FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 45

Food crisis looms large

Reports pouring from various sources indicate that after the flood crisis the country is faced with the spectre of a serious food crisis. The country’s agricultural sector has been hit the hardest by the raging waters. The agricultural sector is in utter turmoil because the cotton crop and vegetables are completely wiped out in many key areas.

After a survey of the flooded areas, the Pakistan Industrial & Traders Associations Front Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s Businessmen Panel (BMP) last week warned that a food security crisis is looming, as the deadly floods have damaged rice, cotton and vegetables crops widely. 100% of the cotton crop in Sindh, which accounts for30% of the crop in Pakistan, has been destroyed, which amounts to losses of at least $1 billion.

According to initial estimates, the floods have affected a sizable proportion of crop land across the country. The International Rescue Committee says that crops over 3.6 million acres have been damaged, which include 65% of Pakistan’s main food crops. Similar is the case with fruits, vegetables, other staple crops as well as cotton. Various survey reports show that 65 percent of Pakistan’s main food crops—including 70 percent of its rice—have been swept away during the floods, and 3 million livestock have perished. It is said that 45 percent of agricultural land is now destroyed. Of Pakistan’s total land area, less than 40 percent is arable, and land erosion inflicts heavy damage on agricultural land.

The floods have also adversely damaged wheat and sugarcane crops. While 90% of the population depends on wheat for food, it is a serious situation that the floods have caused widespread disruptions in supply chains of wheat products. In the case of vegetables, their prices have skyrocketed in the domestic market.

It is reported that around 45% of agricultural land has been ravaged, with waters still standing in the fields. This, along with damages to reserves of fertilisers and other inputs, would have adverse consequences for the sowing of Kharif crops, specifically wheat as its plantation is to start in October. On the other hand, the damage to bridges and roads has made transportation costlier, pushing up prices of available commodities.

It is obvious that the floods will greatly aggravate food insecurity in the country as supply chains have been disrupted on a big scale. With crops, livestock, and agricultural land damaged or fully destroyed, the country will have to struggle hard to feed itself, besides putting in trouble the countries that depend on its food exports. This in turn will worsen the global food market crunch triggered by coronavirus pandemic supply chain shocks and the war in Ukraine. Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest cotton producer, accounting for 5% of global output. The damage to half of its cotton crop would also adversely affect the world’s cotton supply.

Following the devastation caused by the floods, food costs have jumped in the in the domestic market. To ease the situation, steps are being taken to import vegetables and other items from Iran and Afghanistan. The World Food Program is also working to expand food assistance, aiming to reach about half a million people in the badly-hit provinces of Balochistan and Sindh. However, food distribution is being hampered by the standing floodwaters which are restricting access to remote areas where bridges and roads have been washed away. In the midst of all this, the sowing of next year’s wheat crop is another big challenge. Already, the country is facing a wheat shortage of about 2.6 million ton.

Wheat is Pakistan’s top food crop, and the annual planting season begins soon. More than 90 percent of Pakistani households are wheat consumers. But with so much land destroyed or damaged, the wheat harvest could be jeopardized; some farmers fear their land won’t be usable within the next three months.

The only way for Pakistan to meet the looming food crisis is to import more food, which could raise costs and worsen the country’s balance of payments crisis. Before the floods, food inflation was at 26 percent, and in recent days some costs have surged by as much as 500 percent. If the flood waters recede soon enough, Pakistan can still avoid a worst-case scenario, salvaging some agricultural land. Most of Pakistan’s wheat and rice crops grow in Punjab province, which wasn’t hit as hard by the floods.

It’s a moment of fast thinking and hard decisions for the government. Without further loss of time, the government should prepare an action plan, with the help of the world community, to rehabilitate and provide food to flood victims, especially focusing on reviving the sources of livelihood for the farmers.