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ISLAMABAD: The aggregate cereal output of the country during the 2018 cropping season — including wheat, paddy rice and maize — fell by six per cent to an estimated average level of 42 million tonnes.

According to a Pakistan-specific report of the Global Information and Early Warning System released by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, output slipped from record levels in 2017, when bumper yields were achieved due to favourable weather conditions and adequate input supplies, including irrigation water supplies and good access to fertilisers and other basic inputs.

The publication issued on Wednesday says that planting of the Rabi wheat crop completed last month, and below average rains in October and November, coupled with low irrigation water availabilities for the predominantly irrigated wheat, have hampered planting operations.

Official data from early last month indicated that 8m hectares were planted with wheat — 9pc below last year’s near-average level. In December, the Pakistan Meteorological Department released a ‘drought alert’ indicating that parts of Sindh and Balochistan are experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions due to persistent below-average rainfall.

According to Indus River System Authority, irrigation water supplies for Rabi crops are estimated to be 40pc below the previous ten-year average. As of the second dekad of December 2018, southern parts of Punjab and Sindh and eastern of Balochistan exhibited below normal vegetation conditions, and the reduced water availability for irrigation raises concerns for yield prospects.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019