With a maddening monsoon producing torrential rains and triggering floods across the country, sweeping away hundreds of thousands of acres of standing Kharif crops and raising fears about the possibility of the Rabi season, farmers and food security planners are a worrying lot.
The metrological pundits have calculated the disaster that fell from the sky and claim that it rained 287 per cent more than what is considered to be normal: 375 millimetres against the last 30-year average of 130 millimetres. It caused massive flash floods, running down from hills and sweeping everything away on their way to water streams.
After wreaking disaster on their route, these torrents hit main streams, added to their fury and broke their banks before joining rivers. The rivers, brimming to the brinks already, could not take this extra pressure and spread water to thousands of acres along their banks, and beyond. In the end, it turned out to be a national catastrophe, which lacked parallel in the recent history of the country.
The National Disaster Management Authority, along with its provincial arms, is counting the loss. So far, the death toll has climbed to 1,200 and is still counting. Over 33 million people are displaced, and half of them are children.
With seeds swept away and agricultural machinery submerged or lost in water, next season’s sowing is a daunting task
Around one million livestock has been swept away. All crops including cotton, sugarcane, fodder and vegetables have suffered varying losses. In Punjab alone, where only six districts came under pressure, 1.31m acres have been hit. Out of them, 744,998 acres had all kinds of standing crops. Two districts (DG Khan and Rajanpur)that fall on the foothills of Kohe (mountain) Suleman have experienced destruction, sharing 70pc of crop and agriculture losses done to the province.
However, beyond these damages already done, the experts now fear more during the next phase of this trail of destruction. Iqrar A Khan, the vice-chancellor of Agriculture University (Faisalabad), thinks that floods have also taken away seeds. “I am really worried about the next Rabi season. How would farmers sow wheat 10 weeks down the line?
“Can they afford to buy Rs6,000 per maund certified seed from the market, even when, and if, available in the required quantity to meet national demand? We can, and are, counting the damages, but we also need to plan for next season. After wheat, vegetable seeds have also been lost, making the next sowing impossible.
“These vegetables have already seen their prices multiplying and creating chaos in the market. Can we live another six months or so with the high vegetable price? If not, we need a plan right now,” Dr Iqrar demands.
A visit to these areas reveals the multiplication and extent of damages. “It may take a month or more to clear water in Punjab. In Sindh, it would take much longer because of topography. Floods always bring heavy deposits of silt with them. This year, it was heavier because of the water velocity with which it hit plains. It has flattened everything. No one now knows where his field exactly starts and ends.
“Soon we may see revenue officials summoned even for basic demarcation of acres. This is the kind of confusion that floods have left behind,” says Muhammad Abid, who works for a non-governmental organisation involved in the rehabilitation effort.
That is what we are seeing where water has just started receding. Let us see what emerges from under the water once it completely drains out. But my fears are much stronger for Sindh where, due to the absence of a drainage system, evaporation and seepage are the only options, he says.
Last year, Pakistan’s cotton imports went up by 32pc, costing the country over a billion dollars — it may be much higher this year as the cost of flood rolls out
“Wheat fears are for the future but cotton damages are already done. In Punjab, cotton has suffered more than any other crop,” explains Irshad Rao from Rajanpur areas, one of the worst hit districts in Punjab. As per some provincial estimates, the crop may suffer up to 20pc losses. In Sindh, the figure is 30-40pc.
Pakistan had fixed a target of 1.1m bales. Take 30-40pc off and it may come down to about 7.5m bales. In Punjab, officials think that floods may cost 500,000 to 600,000 bales but the farmers’ calculations are much higher.
“Last year, Pakistan’s cotton imports went up by 32pc, costing the country over a billion dollars. It may be much higher this year as the cost of flood rolls out,” he feared.
Beyond the standing crops, the implementation loss, which no one has calculated so far, would be equally damaging in near future, says Muhammad Naeem, a farmer from DG Khan. From tractors to harvesters, everything has remained in the water for weeks, if not swept away. All these machine implements now need a major overhaul if they are not to be completely lost. Most of the hand implements (shovels, spades, hoes and trowels) have been lost to water.
Now imagine the land preparation process that farmers would be carrying out a few weeks down the line being done without the basic tool. Where would the money come from for repair and purchase when standing crops have been destroyed and the farmers are denuded, both financially and of implements? This is the rural reality left behind by the floods, he explains and laments.
One loss, which farmers think may be much higher, but underreported by the disaster management organisations, is livestock. “National statistics claim that human population is 220m and animal population is 180m. Logic does not accept that if 33m humans were impacted, only 750,000 animals were affected. It does not square up,” insists Zubair Leghari, a livestock farmer from DG Khan.
“The bordering area between Balochistan and Punjab has very little agriculture with the main source of income being livestock,” he explains. “Did humans shift animals to safer places but themselves stayed along the waterways?
I don’t have counter statistics, but something certainly seems to be wrong.”
Summing up the scenario, Dr Iqrar paints the picture for the coming Rabi season: “Farmers are struggling without money, without implements, without seeds, without fertiliser and a land filled with silt to sow even basic crops like wheat. This is what the coming Rabi season looks like. The challenge is thus not only putting agriculture back on its feet but leading the revival efforts with financial and implement muscle, coffers full of inputs and farmers helped psychologically for rehabilitation. It needs an elaborate plan, prepared immediately and ready for implementation within next weeks.”
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 5th, 2022