Kunri in southern Pakistan's, Sindh province, is called the red chilli capital of Asia and is responsible for 85 percent of all red chilli production in Pakistan, contributing 1.5 percent of the country's GDP.

A farmer dries chilies crop to earn his living in Hyderabad city of Pakistan's Sindh province on Friday, September 23, 2011.
A farmer dries chilies crop to earn his living in Hyderabad city of Pakistan's Sindh province on Friday, September 23, 2011. (AP Archive)

You don't have to look far to find the withered leaves of a dying chilli plant.

This farm is in Kunri, Sindh province, southern Pakistan - the red chilli capital of Asia.

The area is responsible for 85 percent of all red chilli production in Pakistan, contributing 1.5 percent of the country's GDP.

But extreme heat has killed off many of the peppers before workers have a chance to harvest them from the vines.

"Unfortunately overall production of red chillies has gone down in 2019 and it made impact on the price of chillies and its rates doubled," says Mian Muhammad Saleem, President of the Red Chilli Growers Association, Sindh.

"We have produced 125,000 tons of red chilli crops in 2018, and in 2019 we have produced only 70 to 80,000 tons of red chilli crops."

That's a drop of around 40 percent.

Saleem says the time has come for the government to offer help.

"The government should intervene on an emergency basis and must introduce seeds that should be heat tolerant or heat resistant," he says.

Farmers would normally sow chilli seeds in January, but the weather cycle in the region is changing and they are still waiting for suitable conditions to grow their crops.

"Due to climate change, weather is shifting its cycle and it causes the sudden rise of heat waves that have an impact on red chilli crops," explains Dr Muhammad Mithal Jiskani, Associate Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam.

Jiskani has done research which indicates that each acre in the area's 135,000 acres of chilli crops supports five families.

Chillies are crucial to Kunri, accounting for 85 percent of the city's economy.

In 2018, red chillies cost Rs 7,000 (46 US dollars) per ton, but last year soared to Rs 18,000 (117 US dollars) per ton, according to Saleem.

The expensive prices mean many buyers have stopped importing chillies from Pakistan.

And that means the market could be left with unsold stocks of unaffordable chillies.

For many workers, there is no back-up plan if the chilli business can't provide.

"I have been working here since childhood, working as labourer in the red chilli market as it is only work that I can do," says market worker Sikandar Khan.

But damaging heat waves could become an ever-more regular feature of the weather here.

Sardar Sarfaraz, Chief Metrological Officer from the Pakistan Metrological Department, says Pakistan has risen to the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change.

"That means it is going from bad to worse. In 2019, we experienced an extensive monsoon rain season countrywide, while in 2018 there was drought in different parts of Pakistan," he warns.

The red chilli in Kunri is famed for its unique taste.

But if climate change alters this agricultural area, it could become a scarce ingredient.

Source: AP