This is the fourth year in a row that the once famous apple crop of the Murree area has been decimated by what can only be called ‘Hairdryer winds’ - just when the blossom fades and fruit is trying to set during the last half of April: these persistent, hot, dry winds - blowing day after day - fatally drying out the delicate stems on which minute apples struggle to cling to life before they are deprived of essential moisture and fall to the ground.

This is just one example of climate change reality and a reality which, unless growers - large and small and throughout the length and breadth of the country - are able to adapt to, will result in hunger for people from all walks of life, as what little fresh produce reaches the market will be exorbitantly expensive.

Here in the hills of northern Pakistan, the vagaries of climate change and its hand in glove companion - ‘Extreme Weather Events’ - is wrecking havoc on all growing things and on the inhabitants of the natural world on which, ultimately, global survival depends.

It used to be, as recently as just 10 years ago that is a mere fraction in time from a planetary point of view, that Murree apples could be depended to crop and crop heavily, every other year with the year of poor cropping down to lack of proper care of orchards.

Orchards, which were routinely pruned and cared for in a balanced organic manner, continued to fruit heavily year in and year out. And this, in the wake of whatever the preceding winter threw at them.

Climate change though has increasingly turned everything upside down with, for instance, apricot trees - these traditionally blossom after mid-March - coming into full bloom in early February when an unseasonal warm spell woke them up far too early, both this year and last, with the following return to bitter cold and snow, killing off all exposed blossom and leaving, miraculously, a tiny percentage, sheltered in lower branches or tree centres, to survive, but, necessary pollinating insects, honey bees for one, had not yet arrived in any number so pollination was resultantly poor.

Plums followed a similar fate, which means, in turn, that not only will general fruit crops be exceedingly poor, but also the incomes of orchard owners will be adversely affected too. And, patience being a virtue that few people posses, during the seemingly endless winter just endured, some growers went as far as cutting down what they now consider to be unproductive fruit trees, burning them as fuel without going to the trouble, or expense, of replanting with a variety that may survive and fruit in line with developing weather trends; and few people understand that the cutting of trees contributes to the climate change they are struggling to both comprehend and overcome.

This upland area now appears to swing, quite unpredictably, from drought to overly wet conditions, from unseasonal warmth to unseasonal chill and, with extreme hailstorms materialising out of nowhere to devastate the newly planted as well as maturing crops, it is increasingly problematic to figure out what to sow and when, plus, traditional harvesting times have taken a dive towards unpredictable too.

Wild plants - as against cultivated crops - are equally being adversely affected by the vagaries of climate change. This, of course, has a knock on effect on the birds and insects that all contribute to maintaining a healthily balanced environment and mean that unseasonal aphid infestations of cultivate crops are happening, as are caterpillar outbreaks at unexpected times, as their preferred wild plants are not at an ‘attractive’ stage of succulent growth for these pests to enjoy.

The pests, therefore, home in on cultivated crops and, again there is imbalance as the helpful insect predators that, in organic growing conditions, control the pest invasion are not around at the time.

Sowing and growing in line with climate change is, so far, a serious challenge and one which, if crops are to continue to be produced, must be persevered with until a recognisable trend evolves with the introduction of new, perhaps more climatically suitable, crops being given priority.

A major problem though, is that little work appears to be in process or, at least ‘visibly’ in process, in respect of fighting the agricultural or horticultural vagaries of climate change. It means that, especially in relatively remote areas of the country where reliance on subsistence farming predominates, people have already been suffering from nutritional deficiencies for a number of years and have absolutely no access to the guidance they need to help them adjust to the ongoing changes. That, facing stark facts, will ultimately render their already harsh lives absolutely untenable.

This is not to say that large agricultural concerns in the easily accessible areas of the country are getting the required advice either. They are not; and cropping problems and reduced harvests are now the norm, rather than the exception. That, as climate change is still very much in its infancy, certainly does not bode well for the future.

It is of paramount importance that sensible advice and guidance is provided to growers of all kinds on an urgent basis whilst the country can still produce a reasonable amount of fresh produce. This includes meat and dairy, as well as fruit and vegetables, as seasonal growth of grass has been adversely affected too - instead of, as is an all too common occurrence here in Pakistan, waiting until disaster strikes when it will be way too late.

The writer is author of The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001)

    and lives in Bhurban.