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Environment and Biodiversity; Punjab Province

Punjab, with its population exceeding 76 million, is a densely populated land that has an abundance of natural resources and a diversity of flora and fauna, but is currently facing tremendous resource sustainability constraints in terms of severe physical and capital scarcity.

Punjab is Pakistan’s “bread basket,” contributing nearly 75% to the country’s annual wheat production and a similarly large proportion of other grains. The province is also a major producer of other crops, accounting for a large percentage of rice, cotton, sugarcane, potatoes, vegetables, and fodder grown in the entire country.[1] Agriculture is the largest sector of the province’s economy, and provides employment to 45.3% of the labour force of the province.

Agricultural land across the province is under pressure from competing uses, with rapid urbanization, the demand for industry, and the need to expand the transport infrastructure. At the same time, farmland is under stress from factors such as salinity and water-logging, which are estimated to generate a loss of approximately 23% to the gross value of production.[2]

The Potowar Plateau typically consists of dry, sparsely vegetated plains intersected by streams and rivers that cut valleys and gorges into the sandstone, siltstone, and shale. Low rainfall, the clearing of vegetation for fuel wood, and the development of agricultural land contribute to the parched nature of the landscape due to depletion of resources.

The lower slopes of the hilly areas are covered with forests that supply valuable timber. The hilly areas provide natural pasture lands that provide fodder for cattle.

The Greater Cholistan desert is a wind-resorted[3] sandy desert, characterized by large sand dunes with flat inter-dunal areas. It is a hot, hyper-arid sandy desert, with the mean annual rainfall varying from less than 100 mm in the west to 200 mm in the east, chiefly occurring during the Monsoon (July through September). The vegetation of the Cholistan desert is typical of arid regions, and comprises of xerophytic species, adapted to extreme seasonal temperature variation, moisture fluctuation, and a wide variety of edaphic conditions. Vegetation cover is comparatively better in the eastern region than the hyper-arid southern region.

Extensive Piedmont Plains have developed between the Indus River and the Suleiman-Kirthar mountains. These plains are dominated by alluvial fans, and provide good soils and suitable topography for agriculture.

[1] Land use and agriculture statistics are taken from Punjab Development Statistics 2018-19.

[2] Zaman, S. B. and S. Ahmad. 2009. Salinity and Water-Logging in the Indus Basin of Pakistan: Economic Loss to Agricultural Economy. Research Briefings #4, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Islamabad.

[3] See: Soil Classification and Micromorphology: A Case Study of Cholistan Desert by Farooq Ahmad and Runoff Farming In Reducing Rural Poverty In Cholistan Desert by Farooq Ahmad, Dept of Geology, UoP