For a country which is already grappling with a grave food crisis and whose majority population is struggling to make ends meet, untimely and erratic rain is the last thing needed. Several parts of the country are experiencing heavy windstorms, rain and hailstorms – something which is unusual for this time of year. If prolonged, these rain spells will further undermine Pakistan’s food security by disrupting the production of wheat, a staple food for millions of Pakistanis. Farmers have already reported losses of their wheat crops in some areas due to the collapse and damage of plant spikes caused by heavy wind and hailstorms. Additionally, as the wheat harvesting season approaches in April, the crop requires less water and more sunlight to ripen fully for an average yield of 35-40kg per acre. Therefore, even the fields of crops that somehow remain protected from the winds and hail would not meet the expected average level of yield.
While the irregular patterns of rains started only recently, the wheat crisis was already looming over the country. Last year, during the sowing months of November and December, farmers in Sindh and Punjab did not opt to cultivate wheat as the minimum support price (MSP)/procurement price fixed by the government fell seriously short of the actual production cost. In November 2022, National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Commerce recommended a procurement price of Rs3,000 per 40kg of wheat and estimated the production cost to be Rs2,495 per 40kg. However, the production cost of wheat was estimated by farmers to be much higher and therefore they decided not to grow or cultivate wheat out of concerns for economic loss. The government has now raised the MSP to Rs3,900 per 40kg, however, the production capacity of wheat cannot be increased now in the harvesting season. Therefore, wheat was already going to be in short supply this year and the heavy pouring rains will further shorten the yield.
Additionally, provincial governments also imposed Section 144 in order to restrict the free movement of wheat between their provincial jurisdictions. This policy was implemented in order to achieve the estimated procurement targets of wheat in each region. However, rather than achieving these targets, the restrictions have further led to increased wheat prices in the local market caused by the hoarding and smuggling of wheat.
On the other hand, if the heavy rain spells continue in April, which is the crucial month for wheat harvesting, threshing and storage, a severe wheat crisis could emerge sooner than later that would have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan’s economy and society. The shortage of wheat could lead to higher prices, inflation and food insecurity, which could disproportionately affect poor and vulnerable segments of the population. It could also lead to a reduction in exports, which would further harm Pakistan’s balance of payments situation and competitiveness in the global market.
The ongoing heavy rain spells are not just a temporary inconvenience, but an indication of a larger problem of climate change and unsustainable development. Pakistan needs to securitise its food crisis and address this challenge with urgency, innovation and cooperation within and beyond its borders. Furthermore, the government must timely announce its procurement prices for key crops like wheat and these prices should factor in the actual ground realities related to production costs. In the long run, Pakistan needs to invest in climate-resilient agriculture and diversify its food production systems to reduce its dependence on a single crop, such as wheat. This would require a long-term vision and commitment to sustainable agriculture practices, such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry and livestock-crop integration. It would also require a shift in mindset and policy priorities, from short-term gains to long-term resilience and food security.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 10 April 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.