study of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1980-2010) showed a decline of maize crop from 1880 kg/hector in 2008-09 to 1783 kg/hector in 2009- 10 while wheat production of 1565 Kg/hector in 2008-09 was reduced to 1520 Kg/hector in 2009-10.
Fayaz Uddin, a local builder of Lower Dir, said in response to a question that cultivating crops was no more profitable for them, that “markets can give us five times more profit than cultivating wheat and maize crops.”
Dr Murad Ali, Director field operation Agriculture Extension Department explained that government was taking this issue very seriously and had passed an Act in to prevent the destruction of agri-land.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Protection of Agricultural Lands Act, 2021 prevents the commercial development of agricultural land without a prior No Objection Certificate (NOC). If a person commercially develops agricultural land without a valid NOC under the Act would be liable to punishment/imprisonment.
Asif Mohmand, an environmental journalist, noted that agriculture was not just the source of food production but in fact the destruction of agricultural land has a direct impact on the ecosystem. He added that agricultural destruction can lead to biodiversity loss which is huge threat to our future generations. He said around 70 % diseases comes to human due to biodiversity loss.
Mohmand said the unsustainable use of land is one the biggest issue of Pakistan, the recent flood being one example. He added that floods had washed all the agriculture land along with thousands of houses which were built without proper planning.
According to a research published by Peshawar University Economics Department (2012), states that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a whole has experienced the climate change impacts in terms of rise in mean temperature from 0.3°C to 1.2°C. However, average rainfall has increased from 11mm to 15mm over a 30 year span.
According to a report published by The International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA, March, 2012) Pakistan is predominantly a dry-land country where 80 percent of its land area is arid or semi-arid, about 12 percent is dry sub-humid and the remaining 8 percent is humid.
Ayesha Shahid, a planner and environmentalist explained that there were two types of land conversions. “One is agricultural land is getting converted to real estate and the second is the previous grassland or untouched green land is getting converted to agricultural land,” she said.
She explained that land use changes are the largest cause of carbon emissions. The IPCC report on climate change confirms Shahid’s claim. Shahid added that the model of agriculture in South Asia was extremely non-lucrative. “Small farmers are barely covering their costs and not making much profit,” she added.
Shahid also pointed out that over 60 percent of rural jobs were coming from sectors other than agriculture. Landowners were getting more profit from real estate than agriculture and she suggested that the government should fill the vacuum in agricultural policy which makes it a low productivity sector. “The prevention of agriculture requires a massive policy shift which prioritises agricultural and rural development,” said Shahid.