Devastated crops raise spectre of hunger after floods

News Desk
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

KHAIRPUR: Like every year, Arz Mohammed had planted his little patch of land in southern Pakistan with cotton. The crop would earn him enough so that, as he puts it, his family of five wouldn’t be reduced to begging. Then came the deluge.

Pakistan’s massive floods this summer collapsed Mohammed’s home and destroyed his four acres of cotton, wiping out most of his income. On top of that, his land and that of his neighbors remain underwater, three months after the heaviest rains stopped. Like many farmers across southern Pakistan, he may not be able to plant his next crop — wheat — in time. That could spell trouble for the country’s food supply. Farmers and officials warn that Pakistan could now face serious food shortages at a time when the government is strapped for cash and world food prices are high.

Nearly 15% of Pakistan’s rice crop and 40% of its cotton crop were lost, according to officials. The waters also wiped out the personal grain stores that many farming families rely on for food yearlong. At the United Nations last week, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif told The Associated Press that crops on 4 million acres were washed away. In a statement to the AP, the state disaster agency said wheat stock is enough to last through the next harvest and that the government is importing more. However, the upcoming wheat crop has been thrown into uncertainty. Planting usually starts in October. In Punjab province, the country’s main wheat producer, fields suffered less damage and can be sown in time. But in southern Sindh province, the second largest producer, some 50% of the fields remain underwater, according to Jam Khan Shoro, provincial irrigation minister. The province is where the floods hit hardest: 80% of the rice crop and 70% of cotton were destroyed.

Pakistan’s agricultural sector had been growing in recent years, allowing the country to export some wheat and rice. Pakistan has already put out orders to import 500,000 metric tons of wheat, Planning Ministry officials say. There are contingency plans to buy as much 2.5 million tons over the next year, but officials are waiting to see how much wheat is planted, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the policy was not yet set.

Ashfaq Ahmad, a senior economist, said the additional wheat needs to be brought in quickly, by next month. Otherwise, “I am seeing a food crisis in December,” he said. Agri losses also translate into lower exports of rice, which earned $2 billion in 2020 and of Cotton which brought in more than $20 billion annually. But the greater damage and danger is likely to Pakistan’s poor, with no margin to endure losses in income and food.