PESHAWAR -  The unusual hot weather in current year, which still persists in the usually cold month of October, has destroyed around 80 percent of gourd fields in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, impacting livelihood of thousands of people associated with farming of this vegetable.

Gourd is being cultivated in vast lands of Mardan and Buner districts of KP, informed Dr Tariq Nawaz Khattak, Bio-chemist and Research Officer in NIFA (Nuclear Institute for Food and Agriculture).

The winter season gourd cultivation in thousands of acres of land in Rustam, Charghali, Totalai, Katlang, and Thakhtbhai areas provides livelihood opportunities to thousands of people who are associated with farming from generations, Dr Tariq told APP.

The environment of these areas is very suitable for cultivation of gourd during winter season and gives significant benefits to the growers, he added. However, due to changes in weather patterns caused by global warning and climate change, the livelihood of thousands of people through gourd farming is impacted and at risk, Dr Tariq said.

Dr Tariq informed APP that this year an unusual delay in summer season has badly damaged gourd fields which came under severe attack of white fly. Those who sowed seed during routine days of end of September have faced a lot of losses and all of their fields are destroyed, he added.

He said from the last several years, farmers, engaged in gourd farming in Mardan and Buner districts during winter season, are facing losses and compelled to consider plans for changing profession to make their both ends meet. From big farmers to small ones, all were facing losses due to reduction in cultivated vegetable because of climate changes, he added.

Most of the farmers of the areas have now decided to cultivate wheat due to losses they suffered, informed Jannat Gul, a former in Charghali area of Mardan district.

Jannat Gul informed, “Earning through gourd farming is much more than wheat, but we are forced to opt for less profitable crop due to losses.” He said after a period of 35 days when seed is sowed, plucking of vegetable starts and continues till weather becomes chilling in end-December.

“Last year I invested around Rs0.5 million for gourd farming on my 17 acres of land in Charghali area in Mardan district,” Janat Gul told APP. “I hardly recovered my investment and could not make any gain from farming. But this year we could not even recover our investment and faced losses.”

NIFA scientist Dr Tariq Nawaz explained that due to extension in period of summer season, the sowing period of gourd which usually started from start of September has been delayed to end of September, extending by a month period. However, this year summer continued in October and affected the fields, he went on to say.

“The crops grow and produce vegetable very rapidly and within a period of three months it becomes unproductive due to chillness in weather in the end of December. The farmers pluck ripe vegetable from fields several times during production period of the gourd crops, which is also reduced due to delay in sowing period inflicting loss on income. Another factor which affected gourd crop is attack of white fly which usually disappears in October due to arrival of winter, added Dr Tariq.

However, he said due to delay of summer season, the while fly did not disappear and attacked the gourd crops which affected fields. Dr Tariq said due to change in weather pattern the immunity of insects including white fly has also become stronger and could not be contained through use of insecticides. The farmers were confused over damage to crop due to while fly despite use of pesticides, he went on to say.

He also informed that NIFA has recently prepared a repellent for white fly which has shown good results, but needs time to reach all the farmers. “The medicine prepared by NIFA is a Bio-Pesticide which has no affect on crop from the human health point of view. Even those who used this pesticide in current year are safe from attack of white fly,” Tariq claimed.

He also requested farmers to meet with concerned officials of NIFA for getting advice about use of pesticide to protect their crops from damage and to reduce their losses.

He said if due consideration was not given on reduction of loss of farming community, the winter season cultivation of gourd would be stopped and thousands of people will lose their livelihood.