KARACHI: An unprecedented monsoon spell which has caused widespread devastation across Pakistan is also adding to already escalating food inflation, aside from exacerbating fears of food insecurity in the country.
With food inflation already going through the roof at 30 percent, the ongoing monsoon spells have destroyed huge amounts of ready-to-reap crops across the country, causing shortages of staples, vegetables and fruits in markets and subsequently resulting in soaring prices of essential commodities.
Massive downpours along with flooding have so far killed over 500 people in the country since June 14, in addition to inundating millions of acres of agricultural lands in all four provinces as well as Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kashmir Valley.
Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has been the hardest hit, where torrential rains have destroyed large swathes of farmland and orchards in over a dozen districts, which are major fruit suppliers not only to the province but to the rest of the country as well.
“The ongoing (monsoon) has not only hit the growers hard but also caused inflationary pressure, which will subsequently have a dangerous spiralling impact on the country’s entire food chain,” said Syed Mahmood Nawaz Shah, an agriculturalist from Sindh.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Shah said that due to a host of factors, Pakistan is already grappling with the crucial issue of food insecurity, which is likely to be exacerbated by the destruction caused by unprecedented monsoon rains.
“The upcoming spells may bring further destruction as a whole, including to the agriculture sector,” he warned.
In Punjab and Sindh, increasing populations and housing needs have in recent years turned large swathes of green land into concrete jungles, not only in the big cities but in small districts as well. The regions are considered the country’s two main bread baskets.
Monsoon rains have long been wreaking havoc on Pakistan in terms of human casualties and the destruction of already fragile infrastructures. But climate change has further increased their frequency, ferocity and unpredictability in recent years.
The country has received 87 percent more rains this monsoon season so far compared to the past year, according to the Environment and Climate Change Ministry.
The ongoing monsoon spell, Shah said, has caused around Rs50 billion worth of losses to the agriculture sector in Sindh alone.
He further said the relentless rains have badly damaged cotton, dates, chillies, cauliflower, onions, and other fruits and vegetables in Sindh and Balochistan.
Sindh accounts for 55 percent of the country’s onion production. Shah said around 70 percent of the onion crop in Sindh has been destroyed by the rains.
The only crop that has benefitted from the rains is paddy, he maintained.
Endorsing Shah’s observations, Dhabi Bux Bugti, an official at the Balochistan Agriculture Department, said massive rains and flooding have wreaked havoc on crops, vegetables and fruits in the province.
In Balochistan’s eastern districts of Sibi, Jhal Magsi, Barkhan, Jaffarabad, Awaran, Sohbatpur, Lasbela, and Naseerabad, cotton, rice and vegetables have taken a huge hit from the ongoing monsoon spells, Bugti told Anadolu Agency.
He added that cotton and rice crops in these districts have been destroyed by 50-80 percent and 20-30 percent, respectively.
In Balochistan’s western districts, which are famous for fruit production — mainly apples, grapes and peaches — the rains have also taken a toll.
Around 50-60 percent of the peach crop and 30 percent of the apple crop have been damaged by the recent downpours and flash floods, he said.
Shaukat Ali Chadhar, president of Kisan Board Pakistan, a non-governmental organisation involved in agriculture research and development, observed that aside from ravaging the ready crops, the monsoon spell has also disturbed the cropping period in Punjab, the country’s main bread basket.
Chadhar said that in Punjab, the government and non-governmental organisations are trying to assess the “huge” losses the rains and flooding have inflicted on the cotton and maize crops.
Punjab shares the largest chunk of the country’s total cotton production.
In central and upper Punjab, Chadhar went on to say, maize and vegetables like pumpkins, cabbage and chilies have been ruined by the rains.
“This is certainly going to cause shortages and rise in prices of these commodities in the days to come,” he said.
Value addition also impacted
According to official figures, 38 percent of Pakistan’s population of over 229 million is directly employed in the agriculture sector, which has been badly hit by the massive downpours and flash floods.
“Damage to the agriculture sector will not affect the growers alone. In fact, it will have adverse effects on the future crops as the financially disturbed farmers are already struggling against increasing production costs,” Shah said.
“It’s not over yet. Less production (of crops) means less value addition, which would result in a curtailment of jobs (related to value addition sectors),” he said, referring to the processes like packaging and transportation of crops.
Date crop destruction
Date producers have appeared to be the worst hit in both Sindh and Balochistan as almost 70% of the date crop has been destroyed.
The farmers expected a harvest of about 220,000 tons this year, but the rains have ravaged 150,000 tons so far, according to Mohammad Bashir Arain, chairman of the Date Merchant Association Khairpur.
Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest date producer, contributing 11 percent to global production, with around 130 varieties grown in the country.
Khairpur district is one of the largest date-cultivating districts in the world.
India annually buys 400,000 metric tons of dried dates — commonly known as Chohara — from Pakistan, mainly from Khairpur.
Climate change impacts
Pakistan is one of the 10 countries badly hit by climate change and global warming.
A recently released global climate report by the UN World Meteorological Organisation has warned that the region should now expect a heat wave that exceeds record temperatures seen in 2010 once every three years.
Without climate change, it added, such extreme temperatures would occur only once every 312 years.
Heat waves are common across Pakistan and India in May, June and July. But summer came early this year, bringing temperatures to new highs in March.
According to the UN report, climate change is driving the intense heat, making record-breaking temperatures 100 times more likely.
The report is based on a heat wave that hit northwestern India and Pakistan in April and May 2010, when the region saw its highest average temperatures since 1900.
If climate change follows the trends predicted in the study, Pakistan and India can expect similarly high temperatures virtually every year by the end of the century.