HEAVY rains have badly affected vegetables’ production and disrupted supply lines in various places.
The heaviest rainfall, up to 480mm, fell in districts of Kashmore, Shikarpur, Sukkur, Larkana and Jacobabad in Sindh; Naseerabad and Jahlmagsi in Balochistan and DG Khan and Rajanpur in southern Punjab. Other districts of these three provinces and those of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit, Biltistan also received heavy downpour.
In all these areas, standing crops of vegetables or their nurseries have been battered by heavy to intense rains. And in some areas sowing of winter vegetable crops have been delayed as growers require time to dewater lands for cultivating vegetables.
Provincial agriculture departments are assessing the damage done to vegetable crops and are yet to make their estimates public. The federal ministry for food safety and research has, thus, been unable to develop a country-wide assessment.
According to guesstimates of provincial agriculture authorities, the total output of vegetables may see a minimum decline of 10 per cent. In terms of volumes, this means a loss of half a million tonnes as the country produces roughly five million tonnes of vegetables every year.
Anticipating a fall in production and experiencing shortages of vegetables like onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and chillies etc, wholesalers and retailers have increased the prices of these and other vegetables.
Potatoes, onions, chillies, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, cabbages, cauliflowers, beans and green peas normally dominate our vegetable exports. But lack of exportable surplus of one or two items in a given year squeezes the list.
In addition to rising wholesale and retail prices, the impact of rains on vegetables can also be judged by lower export volumes. In July and August exporters sent abroad a little over 41,000 tonnes of vegetables, far less than May-June exports of over 106,000 tonnes.
Regardless of at what stage of maturity they were, or whether they were just being sown, vegetable crops including onion, potato, tomato, cucumber, cabbage, cauliflower and carrot were first battered by the monsoon rains in the fields. The rains-related delay in transportation and storage also left unfit for human consumption some quantity of those vegetables whose picking had just started. Prices spiraled upwards.
Most of the onion crop is, however, reported to have escaped the ill- effects of rains primarily because its harvesting in majority of growing areas had already completed. Onions are harvested in April-May in upper Sindh, in May-June in Punjab and in June-July in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Growers say, however, onions crop in Qalat and Turbat areas of Balochistan that is normally harvested anytime between August and November has been hit by recent rains. They also say transplanting of onion nurseries that take place in September-October in lower Sindh has also been affected. For last several years, Pakistan’s onion production has remained around 1.7 million tonnes and given this year’s situation, the output may also remain almost the same.
Heavy to intense rains are also reported to have damaged potato crop in two big ways. First, the rains uprooted and washed away a fraction of the 20 per cent of the total crop which is between August and October. And they also affected the sowing of the bulk of the autumn crop which is obtained in January-February and is sown in September-October. Autumn crop accounts for 70 per cent of the total potato production of about two million tonnes. Only 10 per cent of the total two million tonnes of potatoes hit the market in the month of April-May.
Growers say sowing of autumn potato crop in Punjab and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has slowed down owing to the rains, adding that in areas which still require dewatering, the crop has not been sown at all. So, the output may suffer—but it is too difficult to quantify the crop loss as provincial agriculture departments are still evaluating the situation.
In Pakistan, as elsewhere in the world, growers often harvest three crops of the same vegetables but output volumes vary widely. Like onions and potatoes, growers also run three cycles of tomato production. Freshly picked-up tomatoes of mid-crop generally come into the markets in October and last for at least three months and are normally followed by a late crop which matures in December and lasts till March. Between April and September tomato supplies to the markets depend on the crop that matures in June or on the stocks of the October or December harvest.
Since heavy rains fell this year chiefly between mid-August and mid-September the picking of fresh tomatoes of mid-crop is bound to be effected when it begins next month in most of the cultivated areas in Sindh and Punjab, according to growers and vegetables wholesalers.
Pakistan produces about half a million tonnes of tomatoes every year. And if the words taking rounds among growers and traders hold some truth, the tomato supply may shrink by at least 10 per cent and cucumbers supply may also fall by the same percentage. Cucumber is harvested twice, in early and late winter crops, every year. Vegetable traders say they will have to import cucumber from Iran and India and maybe from China in next few months. Pakistan normally imports cucumber from Iran as domestic output of less than 10,000 tonnes remains below the domestic needs..
Exporters say onions and tomatoes cannot be exported in big volumes this year, onions because of lack of exportable surplus and tomatoes owing to the crop-loss after heavy rains.
Over the years, particularly after the 2010 floods, garlic production has also not kept pace with the growing local demand, and Pakistan now regularly imports Chinese, Iranian or Indian varieties.
Cabbage, cauliflower and carrot crops were also at different stages of maturity when heavy rains hit them in most parts of the country.